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Assessing Scientific Research & Innovation: Study of frameworks and parameters for evaluating institutional research

Science & Technology
Pratyaksha Jha and Tarini Sudhakar |
January 17, 2022

Across the world, innovation is understood as a key driver of economic progress. Fuelled by both public and private sources of investment, scientific research sits at the heart of countries’ ability to achieve innovation success. India’s budgetary allocations towards scientific research and development (R&D) have stood at 0.7% of the country’s GDP through 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 (Department of Science and Technology 2019). This puts the country’s spending in this area significantly behind OECD countries’ average R&D expenditure of 2.37% as of 2017 (OECD 2019). While this in itself is an indicator that allows one to benchmark India’s innovation systems against other countries, there is a need to examine how scientific research in the country is taking place, and what kind of outcomes it is yielding, to understand its contributions to innovation. Indicators designed to measure innovation aim to evaluate research inputs, outputs, and other parameters as contributors to scientific development and innovation.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation, in collaboration with INSEAD, releases the Global Innovation Index every year, using 81 such parameters to map innovation success for 132 countries. Four innovation indices used in India employ similar mechanisms across multiple parameters to measure the research contributions of higher education institutions (HEIs) and other scientific research organisations. The Evaluation of Science Indicators of Public Funded R&D Institutions and the Ease of Doing Research framework by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research examine the success of institutions in the space of publicly funded and agricultural research respectively. At the same time, the National Institution Ranking Framework and the Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation Achievements rank HEIs on the basis of how they contribute to innovation in the country.

This study aims to illustrate the present state of scientific research evaluation in India, and examine the role played by existing indices in shaping India’s innovation ecosystem. Reviewing how these indices define and measure research helps illuminate the role of factors such as management of researchers, research practices and norms, quantity and quality of research output, and the socio-economic impact of research, in creating effective environments within which scientific innovation can take place.

 
 
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Possibilities for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Reforms in India

Science & Technology
Bhavya Mehta, B. Chagun Basha and Nitesh Anand |
January 13, 2022

India's aspiration to transit into a knowledge-based economy is highly dependent on strengthening its Science, Technology, and Innovations ecosystem. Underinvestment in research and development (R&D), debatable quality of the research output, and lack of innovations present significant hurdles in realising the ambition. In the age of rapidly emerging new technology solutions and S&T-based innovations, it becomes critical to proactively (re)shape public policies for the best socio-economic development outputs.

Through this landscaping study, we wish to develop deeper insights and understanding of various perspectives of India's STI ecosystem and identify possible policy action areas that require liberal reforms.

A qualitative scientific methodology was applied to identify indicative perspectives and generated evidence through in-depth interviews with various stakeholders. Discourse analysis, qualitative content analysis, policy prioritization analysis and feasibility analysis were done to arrive at the findings. We engaged with ecosystem stakeholders, independent thought leaders and industry leaders to professors and ecosystem innovators from within the country and abroad. Through this detailed analysis, we identified the following nine specific outcome-focused and action-oriented policy priorities for the STI ecosystem of India:

I) Improving R&D Investment Portfolio
II) Strengthening critical base of scientific workforce
IIII) Increasing access to frontier knowledge, research data, and infrastructure
IV) Promoting Meaningful & Impactful research assessment and evaluation
V) Facilitating efficient Research Management practices
VI) Stimulating utility of Research outcomes
VII) Improving integration of research with higher education institutions
VIII) Re-inventing India's STI Internationalisation strategies
IX) Building robust evidence framework for S&T policy planning

The comparative feasibility analysis developed deeper details around the scope of research, possible data or information sources, potential stakeholders to engage, possible impact and outcomes.

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Research Funding for STEM Higher Education Institutions: An Analysis of India vs International Models

Science & Technology
Bhavya Mehta and Ishita Puri |
January 12, 2022

Researchers across the globe often face a dilemma of ambiguity about and inadequacy of funding for their projects. In India too, despite the increase in the overall amount of research funding over the years, it continues to remain insufficient and difficult to utilise by university-based researchers.

Many of these issues point towards the lack of well-defined processes and procedures to capitalise on the country's research funding model. In order to enhance India's overall investment in research, we need to study each component of the Science and technology ecosystem that contributes to the performance of Research & Development (R&D). This report attempts to focus on India’s universities and innovative young minds therein who form the essential staple for the research ecosystem.

The report examines project-based R&D funds received by India’s leading higher education institutions through five major government research funding agencies (DST, DBT, SERB, ICMR, and CSIR) and compares the model with the funding models of top R&D performing countries. It aims to bring to light some of the pressing issues, often ignored, that obstruct the country’s higher education sector from improving its performance in the R&D ecosystem.

