Is The Recently Announced Hike For Science Research In Budget 2019 Adequate?

India has very few people working in the field of pure science and especially in the domain of research, when compared to many other scientifically advanced countries. India has plenty of talent but when compared to international standards, it seems to lag a lot.

There are several reasons as to why students in India prefer not to opt for a career in research in pure science, in spite of wanting to. The country experienced several protests last year, demanding a hike in research fellowship. The Indian government recently announced the 2019 budget and it had something positive for research students. It was announced that a research hike of 35% to research students in Indian institutes. But is this hike sufficient for the research that Indian institutes demand?

Reasons For Lack Of Research Career

1.Low funding: Many science institutes lack funding that they need to run crucial experiments and equipments, including the top tier institutes. The PhD students are offered a stipend which is very low compared to the other countries, and it is a reason to demotivate people to get into research. The top institutes also receive very meagre amount of funding. Funds are critical as science that the researchers publish.

DBT secretary Krishnasway VijayRaghavan said, “The science funding situation in India needs an overhaul. The funding cycle — from applying for grants to getting them — is an extremely lengthy process. We are looking at changing that completely.”

Regarding this issue, Gitanjali Yadav, a scientist at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research had pointed out in an interview that after proposing a research idea, even when the success appears 100% guaranteed the procedure and the time that is consumed in getting the sanction and the funds to your own account is huge. “By the time you get the promised funds, you are about a month from the guillotine – 31st March is breathing down your neck. And then you’re in the dreaded utilisation, justification, ‘or else’ cycle!”, she said.

2.Lack of multidisciplinary research: A multidisciplinary research group gives the advantage of having an expertise in every different field and creates a varied research team. Such an amalgamation can lead to a very impactful research. A lot of great science has come from the mixtures of expertise from different fields. It gives opportunities that an independent research group would not have. A good instance of a multidisciplinary research is the discovery of magnetic resonance imaging by a physicist and a chemist,for which they were awarded the Nobel prize in 2003. Such a multidisciplinary research, is not very popular and not much encouraged in India.

Image source: UNESCO

3.Limited research institutes: India has few scientific institutes. It becomes difficult for the students interested in scientific research career to get into these very limited options available. This could be one of the reasons why students are compelled to shift to other fields of Science.

A Wake-Up Call For The Government

Students involved in research are the major contributors to forming a country’s base in any technological development. The PhD students suffered poor funding. Not just a PhD funding, but also the projects undertaken need equipments and heavy funding. Following are some of the key research hike announcements of the government in the 2019 budget announcement:

  1. The stipend for junior research fellows (JRF) in the first two years of PhD programme was hiked from Rs 6000 and they will now get Rs 31,000 per month instead of Rs 25,000.
  2. The stipend for senior PhD research fellows was increased from Rs 35,000 to Rs 28,000.
  3. Scientists working on R&D projects as research associates have also received a substantial 30-35 percent hike in financial assistance, the government said.
  4. Rs 54,000 per month has been fixed as the highest cap for research associated activities.

A total of 1.25 lakh researchers working in various institutes will be benefited as a result of this announcement.

Not A Satisfactory Hike

This was the least hike in research fellowship since many years. In 2006, the JRF hike was 60%, 2007 had a 50% hike, 2010 had 33% and 2014 had 56%. With a 30-35% hike in 2019, the research scholars are deeply disappointed.

Students protesting for a research hike in front of Department of Science and Technology (DST) in Delhi, in 2018.

The protests by research students regarding the research stipend hike, had the original demand of Rs.50,000 per month for JRFs and Rs.56,000 per month for SRFs, which is about 60% hike. Naturally, the research scholars were unhappy with the hike. “This is the fifth hike since 2006 and if we compare the hike for the JRF and SRF this has been the lowest since then. Range wise also the 2019 hike is 24-35% which is way lower than the range of hike of 2010, which has been 33% to 66.6%,” said said Nikhil Gupta, national representative and coordinator of Research Scholars of India.

Outlook

According to L S Ganesh, a management professor from IIT-Madras speaking to media last year, 90% of India’s research is only empirical, which means that it is based on one’s direct observations or experiences only. This is why talented students with ambitions of becoming a scientist opt for institutes internally, that cater to their demands. Since research fellows are unhappy with the hike, they have announced that they will continue their protest against the JRF and SRF fellowship. The challenge with funding in the country is the much broader baseline of grant seekers, from modest capacity labs to excellent ones.

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