A more than Logical Partnership

By Daniel Shah, Director, RCUK India.

I’m excited – about India, about UK-India research and innovation, and about what we can do together. The relationship is increasingly important and dynamic and I feel privileged to have the chance to be part of something that can make such a difference to both peoples.

Humayun’s tomb, Delhi INDIA

India is finding a renewed place in the world – as one of the fastest growing large economies, a global player, and growing a research power. Data from DST show academic outputs have been increasing by almost 14% a year, and the very best articles by 20%, faster than any other major research country. With the worlds’ largest youth population, a high proportion of the next generation of great researchers, creative innovators and business leaders are here. What impresses me most is that India has both – incredible diversity and stunning scale.

In my last role, I led the international policy work of Universities UK International, the membership body for UK universities, working on research and higher education policy across the whole world. Before that I worked on international and EU strategy for the Russell Group of universities, on research funding and university-business interactions for the UK Government’s Department for Business Innovation and Skills (now BEIS), and in social enterprise. Looking out from Britain at the world, I felt that if you wanted to make a difference, India is the place to go to. (That it is also the place to go for the world’s best vegetarian food, helps!)

As a world leader in research and innovation, the UK has a lot to offer in return. With 1% of the world’s population we are second in top cited academic articles, Nobel prizes, and international students only to the USA. We produce more papers per pound than any large research base. I’m proud that we are an open minded and international research community: with half of the ten most international universities, one in four academics hailing from outside the UK, and one in two articles having an international co-author.  We sit at the heart of global networks of ideas, 60% of Indian Nobel laureates have links to the UK. For a global Britain, research and innovation are central to our place in the world of technology, prosperity and influence.

Rashtrapati Bhavan (Official Residence of the President of India) during the Beating the Retreat Ceremony, Delhi INDIA

In recognition of this growing importance of research and innovation, the UK Government plans to create UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a single strategic research and innovation funding body, which will build on the strengths and values of the current system. UKRI will, subject to legislation, incorporate the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and the research funding and knowledge exchange parts of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). This will provide a greater focus on as inter-disciplinary research and a strengthened voice on the global stage. Professor Sir Mark Walport, currently the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, will be appointed as Chief Executive Designate of UKRI. Sir Mark knows India well, from his time as Director of the Wellcome Trust

, as chair of the UK-India Science and Innovation Policy Dialogue and, closer to home for us as the keynote speaker at RCUK India’s 5th anniversary events in 2013.

Part of the Prime Minister’s Plan for Britain is for the UK to be “one of the best places in the world for science and innovation”. She said “we will remain at the forefront of collective endeavours to better understand, and make better, the world in which we live.” One of the first pillars in the UK’s Industrial strategy is investing in science, research & innovation. As Sir Mark said, “The government has put its money where its mouth is with the announcement of £4.7 billion of new R&D funding between now and 2021”.

The UK Research Councils and Indian funders are building on many years of collaboration, and our nations are increasing investment in the relationship, including through the Newton-Bhabha Fund (which will rise to £20m per year by 2021). Many new programmes like air pollution and health, water quality, biotech and civil nuclear were announced during Prime Minister May’s first major international visit last November. These partnerships highlight how so many of our shared challenges also contribute to Global Goals, for example in understanding megacities, making rice more resilient to unpredictable water, developing simple devices to measure blood pressure to save pregnant women’s lives or technology for smarter, cheaper solar cells to boost affordable access to clean energy. In research we are all international in that we build on the labours of scholars from many places. International students came to India centuries before the Common Era, but the pace of change means that to remain at the cutting edge collaboration is no longer optional.

The iconic red phone box at an EU event in Hyderabad INDIA

In the nine years since the RCUK India office opened, Research Councils, Indian partners and third parties have between them invested over £200m into high-impact joint research programmes with over 300 researchers and over 90 industrial partners. The UK is now India’s second largest collaborator by co-authorship and the benefits are shared across society from Dundee to Delhi, Manchester to Mumbai, and Birmingham to Bangalore.

India and the UK share democracy and a well-founded respect for the important things in life like tea, literature and cricket: we are a logical partnership. For me personally it is also biological and emotional. As a child of both Indian and British parents, I feel I have a vested interest in our success together. I’m inspired by the changes we have already made and the warmth of the greeting I’ve enjoyed.

There is so much we can do, I am eager to see just how much we can achieve together. As Prime Minister Modi said “I believe that India and the UK must continue to nurture and support an ecosystem of high quality fundamental research to pave the way for joint technology development that can address global challenges.” I look forward keenly to getting to know India better, to a stronger relationship, and to making a difference.