According to World Bank’s data, India has over 3.5 lakh of researchers working in various capacities across the country.
Some lead labs, several are post-doctoral scholars and many, many more are grad students. According to the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE), over 2 lakh students are currently enrolled in a PhD programme.
The headlines may fool you into thinking science is glamorous...
But in reality, India is among the countries that spend the least on research, which is less than 0.7% of our GDP. No wonder we have only 253 researchers in R&D per million of our population. That’s far behind other Asian countries like the Republic of Korea (7,980), Singapore (6,803), UAE (2,379) and Qatar (577).
For researchers, the battle for funds is fierce, and the fight is anything but equal.
Your chances are better if you’re:
The odds are stacked against you if you are:
Those who win funding are the lucky ones. They celebrate, because now they can gather the resources they need to live well and do fantastic science, right?
Because in India, winning a grant on paper is one thing. Getting the money in hand is a whole other thing.
This is a peek into the world of funding delays in Indian science. The statements you see in the rest of this feature are all excerpted from actual responses we received to a questionnaire shared by TheLifeofScience.com. 32 people in science in India responded to this questionnaire.
The tip of the iceberg
"9 months!!! That's how long I have been working without being paid!!!" - Ph.D. candidate at state university∴
"Some of my students have not been paid their scholarships for 6+ months." - Scientist at IISc∴
"I had to take a 6 months extension without salary to get my 3rd year grant, which was refused to me during the raging COVID pandemic." - Researcher at an institute of national importance
The science is suffering
"We have not yet started a project that we envisioned about 3 years ago."∴
"We get no money from state universities as we are Ramalingaswami Fellows. So we cannot order reagents as well."∴
"There is no freedom to order antibodies. My work keeps getting delayed. As a final year graduate student, this doesn't bode well for me."
Why is this happening?
(Who is to blame)
A Better World
(What could you do with timely funds)
"We are constantly doing jugaad to run the lab given the vagaries of system. If this were not to happen, I can imagine... I would no longer have to cut back on experiments."∴
"I would no longer have to cut back on experiments. "∴
"I could be more organised, work optimally and generate higher quality data and better publications."
Note: All the quotes used here are based on responses from an in-depth questionnaire and follow-up interviews by TheLifeofScience.com. A total of 32 researchers participated in the questionnaire. The respondents comprised predominantly Principal Investigators and graduate students, but there was also representation from a research assistant as well as researchers doing postdoctoral studies, non-academic research projects and junior research fellowships.
- Grant managers should be in constant touch with us, keeping us informed about how to manage records and what formats are expected.
- Look at systems in other countries like the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark; pick what suits or adapt it for the Indian scenario.
- Funding agencies need state level offices to coordinate with students and PIs.
- Recruit sensible people in the funding agencies and hold them accountable for any sort of delays.
- Different departments where the files are moving need to talk to each other.
- Make CSR funding processes clearer and standardised, so that it is based on merit rather than access.
- Keep the PIs informed about delays in funding; this helps us plan better
- At least for life sciences, progress is not linear. At times things don't move much for 2 years but suddenly it all comes together in year 3. Do not ask for progress reports and presentations in the interim.
- Financial power should be given to PI instead of university authorities.
- Once you promise funding to someone, don't make them run through a hundred other administrative hoops to continue receiving the funding.
- Currently the deadlines are only for grantees and not the funding agencies. Let’s have them for both sides
- Don’t listen only to the stories of PIs from eminent places. Others are suffering, too.
Acknowledgements: We thank Guneet Narula and Sputznik for helping us develop this multimedia feature. TheLifeofScience.com Season 6 is supported by contributors to our crowdfunding campaign, STEMpeers, and also by a grant from the Thakur Family Foundation. Thakur Family Foundation has not exercised any editorial control over the contents of this reportage.