The first half of the report, ‘India in spotlight’, deep-dives into the schemes & programs of five of the above-mentioned agencies. A detailed analysis has been undertaken in order to understand their application procedure, selection & eligibility criteria, components (permitted grant utilisation), duration and institutions funded. This is followed by the ‘India vs International Models’ section which provides a cross-country analysis of relevant statistics, the national research funding models for those countries and, provides a nuanced look at the individual traits of research funding across these countries. In addition to India, this section of the report analyses models of seven of the top countries known for their contribution to STEM research, namely Japan, USA, UK, South Korea, China, Germany and Israel.

The report brings forth the latent cry of decades of researchers and scientists in India. It argues that India's research funding model can only produce better results if we tackle the issues of transparency, lack of feedback mechanisms, ambiguous guidelines (both on description of the grant and utilisation of the grant) and have a rigorous monitoring & evaluation process. Significantly, it points towards the lack of consolidated data in the public domain that could be utilised by researchers and civil society to study and produce reports, make recommendations and to understand the higher education sector’s role in R&D. For a country poised to become Atmanirbhar in this decade, periodically publishing granular data and statistical evidence on the R&D contribution of the higher education sector will give the much needed impetus to public participation and private investment in university-based research.

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Reimbursements under RTE Section 12(2): Too Little, Too Late

Education
Centre for Civil Society |
November 9, 2021

In 2009, the Parliament of India passed the Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act. Section 12(2) of the RTE Act requires the Government to reimburse all private unaided schools for reserving 25 per cent of their entry-level seats for children from Economically Weaker Section and Disadvantaged Groups (EWS/DG). Private unaided schools receive reimbursement to the extent of per-child-expenditure incurred by the State or the actual amount charged from the child, whichever is less.

But significant implementation challenges mar this attempt to expand inclusion. In 2019-20, reimbursements for over 3.11 lakh students in 12 states were not approved (Central Square Foundation 2020). Difficulties and delays in the admission process due to administrative errors and absent records of children also hamper the proper execution of the provision (Bhattacharjee 2019; Sarin, Dongre, and Shrikant Wad 2017). This leaves private schools, especially budget private schools that charge monthly fees of ~INR 1000, in a precarious position.

This year for our annual Researching Reality internship, we onboarded 16 interns and explored the issue of reimbursements under Section 12(2). We approached the topic in six parts:

  1. The story so far: we conducted an extensive review of the existing research on reimbursements under Section 12(2) and their implementation and impact on children
  2. Law and economics behind reimbursements: we studied if incentives for each stakeholder in the reimbursement process were aligned and how they played out; we also examined the legal safeguards in place to protect the implementation of Section 12(2)
  3. Arithmetic for per-child expenditure: we discussed the formula used by the Government of NCT of Delhi to arrive at its per-child expenditure, other standard components of educational spending that various state governments reimburse, and the implications of this existing formula on concerned stakeholders
  4. Ease of claiming reimbursements: we compared the de jure process of reimbursements in Delhi with that of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Karnataka. Based on interviews of school principals and state officials, we drew the process on the ground and identified bottlenecks in the process.
  5. Stakeholder perceptions on claiming reimbursements: we captured how each stakeholder perceived the reimbursement process, key decisions they took therein, and their interactions with one another
  6. Legal issues regarding reimbursements: we analysed all judgements about the implementation of Section 12(2) from 11 High Courts in India

Based on our research, we were able to paint the following picture.

  1. Reservations under RTE Act 2009 is akin to Government acquiring private land (Eminent Domain)
       a.   Prompt compensation is a must for such takings; at the very least, schools should be paid interest on dues in case of delays.
  2. Untimely and inadequate reimbursements ring loudly in the system.
        a.   Schools in Delhi often receive reimbursements 2-3 years after filing claims
        b.   Amount for books, uniforms, and other mandated supplies is arbitrarily fixed, grossly insufficient, and at times, not reimbursed
        c.   At present, schools are not even paid any interest on dues in cases of delay
  3. The current formula for calculating per-child costs for reimbursement is not reliable.
        a.   The formula uses total enrolment as a factor—a number often over-reported, reducing the total per-child expenditure calculated.
  4. Private schools face procedural bottlenecks in claiming reimbursements.
       a.   Timelines for filing reimbursement claims are not fixed in Delhi; schools rely on informal networks for updates
       b.   Rectifying errors takes a long time and requires schools to visit the Directorate and resubmit all data
       c.   Procedure for filing reimbursements varies across districts in Delhi
       d.   Schools pay one percent of their reimbursement amount to the government officials as facilitation fees for timely reimbursements
  5. Reimbursement delays and inadequacy have a ripple effect.
        a.   Delays affect the schools’ cash flows, salaries of teaching and non-teaching staff, quality of education, and motivations to run a school
        b.   Cost of educating EWSDG students is often passed on through a fee hike to fee-paying parents. Not surprisingly, all fee regulatory Acts in India for private unaided schools were passed after introduction of RTE
  6. Different High Courts adopt different approaches.
       a.   The High Court of Madras observed that since private schools are reimbursed for 25% children, they should not charge “excess fees” from other students
       b.   The High Court of Madhya Pradesh directed the government to process reimbursement claims within 3 months of receiving applications; no other High Court in the country has taken this necessary stand so far

