In the Fiscal Year 2021-2022’s budget of NRs. 16 Kharba 47 Arba 57 Crores (USD 14 billion dollars) the largest ever, Nepal economy is projected to grow to 6.5% with a view to control the Covid-19 pandemic and boost economic recovery.
Over the past few years, the Science and Technology (S & T) sector has been successful to some extent in gaining some traction in the budget. A country which spent only 0.4% of GDP $36.084 billion, $122.62 billion (PPP, 2021 est), in S&T, it is good to see a symbolic increase in this year's S&T budget which is less than the targeted 0.65% by 2019. Considering the current status of S&T in the country which needs a heavy lifting to be able to make any significant contribution to a prosperous Nepal vision by 2030, such face-lifting would have little impact.
The budget this year has put forward some policy changes and recommendations to prioritize and use S&T to country’s development. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology received close to 11% of the total budget of Rs. 1 Kharba 80 Arba 4 crore appropriations. The budget has highlighted to increase social awareness by utilizing and incorporating technology and innovation through the formation of Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) to conduct science and technology research in an integrated and coordinated manner. It is a good vision and much depends on how STIC structure, function and role are defined.
Madan Bhandari University of Science and Technology which aims to produce world class human resource in the field of science and technology is given high priority and will be in operation next year. Construction of infrastructure of Engineering faculty at Chitlang, Makwanpur and infrastructure construction in Panchkhal of Kavre district are listed as the priority projects. For this, Rs. 1 Arba 55 crore has been allocated. Under the policy change, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) will be restructured and the BP Koirala Memorial Science Museum will be converted to the BP Koirala National Science Park with additional budget.
Some of the S&T investment highlights include 70 Arba for COVID, Rs 45.09 Arba for agriculture sector, 3 Arba for Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC), Rs 4 Arba for skill development training, conduct feasibility study of uranium in Mustang and grants scheme introduced to students on merit. It will be good if COVID fund is allocated to set up a Centre of Excellence for Virology Research to develop a full-fledged genomic R&D capability as a collaborative project in consortium with public health Laboratories , NRNA and NAST.
S & T Policy
Nepal Federal Science and Technology policy 2061 outlines its vision, mission, strategies, institutional coordination, priority areas, problem and challenges and monitoring and assessment mechanism etc. It also talks about the creation of the S & T Innovation Fund to fund research activities. The policy, however, doesn’t clearly address the Regional, Provincial, Start-ups, Private and Community S&T activities and coordination mechanism. The seven provinces are also trying to develop their own S&T policies, especially post COVID situations. It is important that a comprehensive and inclusive S&T policy in consultation with the provincial and private sector is formulated to enable an effective coordination of the country's S&T activities. This is more so important considering our capital and human resources limitation and S&T is a long-term investment. Each province can be given the responsibilities to develop a Centre of Excellence in niche areas based on their geo-diversity and resources and commit funds to R&D activities. The provincial universities will also need to have R&D activities linked to higher education and integrated approach precondition to get federal funding. The funding can be reviewed based on the R&D performances and outcomes using KPIs such as innovation, patent, publication, trademarks and collaboration. R&D activities need to focus on indigenous technologies and resources as well as on emerging areas of science such as artificial intelligence, genomic research, smart and functional materials and technology.
MoE&ST should consider forming Provincial Councils for Science & Technology to align provincial activities to development goals and be included in the National five-year plan. Though it may require a sustained effort of consultation and engagement to establish and develop such a council, such a council will enable provinces who may not have necessary experiences to start the process of planning and promotion of Science & Technology at the state level. S&T provincial councils can be chaired by Chief Ministers of respective provinces or by an eminent scientist. Likewise, a national S&T advisory body directly under the Prime-Minister should also be formed, composed of state S&T council representatives and eminent scientists from different disciplines. NAST can play a catalytic role to help facilitate in establishing and developing the S&T Councils by providing support for their technical secretariats.
Nepal is geopolitically close to two giant S&T leaders China and India and needs to develop long-term R&D alliances with them to benefit from knowledge and resource sharing. The message is clear that Nepal needs long term commitment, internal and external collaborations and alliances in science and technology if the country wishes to achieve sustainable economic prosperity.
Dr Adhikari, a Nepali scientist based in Australia, is a member secretary of Skill Knowledge and Technology (SK&TT) Department of the NRNA.