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Special Content

Issue no 28, 07-13 October 2023

Anusandhan National Research Foundation Empowering India's Future


Dr. Mukesh Khare

Dr. Priyanka Kulshreshtha


If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?- Albert Einstein's insightful remark captures the essence of research as an ever-expanding domain that defies conventional boundaries. In the context of India, research has historically been concentrated within a select few prestigious institutions, leaving a substantial portion of the educational landscape underdeveloped in terms of research infrastructure and funding. Recognising the importance of research in the knowledge-driven economy of the 21st century, India has embarked on a journey to revitalise its research ecosystem.


The G20 Indian Presidency for 2022-23 has underscored the significance of the education sector, particularly in fostering collaborative and innovative research endeavors. These efforts are directed at addressing critical challenges such as energy sustainability, public health improvement, climate change mitigation, and the intersection of science with society and culture. However, the success of these initiatives hinges on international support and cooperation.

In response to these imperatives, the Government of India has made a strategic decision to establish the Anusandhan National Research Foundation (ANRF). This apex body will take over the role of the Science and Research Board (SERB), initially established in 2009 under the Department of Science and Technology (DST). ANRF's mission is multifaceted: to promote interdisciplinary research across Indian universities and colleges, to decentralise the national research landscape, and to act as a bridge between the scientific community, central and state governmental bodies, non-profit organisations, and industries.

ANRF's primary focus is to ensure that critical national and global issues, such as access to clean water, sanitation, clean energy, and holistic health, receive thorough and well-informed attention from researchers. It aims to facilitate collaboration and cross-border research in higher education, aligning with the priorities discussed during the G20 sessions of the Indian Presidency. The ultimate objective is to translate research breakthroughs into effective policies that benefit the public.

Another key mission of ANRF is to address the disparity between well-established centers of excellence and often overlooked universities and colleges, which grapple with limited resources, outdated teaching methods, and meager research budgets. By fostering collaboration and knowledge-sharing, ANRF seeks to level the playing field and nurture a pool of talented individuals across the nation.

India's remarkable ascent in the Global Innovation Index (GII), from 81st place in 2015 to 40th in 2022, underscores its transition into a knowledge-based economy. However, India's expenditure on research and development (R&D) as a percentage of GDP has remained among the lowest globally, at just 0.65%, compared to countries like the USA (2.9%), China (2.2%), and Israel (4.9%). In this context, ANRF represents a breath of fresh air for India's R&D landscape, aiming to revitalise and reinvigorate research efforts and foster a thriving ecosystem of innovation and discovery.

Over decades, the research culture in lesser known and recognised colleges/institutes/ universities in India has declined. Though, Indian researchers have produced 54% more research articles in last 5 years, yet the quality and impact (in terms of citations in top academic journals) of these research articles have not been very encouraging. The quality of research publications and their citations pose an indelible question mark to its credibility. Only 15% of these articles have been cited in the top academic journals. The existing research framework showcases a limited form of engagements with industry, wherein academia predominantly focuses on theoretical concepts that are confined to publications and reports, lacking practical applications in the real world.

The formulation of ANRF is in line with the American model of National Science Foundation (NSF) of the United States. The birth of ANRF, stems from the belief that the advancement of human knowledge and growth lays emphasis on the creation of new scientific and social know-ledge. This is bound to foster a free culture of mentorship, cross-pollination and adequate support within India's universities and colleges of higher education and research.

As proposed in the ANRF bill, about 80% of the total funding budget for research will be coming from private partners. The efforts will be focussed on creating an environment that fosters solution-driven research within Indian universities and colleges that currently lack adequate research infrastructure. This will be achieved through partnerships with industries spanning multiple sectors and esteemed centres/ institutes of excellence across the nation. ANRF's essence will be characterised by a visionary, interdisciplinary, flexible, and collaborative approach.

The existing disparity between academia's research outputs and industry demands can be progressively reduced by the effective implementation of ANRF. This approach will also provide assistance and backing to highly capable yet under-resourced colleges, institutes, and universities across the nation. A meticulously structured bottom-up strategy will bolster research at the grassroot levels, elevating it to gain recognition regionally, nationally, and internationally. This, in turn, will significantly enhance the Indian research ecosystem.

As a key point of discussion during recent G20 sessions, it is deemed that flexible and swift allocation of financial incentives and funds is as important as vertical and horizontal collabor-ations between centres of excellence and less privileged educational institutions. Through the establishment of the ANRF, enhanced collaboration among universities, academia, R&D clusters, and private sectors, combined with adaptable fund allocation and rapid research response, as well as a shared commitment among relevant institutions, will be harnessed to address common challenges and develop sustainable solutions. These centres/institutes of excellence can take into their ambit a regional consortium of universities/institutes/colleges with a common research interest and nurture them with resource training, capacity building, and sustainable hand holding. Concurrently, industries can engage as partners in pertinent research domains with this regional consortium of univer-sities/institutes/colleges and centres/institutes of excellence, providing both technical expertise and financial backing to foster innovative ideas grounded in significant research potential. This practice will help uplift the capable but less fortunate colleges/ institutes/ universities and bring newer concepts, innovations, technologies, capacity building, and laboratory upgradation, which will be of further help to the scientific community and research landscape in India at large.

