Research is of great importance in the development of any country. The progress of science and technology critically depends on it. No wonder, developed countries spend huge amounts on R & D. For example, in 2011, worldwide expenditure on research was 1.77 per cent of the total global gross domestic product (GDP). However, spending in India on R & D is nowhere in comparison. There continues to be little investment. In such a situation, it would be unreasonable to expect state-of-the-art progress as far as new innovations and technology are concerned. In a world where technology is evolving rapidly, it is important for countries to earmark funds for research.
One of the critical problems that researchers face is access to the latest developments in their respective fields across the world. This is particularly true for the field of technology, where change is the only constant. It is, in fact, the biggest challenge facing research. It is in this context Tech Evangelist Muqbil Ahmar caught up with N. V. Sathyanarayana Chairman & MD, Informatics India Ltd. to discuss the critical problems researchers are facing in their respective fields.
Muqbil Ahmar: What are the major problems that research faces across the world?
Sathyanarayana: There are several depending on the domain. As a domain neutral information service provider to researchers, I would like to highlight two major problems that I consider important. First, identifying research problem/topic. This problem has a different order of challenges for entry-level researchers pursuing their doctoral studies (Ph.D.) and mainstream researchers. The interest of the former is academic in nature and requires good mentoring by the guides and access to literature. For the latter group, the challenge is a question of identifying priority areas of social or commercial values depending on the organisational affiliation of the researcher. Second, Infrastructure support is a serious limitation in developing countries.
Muqbil Ahmar: What are the major challenges faced by researchers in India?
Sathyanarayana: Funding is a serious challenge faced by researchers and research institutions in India. The estimated spending by the country in 2016-17 was just around what one US Company (Amazon) spent in 2017 (US$16 Billion.). For several decades, Government funding in India for research has ranged between 0.7 and 0.9 percent of GDP. Several Prime Ministers from Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh to Narendra Modi have gone on record stating that the funding for Science & Technology Research should be increased to 2% of GDP. Sadly, it has just remained a public statement.
Funding by Corporate R&Ds is showing signs of increase in the last five years. But, Indian industry is not very active in its R&D focus. Most industrial R&D activities in India are largely by global corporations. Consequently, the IP value of their research largely goes to their parent country. Research in Indian universities and research institutions is not well tuned to promote industrial development. This is well revealed in very low patenting of Indian research and their commercialisation.
Muqbil Ahmar: What can be done to overcome the challenges faced by researchers in India?
Sathyanarayana: Better funding by Government, which of course is a partial answer. Research is persuaded by students only after getting their Masters degree in Universities. We lack research and innovation culture in our education system which needs to be developed in students right from their school and college days. The IISER (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research) model is the right kind of approach which should become a model for introducing research all across higher education.
Muqbil Ahmar: How does your organization help research?
Sathyanarayana: Informatics supports researchers in India in several ways for meeting the information needs of researchers and information management needs of institutions. Our mission is – To deliver more information to more people and help them in managing and using it better.
We facilitate access to global academic and research literature, support quality journal publishing, help institutions in building digital archives of institutional publications and provide digital library solutions. For instance, we helped the IndianAcademy of Science, founded by Sir C V Raman, a digital repository of all papers published by the Fellows of the Academy beginning Raman’s time. It is the largest and most widely used digital repository of research papers from India providing access to around 100,000 research papers by researchers who represent the cream of Indian science. J-Gate (www.jgateplus.com), our flagship product developed nearly two decades ago as the first e-Journal Gateway for global journal literature which is accessed by more than three million faculty, students and researchers in higher education institutions in India. It is the world’s single largest e-Journal database providing access to what is published in over 50,000 scholarly, technical and professional journals around the world. A global product that comes close to J-Gate covers less than 25,000 journals.
A feature of J-Gate is, it facilitates resource sharing among Indian Universities, IITs, and institutions in other research groups like ICAR, CSIR, ICMR, etc. For example, when a user in North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) finds an article from J-Gate, if his University doesn’t subscribe to the corresponding journal, J-Gate will not only tell him which other University has this journal available but will also facilitate him to obtain the article from that University for his research. Thus, J-Gate has networked Indian libraries in higher education and research to share and exchange their resources. J-Gate, on its platform, also provides access to Ph.D. theses of all the Indian Universities.
Muqbil Ahmar: How is your platform different from others offering similar services?
Sathyanarayana: J-Gate platform is customised and affordable. It is customised to every institution or group of institutions and individual users in these institutions. It facilitates not only searching and finding literature but also facilitates sharing among institutions for the benefit of individual researchers. We use open source stacks in our technologies which makes our products affordable to our market without compromising on the quality.
Muqbil Ahmar: How is e-learning different from traditional methods?
Sathyanarayana: E-learning is interactive and personalised. Creation of learning resources, pace of learning and assessment can be personalised to every individual. While it may not be a substitute to a good teacher, at a time when we have a large number of people to be educated and have the scarcity of good teachers, e-learning can prove to be an effective medium, both by cost and quality, to make quality education accessible to all.
Muqbil Ahmar: Would you like to add anything that I may have missed out?
Sathyanarayana: Well, I would like to say a few words about our journey and challenges we faced as an early pioneer. We are a pre-Internet online company. We started our Company in 1980 promoting online access to international databases, for both technical and commercial information, and training people in using them. Besides distributing global content products, we started building information products locally in mid-1990s. Our market expanded with the expansion of Internet access infrastructure in India. However, the tax laws of the country for information access in electronic media are too restrictive and confusing for the growth of companies like ours. Ease of doing business, appears to be more applicable to foreign companies wanting to operate in India than the Indian companies.