The implementation of Section 12(2) of the RTE Act leaves a lot to be desired. In the long run, reforms aimed at making the Government accountable, increasing choice for parents and students, and reducing administrative burden for schools will allow for a prosperous system that can provide higher quality education. In the short run, efforts should focus on making reimbursements less cumbersome and more transparent for all involved.

 

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Rights, Restrictions, and the Rule of Law: COVID-19 and Women Street Vendors

Livelihood
Sharan Bhavnani, Prashant Narang, and Jayana Bedi |
October 19, 2021

Street vendors constitute nearly two percent of India’s urban population (Bhowmik 2005). Together vendors play a pivotal role in the urban economy by providing access to essential goods. Until 2014, no national legislation existed to help regularise their informal economy. This often led to rent-seeking actions by local authorities or police officials (Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs 2011).

The Street Vendors Act (hereafter, referred to as The Act), passed in 2014, marked a watershed moment in the fight for the right to dignified livelihoods in India. The Act sought to formalise street vending through a rights-based approach. However, up until 2019, state governments had not implemented the law, effectively rendering it toothless (Centre for Civil Society 2019).

Most street vendors have since continued to face the same hardships and harassment at the hands of the local authorities as they did before. Among them, particularly hard hit are the women street vendors, roughly one million in number. These women do not just bear the burden of economic hardships, but also of gender-based violence and other oppressive social norms (Chakraborty and Ahuja 2021).

With the onset of COVID-19, and in response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global call to take “urgent and aggressive action” (WHO 2020), India prepared to curtail a broad gamut of rights in the name of public health safety. However, WHO noted that “countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights” (WHO 2020).

To strike this “fine balance”, the powers of the executive must be closely guided and limited. However, empowered by the Parliament, the executive ordered closure of markets, imposition of curfews, and prohibition of movement. These COVID-19 restrictions beset vendors with additional adversities. Already living precarious lives, women vendors, especially, moved closer to poverty and severe economic and social vulnerabilities (Majithia 2020).

This policy brief evaluates the bearing of COVID-19 restrictions on women street vendors. In particular, it outlines: i) the approach adopted by the government to regulate street vending amidst the pandemic; (ii) areas of excesses and its impact on vendors; and iii) international best practices that could guide the government's future approaches in crises.

Unfree to Sell: How Trade Restrictions Hurt Farmers

Livelihood
Anirudh Goel and Arjun Krishnan |
July 27, 2021

The Indian growth story of rising incomes, increased wealth, more freedoms, and higher aspirations has not been the reality for many citizens of Bharat. Sharad Joshi, an economist and former Rajya Sabha Member from Maharashtra, noted this dichotomy in the way the urban residents of India and the rural residents of Bharat were treated. At its core, while the government treats its urban, nonagricultural population as rational economic actors capable of making decisions about their economic lives, it treats its agricultural population as incapable of doing so. This approach has left farmers desperately poor and debt-ridden

 

This protective attitude is amplified when dealing with the international trade of agricultural produce. Because of India’s past as a food-insecure country, various laws that restricted trade and storage were adopted. These policies hurt India’s image as a reliable trade partner and limited investment in postharvest facilities. In addition, market interventions like Minimum Support Prices(MSP) that incentivise production of wheat and paddy mean that most of India’s produce is low-value. As a result, India’s agricultural supply chains are not well linked to international markets and the goods exported are not remunerative. 