During India's G20 Presidency, there was a significant emphasis placed on several key areas, including the improvement of programs supporting Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN), the advancement of techenabled learning, and the strengthening of research and innovation. Found-ational Literacy and Numeracy were recognised as fundamental building blocks for the develop-ment of advanced knowledge and skills, empowering individuals for lifelong learning, and aligning with Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education) while contributing substantially to other SDGs. The ANRF is poised to act as a pivotal support platform for FLN. It will facilitate cross-border collaborations and provide essential financial support, thereby creating opportunities for contin-uous and adaptable learning.

Further, within the framework of G20 educational policies and programs, aligned with the National Education Policy (NEP), there was a recognised need to invest in the creation of an open, interoperable, and evolving public digital infrastructure in the education sector in the form of the National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR), which adopts a building block approach and the establishment of a National Education Technology Forum (NETF) to facilitate the systematic adoption of technology at various levels of education. Simultaneously, the Multi-disciplinary Education and Research Improvement in Technical Education (MERITE) initiative was set in motion to modernise the nation's technical education sector in accordance with the NEP's outlined reforms. These endeavors are comple-mentary to the mission of the ANRF, which emphasises inter-disciplinary research, innovation, and collaborative partnerships to enhance the quality and accessibility of education and research on a global scale.

To accomplish this, the indigenous group of researchers from the centres/ institutes of excellence and regional con-sortium of universities/institutes/ colleges will first explore the demands and requirements of the industry/ corporates and then pitch in collaborative research proposals to the ANRF Executive Committee (EC) for block funding and further deliberations. Subsequently, they will jointly present collaborative research proposals to the Executive Committee (EC) of the ANRF for block funding and further deliberations. To ensure an effective and comprehensive evaluation and recognition of such collaborative and applied research proposals from the regional consortium and centres of excellence, the ANRF EC should possess an inherent capacity and perspective that embraces interdisciplinarity and applied research. To achieve this objective, the composition of the ANRF EC ought to involve representatives from local bodies, NGOs, village panchayats as 'Associates' (to provide need-based inputs), in addition to distinguished, experienced scientists and researchers from centres/ institutes of excellence, government advisors, members from relevant ministries, and industry representatives. These individuals will be responsible for overseeing the operational conduct of ANRF. The ANRF EC will be governed by Board members chaired by the Prime Minister of India and will be the sole decision-making body of the ANRF.

Challenges and Solutions: A significant challenge lies in shifting the mindset of researchers, faculty, and scientists who have been working in silos for many years within centres/institutes of excellence. This shift should emphasise the importance of interdisciplinary research and encourage them to explore how their research expertise can align with other subject fields to generate outcomes that contribute to the scientific and technological advancement of society. To attain this objective, centres/ institutes of excellence should re-evaluate the criteria used for the selection and promotion of faculties, researchers, and scientists. This reassessment should emphasise the inclusion of interdisciplinarity in research as a key criterion, alongside the degree to which their research outcomes contribute to the advancement of technology and science for the society, beginning from the grassroot levels.

Another significant challenge is the identification of a regional consortium that includes under-resourced universities/ institutes/colleges while benefiting from highly capable faculty and facilitating them with essential guidance and support through centres/institutes of excellence. To locate these regional consortia, the UGC and AICTE should take the lead in creating a comprehensive database of under-resourced universities/institutes/ colleges engaged in faculty research within their respective regions. Additionally, the UGC and AICTE should establish, a standard set of eligibility criteria for faculty inclusion in this database.

Within the framework of ANRF, horizontal collaboration between centres of excellence, less privileged educational institutions, and the industries, providing swift allocation of funds, aligns seamlessly with the initiatives discussed during G20 meetings. These initiatives revolve around the exchange of knowledge, research, and resources on both national and global scales. To accelerate progress, G20 member nations will promote the alignment of all potential research and innovation partners capable of advancing circular and regenerative economic solutions, fostering greener value chains, and facilitating the scalability of solutions.

Success Stories: The Nonwovens Cooperative Research Center (NCRC), a successful collaboration between Government, Industry, and Academia (GIA), was established in 1991 at North Carolina State University with National Science Foundation (NSF) and industry funding. After NSF funding ended in 1998, NCRC continued to grow, becoming the most successful State-I/UCRC nationwide. Results include 30+ patents, three startups, outreach to 200+ companies, 10+ annual professional development courses, and $30+ million in facilities. NCRC now serves as the research arm of the Nonwoven Institute (NWI), which transitioned from public to private funding with 98% industry support.

Another example is Boeing's partnership with Caltech, focusing on technology advancement. Boeing collaborates with nine top research universities, including Caltech, for research in critical domains. This collaboration strengthens Boeing's position in innovation, fostering an enduring bond. Regular communication, annual "Research Review" meetings, and ongoing exchange between corporate and academic scientists drive this partnership.

ANRF is poised to establish a comparable trajectory for a productive and mutually beneficial partnership among Government, Industry, and Academia (GIA) within the research landscape. This initiative will serve to bridge existing gaps, particularly concerning under-resourced universities/ institutes/colleges, ensuring they are no longer disadvantaged. ANRF's primary role will involve initiating, fostering, and guiding the availability of necessary resources, thus facilitating the inception of world-class, pioneering research at its grassroots. Such an endeavour holds the potential not only to elevate society on a broader scale but also to stimulate industry growth and technological advancement. Through ANRF, the foundation will be laid for a collaborative landscape that empowers all stake-holders, propelling research excellence and innovation to the forefront.

The authors are Professor Emeritus, Civil Engineering Department, IIT Delhi, and Assistant Professor, University of Delhi. Feedback on this article can be sent to feedback.employmentnews@gmail.com

Views expressed are personal.