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Budget 2018 brings a new model for financing research infrastructure

rnd-reuters With the launch of RISE, funding for research infrastructure will undergo a complete revamp | Reuters

IITs are in favour of the new model of research financing announced in the budget 2018. While presenting the budget for 2018-19 on Thursday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said, "To step up investments in research and related infrastructure in premier educational institutions, including health institutions, I propose to launch a major initiative named Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) by 2022, with a total investment of Rs 1 lakh crore in the next four years.” He further said that the Higher Education Financing Agency(HEFA) would be suitably structured for funding this initiative.

Funding for research infrastructure which was primarily done through MHRD grants will undergo a complete revamp after this move. Under the new model, IITs, IISc and NITs will have to seek loans from HEFA to fund their research infrastructure. Government grants to these institutions will be available only for recurring expenditure such as consumables and salaries.

IITs can get loans worth 10 times their earnings, that is whatever they earn through fees, internal accruals and research consultancy. So, if an IIT earns Rs 50 crore through internal accruals, it can put forward a loan proposal of Rs 500 crore.

"From what I understand, the government will bear entire interest portion of the loan and IITs will have to pay the principal amount. The interest rate has been kept at 9 per cent and IITs will get 10 years to pay back the loan,” said a director of one of the older IITs.

For new IITs, the government has given more leeway, since their internal accruals are less and spending on infrastructure is more. A lot of them are still in the phase of construction of their labs and building. The newer IITs therefore can borrow 40 times of their internal accruals. Meanwhile, 75 per cent of the principal amount and the entire interest component in this case will be borne by the government.

"It is a good move as it will make IITs more responsible. Earlier, we used to do only expenditure planning but now we will have to work out the entire financial plan. We will have to look for ways to raise resources. Also, one has to be careful about borrowing because ultimately it has to be paid back,” said Professor Sarit K. Das, Director at IIT Ropar.

The finance minister also announced a major scheme to attract students to research called Prime Minister's Research Fellows (PMRF).

Under the scheme, government will identify 1,000 best B.Tech students each year from premier institutions and provide them facilities to pursue Ph.D. in IITs and IISc. The researchers will be paid a fellowship of Rs 75,000.

Jaitley said the government also expects those bright young fellows to voluntarily commit few hours every week for teaching in higher educational institutions. The PMRF scheme has been allocated a sum of Rs 1,800 crore.

Experts say that while increased stipend might attract students to research, the sharp increase might also have an adverse impact. They feel that giving too much money as stipend might distract their attention from research. An increase in research fellowship is indeed needed, but the amount under this scheme is more than double. Currently, research fellows under various schemes get anywhere between Rs 16000-30000.

The move to open 18 new schools of planning and architecture (SPA) in IITs has also been lauded as there was a huge deficit of architecture schools. "In a growing country like India, we need good urban planners, architects. The pace at which construction is happening, the demand for such professionals is set to increase. Therefore it is a good move,” said Professor Das of IIT Ropar.

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