EU India social sciences and humanities platform soon to take off

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India

Equip logoOver the past few years, UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Arts and Humanities
Research Council (AHRC) along with sister European funding agencies have been busy building up a strong portfolio of collaborative research.  For example, NORFACE (New Opportunities for Research Funding Agency Cooperation in Europe) has developed joint research programmes on such topics as the Re-Emergence of Religion as a Social Force in Europe.  HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) recently launched a joint programme on Cultural Encounters.

Both networks are now in a strong position to explore international opportunities.  It is in this context that the EU recently funded the EU-India Social Sciences and Humanities Platform (EqUIP) with a grant award of €1.5 million.

India is at the cusp of a rapid social transformation.  Over the next 20 years or so, there will be massive urbanisation.  New cities will be built and, along with them venerable old cities like Varanasi, will be modernised.  As with the industrial revolution in Europe, this rapid change will throw up all sorts of issues.  Therefore, it is a really exciting time to research and observe this transition.

What will EqUIP do?

Hands meeting around a basketLed by ESRC and the India Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), EqUIP will bring together 12[1] European research funding organisations with sister organisations in India in order to develop a stronger strategic partnership. The idea is that it will step up EU-India collaboration through sharing best practice, networking and the closer coordination of existing collaborative activities and establishing new relationships. As well as this, it will map existing collaborative activity and identify opportunities and priorities for future research collaboration by holding six major international conferences over the next three years.

It will be formally launched by the EU Ambassador to India on the 14th October 2014 at a high profile event in New Delhi.  This brief blog is just to whet your appetite for the exciting research collaboration that is to come between the best in Europe with the best in India.

[1] UK (ESRC, AHRC), Finland (AKA), France (ANR), Italy (APRE), Germany (DFG, DLR), Portugal (FCT), Slovenia (MIZS), Netherlands (NWO), Norway (RCN) and Austria (ZSI)


Celebrating Collaborations – Five years of Research Councils UK India

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director, RCUK India

We, at Research Councils UK India, have a very clear goal and that is to be India’s partner of choice in research by developing a sustainable, strategic partnership of high quality research focussed on jointly agreed priorities.

In November 2013, RCUK India will celebrate 5 years of strong partnership building with India. During these 5 years, the value, breadth and depth of UK-India co-funded research has seen an enormous leap from less than £1m in 2008, to over £100m today covering  a wide spectrum of research challenges in the areas of energy, health, ICT, medicine, environmental  and social sciences.

Five years of Research Councils UK India graphic

Five years of Research Councils UK India graphic

RCUK India has facilitated an impressive portfolio of over 80 high quality, high impact UK-India research partnerships involving over 90 industry partners. 

‘Impact’ is crucial! We must ensure that the research leads to innovation, and a better understanding of the physical and social world.  Strong links between academia and business in both India and the UK will enable innovation and prosperity.

A big impetus for science and innovation comes from India’s 12th Five Year Plan, which states that  ‘we must be guided by a vision of India moving forward in a way that would ensure a broad-based improvement in living standards of all sections of the people, through a growth process which is faster, more inclusive and also environmentally sustainable.’

The plan highlights science, technology and innovation as playing a central role in this vision, and the six major science Ministries will see a substantial increase in funding.  If India’s ambition of investing 2% of GDP on R&D is achieved and the quality of its research base is improved, then India, by virtue of its size and population, is likely to be one of the most important scientific nations in the world in the next ten years.

Working in partnership is crucial to the success of RCUK India, and in November we celebrate the success and the UK-India research partnership, in the last 5 years.

RCUK India along with the UK’s Science and Innovation Network is hosting a series of events week beginning 11 November to mark its five successful years of collaboration with India. The week will bring together senior policy makers, researchers and industrial partners from both the UK and India to build on this successful collaboration for the ultimate benefit of the society and economy in both countries, as well as the world at large.

Watch this space for more updates as RCUK India turns five!

