Opinion

UK, India firm up their research partnership

Dominic Asquith | Updated on October 16, 2018 Published on October 16, 2018

R&D Forging ahead   -  Getty Images

UK Research and Innovation will foster research in areas ranging from the arts to medicine and astronomy

To innovate means to change, transform and adapt. To find better solutions to meet new requirements. Fitting then, that the UK is making changes to its research and innovation efforts: bringing nine organisations together to form a new body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and making the largest investment increase in a generation to maintain its world-leading position in this field.

The India-UK partnership is among our most significant — New Delhi is one of only four capitals with a dedicated UKRI team.

We will formally launch UKRI here on October 25 but the predecessors of this organisation have been investing in India for a decade.

Diverse areas

Over that time, the UK has risen from fourth to second place among India’s international research collaborators, the partnership between UKRI and its Indian collaborators has accelerated from less than £1 million to well over £300 million (₹2,800 crore), now spanning the full spectrum from the arts to astronomy. The UK and Indian researchers are working to understand the historic architecture of Tamil temple towns and rapid urbanisation, advanced materials for civil nuclear power, and the next generation of laser technology. Academics are partnering with farmers to help deliver a second, “evergreen” revolution, and with businesses to reduce post-harvest losses.

These collaborations form a living bridge between our two nations, stretching back over time. In 1956, the British Medical Research Council, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and the World Health Organization (WHO) founded the National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis, Chennai. UK and Indian researchers there designed the first major studies of home care for TB patients, helping save millions of lives. Half a century later the UK and India funded a collaboration, led by Professor Soumya Swaminathan, on Antimicrobial Resistant TB. Swaminathan in turn partnered with the UK as Director General of ICMR, before becoming the Deputy Director General of the WHO. A great example of knowledge gained and shared across boundaries. The UK has always invested in research and innovation, with more Nobel prizes and top ranked universities than in any other European country. In creating UKRI we are making the biggest change to our system for 40 years, to help us better connect across disciplines, research and business-led innovation, infrastructure and talent.

India too is focusing on this, through constituting the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council. As the UK targets total R&D investment of 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027, India is boosting investment in collaboration. We both stand to thrive through engaging the best minds, organisations and facilities — and working with partners outside our borders too.

The UK and EU’s clear intention is that UK researchers and businesses will continue to be eligible to participate in the main EU research and innovation programme, whatever the outcome of negotiations.

When our Prime Ministers met in London, they set out a vision for a technology partnership that benefits both sides, and of the UK and India working together as a “force for good” in the world. Research and innovation is at the heart of both of these. Through our tech partnership, we can find ways to tackle mutual challenges and save lives. This is already happening — maternal health is a great example. Every day, approximately 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, more than half due to obstetric haemorrhage, pre-eclampsia and sepsis.

Professor Andrew Shennan is leading a UK-India-trilateral partnership to test the world’s first medical device detecting shock and high blood pressure in pregnant women — suitable for rural environments in the developing world across India and Africa. Researchers are confident that this device could cut maternal mortality by 25 per cent.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think of what impact collaborations like this could have. If Shennan’s technology saves a baby’s life next year, by the time she enters primary school, India will probably have the world’s largest population, and our collaboration on agriculture may be helping nourish more people more sustainably. When she enters secondary school, India may already be the third largest economy, and perhaps new solar panel types built from research begun before she was born power electric vehicles. When she enters the labour market she may be a scientist, a farmer, or she may do a job with no title yet — but the chances are her work will be more globally connected and demand more knowledge than ever before.

The Sustainable Development Goals hopefully will have been realised, and India and the UK will have proved the power of innovation, and of partnership in helping to achieve them.

The writer is British High Commissioner to India

Published on October 16, 2018
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