Strategies To Accelerate Application Of Science & Technology For Development


Science and technology are great products of humanity's collective intellectual advancement in knowledge of the world. They are also powerful engines for practical advancement in economic and social development. It is this latter capacity that has made the quest for scientific and technological capabilities so important to developing countries.

Yet the accomplishments of most Third World countries in establishing a scientific and technological infrastructure and in creating a scientific temper among their people have been limited. Even in countries like India that have succeeded in building up reputed institutions and training large numbers of persons, the overall impact on these institutions and people on the life of the nation has not been proportionate to the investments made or the expectations with which those efforts were taken. A critical evaluation is needed of the strategies that have thus far been employed and fresh thinking is required to identify more effective means.

WESTERN EXAMPLE

Historically, the explosive growth of scientific research and technological innovation has been closely linked with the global spread of modern industry. Production of goods and services has been the main impetus and commercial institutions have been key agents in the process. This has been especially true in the West, where business provides a large part of the investments in R&D. In the U.S.A., industry provides more than 50% of total R&D funds and conducts more than 70% of all research in the country. Industry in these countries has an impressive track record of directing scientific efforts toward areas with practical applications and in then practically applying the new discoveries and innovations that result from research.

In contrast, in most developing countries there is a wide gap between the research activities of scientific institutes and the commercial activities of business. Here governments and foreign aid agencies have been by far the largest sources of R&D investments. Most of these resources are invested in government-operated research institutions. There are many specific instances of outstanding achievements by these institutions. However, overall the practical impact on economic and social development has been insufficient. In many instances, significant discoveries and innovations languished within these research institutions for want of appropriate mechanisms and incentives to ensure that they are applied practically.

The issue before is how to increase the transfer and application of effective technologies to increase productivity, standards of living and quality of life in the country.

UNTAPPED POTENTIALS

Technology is one of the vast untapped resources which India possesses to accelerate national development. There is vast potential for accelerating the transfer and commercial application of technology both within and between India, the developing world and the West. Suitable organizational and institutional mechanisms are needed to tap this potential.

Two years ago the Department of Biotechnology of the Government set up a public corporation, the Biotechnology Consortium (BCIL), to promote commercial transfers of biotechnology from sources within and outside India. Initial experience has shown that an organization of this kind can be effective in identifying and transferring technologies developed by government laboratories and private companies.

Eight years ago a private sector ethanol manufacturer in Tamil Nadu developed and commercialized an indigenous technology for treatment of distillery effluent, which was 50% less costly and even more effective than imported processes offered by Western companies, which represents a savings of Rs.1 crore per installation. Despite its obvious technical and financial advantages and the willingness of the company to sell it to other distilleries, other companies in the industry continued to buy imported technology at twice the cost. Earlier this year BCIL licensed the technology and is now successfully marketing it to some of the 150 other distilleries in the country.

An organization specialized in assessment and marketing of sophisticated technologies was needed to tap the potential and reduce continuous and unnecessary outflow of foreign exchange for technology already available within the country. Institutions based on the BCIL model need to be established in every field of technology to identify and market best available technologies both within the country and overseas and reduce the costs of multiple transfers.

AGENCY FOR MULTIPLE TECHNOLOGY TRANSFERS

A recent study of India's agricultural potentials by the International Commission On Peace and Food indicates the need for establishment of dozens of new hybrid seed production units to meet the need of farmers for high quality seeds. Today there are only a few producers of high quality seeds in India based on imported technology. Much of their production is exported to the West. In the natural course, other firms will seek to enter the field by acquiring foreign technology, which will be a slow and costly process for the country. If instead, a commercial agency like BCIL were to acquire the best available technology internationally and transfer it to many producers, both the time and cost can be substantially reduced.

The speed of global scientific and technological progress is constantly generating new products and processes with great economic potential for developing countries. Often these commercial applications remain unknown to developing countries or the organization that develops them either is not aware or not interested in their potential applications in developing countries. For instance, a technology has recently been developed in North America for steam explosion and enzyme digestion of begasse fiber from sugarcane to extract 50% additional sugar or other value added products and to yield a lignin-free cellulose fiber highly suitable for paper making. A small commercial plant is now commencing production in the USA. Left to itself, it may be many years before the technology finds its way to India.

Establishment of a commercial agency to identify, transfer, promote pilot commercial units and later proliferate new technologies can abridge the transfer time and dramatically accelerate industrial development in the country.

POTENTIALS OF EASTERN EUROPE

Changes taking place in Eastern Europe represent a unique opportunity for the Third World. The nations of the former Soviet Union have invested enormous resources in scientific and technological activities and have produced outstanding results in many fields. Yet except in areas related to defense, their record of commercializing new technologies has been poor due to the lack of a competitive environment. Even where commercialization has been successful within Eastern Europe, the transfer of know-how to other countries was greatly impeded by bureaucratic constraints. Ten years ago, an Indian scientist visiting Central Asia was not even permitted to obtain a few sample seeds of a disease-resistant cotton strain.