Enhancing collaboration between research and industry: Lessons from UK-India collaboration

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director, RCUK India

Over the last five years, RCUK India has developed a major collaborative research partnership with India involving all seven of the UK’s Research Councils and covering some of the biggest challenges facing the world. Our joint research covers: energy security; food and agriculture; and climate change, as well as looks at the enormous social and cultural changes that are taking place in India. Our collaborative programme has gone from an almost zero base in 2008 to over £100 million now.

We want our collaborative programme to continue to grow. However, the name of the game these days is to answer the “so what?” question. What difference has this research made now? And, if not now, what difference will it make in the future? Indeed, all the Research Councils are committed to ensuring that publicly funded research delivers impact – by which I mean the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy.

One way of finding out about impact is to see to what extent that industry, business and other end users have engaged with the UK-India research programme. That is why we commissioned Sally Daultrey, an independent research analyst based in India, back in January this year to take stock and address the following questions:

  1. What have been the outputs from our co-funded research projects e.g. papers produced/in production, outreach or dissemination events, patents or licenses?
  2. What has been the extent of business and industry participation in our research portfolio?
  3. What are the opportunities for enhanced collaboration with business and industry?

Believe it or not, Sally’s report makes a very interesting read. She looked at how and why relationships between academia, industry and other partners come about; what makes them tick (the magic word here is ‘trust’); and what makes them sustainable. She also developed a typology of different kinds of partners -some are in it for the long term – ‘platform builders’; some who want to be involved in developing the programme right from the start – ‘co-developers; and some who want to dip in and out of programmes depending on their short term needs – ‘opportunistic’ partners. Each of these has a valid role to play in the overall innovation ecosystem.

Finally, Sally’s report presents a bottom-up, hands on experiential picture of international collaboration between researchers and industry partners and comes up with a number of practical steps that can be taken to make things better. A lot more needs to be done to ensure that knowledge generated from our programmes has maximum impact. However, Sally’s report should help us in defining the way forward to maximise the impact of the joint UK-India public investment in research.

Read the Times Higher article on the report.

Sustainable cities and the challenges of urbanisation in India

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director, RCUK India

India has been described as a ‘reluctant urbaniser’. In 2001, the percentage of the population living in urban areas was estimated to be 28 per cent. Ten years later, it is little more than 30 per cent. This is despite the explosive growth of megacities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Nonetheless, there is an expectation that in the next decade or so, the rate of urbanisation will increase significantly. This is, in part, because increased urbanisation is a necessary condition for economic growth. Population trends for India show that there will be a substantial increase in working age population over the next 20 years and sustained economic growth will be necessary to generate new jobs in the manufacturing and services sectors.

Construction work in the outskirts of Delhi

Construction work in the outskirts of Delhi

McKinsey’s recent report, India’s urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth, presented some startling indicators of the likely changes that will happen over the next 15-20 years:

  • 590 million will live in cities, nearly twice the population of the United States today
  • 270 million people net increase in working-age population
  • 70 per cent of net new employment will be generated in cities
  • 68 cities will have population of 1 million plus, up from 42 cities today
  • $1.2 trillion capital investment is necessary to meet projected demand in India’s cities
  • 700-900 million square meters of commercial and residential space needs to be built – or a new Chicago every year
  • 2.5 billion square meters of roads will have to be paved, 20 times the capacity added in the past decade
  • 7,400 kilometers of metros and subways will need to be constructed – 20 time the capacity.

These figures may appear daunting on first pass. However, we have the recent profound transformational change witnessed in China to hand which has experienced a very similar period of explosive growth of cities and development on a similar scale. Although the challenge is great, provided that it is addressed creatively it can be met.

India’s Planning Commission has observed that the pace of urbanization poses an unprecedented managerial and policy challenge. It noted that demand for key services such as water, transport, sewage treatment; low income housing will increase five to sevenfold in cities of every size and shape.