 

This policy brief studies the historical motivations for India’s trade policy, the current state of agricultural trade, and the legal hurdles to a more open trade environment. It then suggests a series of reforms that would have significant long term benefits to India’s farmers

National Education Policy 2020: A One-time Comprehensive Evaluation

Education
Anirudh Agarwal and Prashant Narang |
July 21, 2021
Nature

The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) was launched in July, 34 years after the last National Education Policy in 1986. It aims to address the country's development imperatives and proposes to revamp the education structure, including education governance. This monograph examines the key reforms pertaining to school education under the NEP 2020. These include extension of the right to education, changes in the medium of instruction, learning assessments and outcomes, early childhood care and education, and strengthening foundational literacy and numeracy. The monograph also sheds light on the proposed regulatory framework for schools and the fee regulation norms. Some of our key insights are listed below.

Expanding the right to education: Though the NEP 2020 takes a progressive step by expanding the ambit of compulsory education, it does so without fully considering the reasons for current pitfalls in compulsory schooling. The policy offers solutions for dropouts without examining the reasons for high dropout rate. It offers to bring in social workers, without outlining a sustainable strategy for their recruitment. Finally, it remains silent on the implementation challenges of Section 12 of the Right to Education Act.

Three-language formula: NEP recommends a three-language formula and provides flexibility to the states. But, it fails to reconcile the need for regional medium instruction with the demand for English medium education. Further, it fails to outline how the needs of micro regions with considerable linguistic diversity within the state would be accomodated.

Education technology: Although the NEP sends a positive signal by acknowledging the need for strengthening education technology, it falls short in providing a concrete ed-tech policy to bridge the digital divide.

Foundational skills and Assessments: The NEP takes a holistic approach to testing and incorporates elements consistent with its vision. It proposes a formative, holistic report card and emphasises that the purpose of standardised tests is the improvement of the school and education system. However, it fails to address the pitfalls that earlier policies faced while implementing holistic report cards in the form of Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation. Further, though the NEP does well by aiming to achieve universal foundational skills at the earliest its reliance on informal ways, such as community volunteers and “each one, teach one”-approach, leave much to be desired.

Early childhood care: The policy hits the mark by including Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) under the ambit of free and compulsory education and emphasising on providing opportunities for early learning. However it ignores the Nurturing-care framework, fails to treat early childhood care as a set of goals that necessitate a separate program, and does not sufficiently engage with other dimensions of strong ECCE support (such as responsive caregiving, and safety and security).

Regulatory framework for schools: The policy has taken big steps towards a progressive regulatory regime. The decision to separate the regulatory and provisionary functions of the government is a welcome move. It will aid in creating a level playing field for the private sector and hold the system accountable to improve.

Fee regulation: The policy does not go far enough and abolish fee regulation mechanisms. Fee controls keep the prices artificially low and incentivise schools to seek regulation instead of competition, thereby discouraging innovation.

Overall, the NEP 2020 has made considerable strides with what it wants to achieve as well as governance reforms. However, the policy does not sufficiently outline specific challenges it would have to overcome to meet its target or how it would sustainably finance the interventions.

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Quality of Laws Toolkit

Governance
Centre for Civil Society |
April 13, 2021

Laws and regulations impact the social and economic wellbeing, and freedom of members of a society. They alter how individuals interact and trade with each other. While all laws and regulations alter behaviour and impact stakeholders, a good regulation maximises social welfare while minimising the cost and extent  of intervention (CUTS Centre for Competition, Investment & Economic Regulation). 

A cost-benefit analysis alone is insufficient to assess the quality of a law or regulation. Partly, this is because it is not possible to know all the costs and benefits associated with a specific law or regulation. While known costs and benefits can be calculated, there will be costs and benefits that are impossible to predict ex-ante (Frédéric Bastiat 1850). Added to this, is the knowledge problem. All the relevant information will never be available to any one individual since this knowledge and data is distributed among individual actors (Friedrich Hayek 1945). 

The Quality of Laws toolkit attempts to address this gap. It draws from international literature on administrative law and various global indices of regulatory quality like the World Bank Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance (GIRG), OECD Indicators of Regulatory Policy and Governance, and the European Union’s Better Regulation Toolbox. Last year, Centre for Civil Society released a binary-style ‘Quality of Regulation’ checklist (Anand et.al 2019). It outlined the minimum set of benchmarks that a law must meet irrespective of the sector it governs.

This year, based on the checklist, we developed a scorecard to measure the quality of laws and rules (Forthcoming 2021). It constitutes three parts: Representation safeguards (i.e accessibility of laws and public consultation), Rights safeguards (i.e. checks on executive discretion) and Resource safeguards (i.e. administrative burden imposed and change in incentive structure using Epstein’s framework).

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