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For Indian organisations ready to bite the innovation bullet, the European Union's Framework Programme is a rewarding introduction to collaborative R&D.
Noting the remarkable success of India's generic drug makers, a leading news weekly observed, "They invest in just enough know-how to exploit the rest of the world's discoveries." The same could apply to India's raging success in other areas of science and technology. But while the country is at a stage where it has more to gain from making the most of technology than from the trouble of innovation, it is unclear how long this will hold out. What is needed is a culture that encourages private funding of innovation, putting into motion cycles of innovation that create others.
In fact, the Department of Science and Technology offers a clutch of evolving funding mechanisms to stimulate original R&D work. In spite of that, the Indian government's spending on R&D is paltry. As a percentage of GDP, it is less than that of most developed countries. While India already hosts R&D centres for over 100 multinational firms, these do not have programmes that openly invite collaborative participation even if they do share subject focus.
An alternative would be to explore the public funding schemes of other countries or organisations that are open to participation from the international community. The European Union's Framework Programme (EU FP) is such a plan for collaboration in science and technology with Europe. Since its launch in 1984, it has become the world's single largest publicly funded research programme, offering a single window to collaborate with a continent that continues to be at the forefront of defining and influencing key developments in science and technology. Funding schemes within the Framework Programme (FP) combine private sector investment and national and European public funding, the bulk of which goes into collaborative research. This collaborative angle of the FP supports cooperation between universities, research centres, public bodies and industries across the EU and the world.
The EU and India get together in science and technology
The 2002 EU-India Science and Technology (S&T) Cooperation Agreement sealed a formal collaboration between the EU and India that gave India the tag of an International Cooperation Partner Country. In practical terms, this makes Indian organisations participating in the FP eligible for funding alongside counterparts from EU Member States. Indian FP participation took off with the Sixth Framework Programme (2002-2006) which saw close to 80 Indian organisations in projects across ten thematic areas (see listing in next section).
For a programme that invites international collaboration, it has its support structure in place: a worldwide network of National Contact Points (NCPs) that provides assistance to prospective organisations on aspects of participation in the FP. In India, the role of the NCP has been assigned to the Ministry of Information Technology. The NCP and its network in India, as elsewhere, assists organisations in the process of going about submitting a proposal and forming a consortium, while at times even recommending organisations for inclusion in other project consortia in the process of being formed.