CIS countries possess many technologies valuable to developing countries. A study undertaken by Tata Consultant Services for the Indo-Soviet Chamber of Commerce a few years ago identified hundreds of Russian technologies which could be commercialized in India. The current economic crisis in the CIS has broken down many of the barriers and constraints to free transfer of technology and collaboration between Eastern Europe and the Third World. A concerted effort by the right type of organization can unleash a massive influx of new technologies.

Perhaps, most important of all, much more can and needs to be done to also increase the transfer of technologies from India's own research establishment. Almost every university in America operates a special department to assist researchers in evaluating, patenting and marketing commercially viable technologies they develop. The Republic of Ireland operates a number of very successful "technology parks" or incubators to encourage and assist scientists to establish enterprises to commercial technologies they have developed.

INTERNATIONAL CONSORTIUM FOR TECHNOLOGY TRANSFERS

The World Academy of Arts and Sciences has recently established the Biofocus Foundation and Biofocus Corporation in Sweden to identify environmentally-friendly technologies in the West and transfer them to developing countries on a commercial basis. Initial experience suggests the need for a counterpart organization in each developing country also operated on a commercial basis to help identify suitable partners for each transfer.

A proposal has been drawn up for the Third World Academy of Sciences in Trieste, Italy to sponsor the establishment of a similar corporate entity for commercial transfer of technologies both from outside and within developing countries in collaboration with participating organizations such as BCIL or private enterprises.

The consortium will identify high potential technologies, purchase the rights or licenses for marketing them, and arrange for sale and transfer to commercial customers. The consortium will be professionally managed and profit-making.

This arrangement will be advantageous to technology developers, since the consortium will seek to achieve multiple transfers of each technology to many suitable clients, as BCIL is doing for the effluent technology. It will provide a vital service to domestic industry by seeking out valuable technologies and negotiating their transfer.

The key to success lies in choosing technologies which Third World entrepreneurs can directly put to use, without further assistance or modification.

Initial emphasis will be placed on technologies related to food production, processing, storage and distribution, areas of great concern and great commercial potential.

JOINT RESEARCH PROGRAMMES

India's reservoir of highly educated scientific and technological manpower represents another enormous untapped potential for accelerating national development. With the phenomenally high costs of research in the West, it is both technically and financially possible to promote collaborative research projects with Western scientific institutions and corporations on a large scale. Such activity can result in substantial income to Indian scientific institutions, which can be invested in upgrading research facilities and providing more attractive compensation packages to scientists.

Government policy can play a big role in promoting collaborative research in much the way that industrial policy in Japan and Korea has encouraged intensive efforts by science and industry to develop a competitive advantage in specific commercial fields. A study should be undertaken to identify specific areas with the largest potential for collaborative research. Fields such as biotechnology, computer science and pharmaceuticals are extremely promising. The study should also assess the infrastructure needed to attract foreign ventures and evolve a strategy for implementation.

Research institutions can also do much on their own. It requires an entrepreneurial attitude and commercial effort to determine fields in which India can provide a competitive advantage and to actively solicit collaborative projects in the West.

The most effective way to promote foreign research collaborations is to modify tax policy to exempt foreign exchange earnings income from such activities in the same way as income from export of physical products is presently exempted from tax for five years. In fact, the entire wide range of service exports will receive a substantial boost if they receive the same preferential treatment as commodity exports.

PROPOSAL TO THE INDIAN NATIONAL SCIENCE CONGRESS

INSC can help organize a research cell of about 20 people to -

  • Conduct an inventory of available technologies within India that have commercial potential for large scale dissemination.
  • Develop a list of internationally available technologies that can be immediately transferred and utilized in India.
  • Examine the present extent to which India is harnessing the technologies available domestically and internationally.
  • Assess the potential scope for adoption of these technologies and the benefits of doing so for the country.
  • Determine the most effective structure or system for rapid transfer of these technologies at the national level and internationally.
  • Assess the impact of accelerated technology transfers over the next 3 to 5 years on local prosperity, exports, and the attitude of the public toward Science and Technology.
  • Identify high potential areas for collaborative research in India in partnership with Western research institutions and corporations.
  • Identify specific policy measures and other steps that can be taken to attract foreign partners for joint research programs.
  • Examine the potential benefits of a Third World self-help initiative in technology versus the benefits of reliance on foreign aid.

 


Future Education Conference

We are pleased to invite you to participate in a one-day conference on Future Education in India being organized at Anandha Inn, Pondicherry on January 28, 2018 to consider the changes needed in our schools and to examine successful strategies that are already being applied by schools in India and overseas. 

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