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The government will soon make it mandatory for educational institutions including All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) to permit private firms to use their research equipment and facilities for a fee.

Equipment such as microscopes (optical and electron), spectrometers, nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, bought through the department of science and technology’s Fund for Improvement of Science and Technology Infrastructure (FIST), need money for maintenance as well as trained manpower.

“We are planning to make it mandatory that educational institutions allow private sector, startups and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to use their research equipment, information facilities, infrastructure and resources for a charge. We are chalking out the finer details of the charges. The fee should be rational and transparent and will apply to all departments (including) biology, chemistry and physics as per their level of research grant under the scheme," Ashutosh Sharma, secretary, ministry of science and technology told Mint.

The FIST scheme is intended to provide basic infrastructure and enabling facilities for promoting research and development in new and emerging areas and attracting fresh talents in universities and other educational institutions. The scheme is considered complimentary support for enabling institutions to pursue research activities more effectively and efficiently.

The lack of funds and problems in maintenance of equipment recently came to light after the government evaluated 1,359 FIST grants amounting to more than 96,000 lakh, provided to 1,170 departments from 380 institutions across the country for grants during 2000-2011. Since the project grant is given for five years, the study effectively covered the impact up to the year 2016.

An impact evaluation report of FIST stated that the number of privately owned higher education institutions has grown rapidly over the last decade but they have a negligible presence in the FIST grant list. The government said that hiring of trained technical staff to operate the equipment purchased under FIST has been a severe problem in many cases.

“The provision is not for earning money but for optimal and greater utilization of the research facilities, high value information systems that these government institutions have. The MSMEs, start-ups don’t have ease of access to these facilities. This will enable them to improve research output for the country," said Sharma.

The evaluators also proposed that permission may be granted for external usage of these facilities for MSMEs and other private users to facilitate revenue generation, which may be used to maintain and upkeep the facilities.

The scheme launched in year 2000 provides optimal infrastructure facilities for post-graduate teaching and research, such as, renovation of existing laboratory space and cold room, modernization of laboratories involved in Post Graduate teaching and research, acquisition of essential equipment, up-gradation of existing facilities, networking and computational facilities including software and databases, scientific and technical books, maintenance and refurbishing of existing and new facilities etc.

As per the evaluation study, about 47.5% of the funds were provided to Central Government Institutions and 43.3% to State Government Institutions. Only 8.3% (information missing for 0.9%) went to private institutions and constituent colleges. Out of total expenditure, 87% of FIST grant was spent on procurement of equipment, 5% on computer, networking and internet, 3.2% on equipment repair, 2.5% on a renovation, 1.2% on books, and 1% on other miscellaneous works.


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