The recent cancellation of the SATHI (Sophisticated Analytical and Technical Help Institutes) program under the Department of Science and Technology (DST) has ignited a wave of apprehension among researchers and academics. This move has raised concerns regarding its potential impact on research funding, particularly in the context of the anticipated introduction of the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the potential influence of the private sector in shaping the research landscape.
SATHI Program Overview and Cancellation:
Launched in 2020, the SATHI program aimed to establish centers equipped with advanced analytical instruments, fostering collaboration and resource-sharing among institutions. The recent cancellation of the call for proposals under SATHI has left educational institutions, especially in Kerala, anxious about the future of their research initiatives.
Purpose of SATHI and Consortium Model:
SATHI operated on a consortium model, where a lead organization hosted advanced research equipment, providing access to partner institutions lacking such resources. The program’s cancellation has prompted concerns about the shrinking availability of funding sources for critical research and development equipment.
Speculation Surrounding NRF Introduction:
Within the academic community, speculation is rife that the SATHI cancellation may be a precursor to the introduction of the National Research Foundation (NRF). The recently passed Anusandhan NRF Bill, 2023, envisions a centralized body for research funding, with a significant reliance on private sector investments.
NRF Bill and Funding Allocation:
The NRF Bill anticipates an allocation of ₹50,000 crores over the next five years, with nearly ₹36,000 crores expected to come from the private sector. This substantial private sector involvement in research funding has triggered concerns about potential shifts in research priorities.
Concerns and Fear of Market Influence:
Researchers fear that increased private sector participation might lead to market forces dictating research priorities. There is a growing concern that this could compromise the autonomy of educational institutions, influencing their research agendas towards projects with commercial viability rather than focusing on fundamental research.
Uncertainty and Academic Apprehension:
The cancellation of the SATHI program, coupled with the impending introduction of the NRF, has created uncertainty about the future of research funding in the country. Academics are apprehensive about potential shifts in focus and worry about reduced emphasis on fundamental research in favor of projects aligned with market interests.
Broader Implications for Scientific Inquiry:
Beyond the immediate concerns about the cancellation of one program, the academic community’s apprehension extends to the broader implications for research priorities and the nature of scientific inquiry in the country. The evolving landscape prompts a reflection on how future policies may impact the pursuit of knowledge and innovation.
As the academic community navigates these uncertainties, there is a call for transparent dialogue and collaborative decision-making to ensure that the trajectory of research funding aligns with the overarching goal of advancing knowledge for the benefit of society.