The unprecedented migration of people across India is resulting in its major cities becoming patchwork quilts of different communities living side by side (see UNICEF’s Overview of Internal Migration in India). According to India’s Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, almost a third of India’s population is made up of internal migrants. The integration of new populations, especially in urban areas, is a major issue, particularly given the lack of low income housing provision and basic services.

There are profound choices to be made in India over the next two decades. The sustainability of cities and/or sustainable urbanisation – whatever the definitions used – is a crucial consideration. Both real time knowledge of the urbanisation transition and knowledge how to manage this transition are going to be vitally important. The unprecedented demographic change also needs to be understood in terms of its cultural and historical impact. These are all areas where the academic community working in partnership with business and civil society groups can play an important part in defining the challenges and crafting the solutions appropriate for India.

India’s urban population will double by 2030

India’s urban population will double by 2030

Over recent years, the UK has become a thought-leader on the sustainability of cities and understanding urbanization transitions around the world. Much of this thought leadership has derived from the research commissioned by the individual Councils which have funded programmes on: ICT and internet of things, low carbon cities, water and energy resource management, urban health, demographic transitions and urban poverty alleviation. Later this year, RCUK India will be organising a roundtable which will bring together leading academics, policy makers and thought leaders from the UK and India to discuss and identify key R&D issues focusing on the areas of:

  • Sustainability and urbanisation
  • Smart cities and the urban ecosystem in India
  • Integrating provision of water, waste and energy services
  • Urbanization and delivery of effective health services
  • Changing idea of the city in Indian culture
  • Achieving inclusivity in the face of rapid demographic change

UK-India Partnership: Manufacturing and the Low Carbon Future

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director, RCUK India


A contented India fan at the ICC Championships, Edgbaston last week.

A contented India fan at the ICC Championships, Edgbaston last week.

Manufacturing is undergoing a renaissance in Britain.  It may come as a surprise to some, but the UK is at the leading edge of research and innovation in manufacturing technologies.   The UK is also at the forefront of research and development on how we can transform our energy systems, in particular, electricity generation and distribution systems, to be more efficient and low-carbon.

High-value manufacturing processes are increasingly moving towards flexible, intelligent production systems that involve the inter-play of novel technologies, advanced materials and precision engineered products and systems. Modern manufacturing is more than merely production – it encompasses R&D, design, prototyping, production, distribution, service and supports provision, and end-of-life repair, recycle or reuse.  The objective of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) Manufacturing the Future challenge theme is to create, capture and accelerate the benefits from groundbreaking research for future UK manufacturing. Manufacturing businesses compete in international markets, and their supply chains and competitors are often global.  As research also performs within a global context, there is considerable scope and need to increase the alignment between global research and global manufacturing.

Likewise, with more and more intermittent renewable electricity generation, particularly wind and solar, coming on stream, a global research effort is needed to develop smart grids and energy storage technologies to secure our low carbon futures.

These two areas are also vitally important for India as it seeks to go up the value chain and create new jobs and industries and also to increase the contribution of renewables in its energy mix.  Since 2008, the research partnership between the UK and India in areas of mutual interests has gone from strength to strength.  This was highlighted last week by the announcement of 12 new research collaborations in the areas of Advanced Manufacturing and Smart Energy Grids and Energy Storage. A full list of projects is available here.

The new research was announced by David Willetts, the UK’s Science Minister, during the India Business Day Conference at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Birmingham, against the backdrop of the ICC International Championships. This research is funded by EPSRC in the UK and India’s Department of Science and Technology (DST.)

A very important aspect of this research is that it involves over 30 industry partners from the UK and India, contributing over £1 million to the research projects. Partners include: Rolls-Royce, Bharat Heavy Electricals, E.ON, National Grid and Mott Macdonald.  This ensures that research is relevant to industry and the outputs get to be used – an important consideration for us in these times when we need to grow our way out of recession.

We at RCUK India are proud to have played our part in getting these major new research initiatives, which will have a major impact in years to come, off the ground.