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Every few decades, India has changed the frame for scientific research and applications. Given the high levels of public investment in science, the state has directed the scientific mission by changing institutional support structures and outlining priorities. Policy has rolled with the times. In 1958, all technological progress was assumed to flow out of national scientific infrastructure. In 1983, the focus was on technological self-reliance, given the curbs on imports. The 2003 policy called for ramping up research and development, and linking science to social goals. The latest document, updated for 2013, clearly puts innovation front and centre — even incorporating it in the title of the policy.
This policy seeks to elevate the place of science and technology in schools, expand R&D budgets in active partnership with the private sector, and spur collaboration between the academy and industry. It aims to encourage an element of risk and discovery rather than incremental improvements, and to experiment with venture funding. It shifts the emphasis from fundamental research to applications. Of course, the policy also directs attention to areas where innovation is needed for the public good — agriculture, manufacturing and services, as well as climate change. It makes a point of swivelling Indian science towards the world, being part of open-source efforts as well as "big science", forging relationships with other nations on climate change, for instance. Much of this language is vague and vaporous, but the mere presence of keywords like risk, application, entrepreneurship indicates a definite change of direction. This must translate into concrete action but the policy's emphasis on clear science, technology and innovation indicators, and on channelling investment based on measurable goals, is heartening.
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