Celebrating 10 Years of the Indo-US Science & Technology Forum

bridges vol. 28, December 2010 / Norm Neureiter on S&T in Foreign Policy

By Norman P. Neureiter          

Norman P. Neureiter

Earlier this month I was in Delhi, India, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Indo-US S&T Forum (IUSSTF) and to participate in the annual meeting of the joint Governing Body (GB) of that organization, of which I am the US cochair.  The broad mission of the bilateral IUSSTF is to promote S&T cooperation between the US and India.  This Forum has a unique structure for a cooperative instrument supported by two governments, since it was not possible at the time of President Clinton's visit in 2000 to sign a formal science cooperation agreement.  India was under US sanctions because of their test of a nuclear weapon in 1998, and also the Indians were unwilling (understandably) to accept the rather one-sided intellectual-property provision which the US required at the time in all formal S&T agreements.  However, the creative ingenuity of then-US Ambassador to India Richard Celeste led to establishing the Forum as an Indian private society (an NGO), officially chartered under the Indian Societies Registration Act of 1860.    

The US government contributed $7 million in Indian rupees to an endowment deposited in an Indian bank, and the Indian Government agreed to match the annual interest earned on the endowment.  The result was that the IUSSTF was assured of having an amount in rupees equivalent to $1.2 million to $1.4 million each year as core funding to support its activities.  At the beginning, implementation was relatively slow, as the two governments moved to create the new, nongovernmental institution.  US and Indian cochairs plus six other GB members from each country were appointed.  A portion of the Fulbright House in Delhi was remodeled to house the IUSSTF  Secretariat, and a lengthy competitive process led to the hiring of Dr. Arabinda Mitra - a scientist in the Indian government - as the first executive director (amitra[at]indousstf.org).  Additional staff were hired and procedures for requesting, evaluating, and funding proposals were established along with careful financial management that would assure approval after rigorous fiscal auditing.  After serving for nearly seven years, Dr. Mitra will soon leave the IUSSTF to take an important position in the Indian Department of Science and Technology; a search for a new executive director in India is now underway.  

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} On the Indian side, the IUSSTF cochair has always been the secretary of the Department of Science and Technology - first, Professor V.S. Ramamurthy and, since 2006, his successor Dr. T. Ramasami.  Having joined the State Department in late 2000 as science advisor to the secretary, I was appointed US cochair and have continued in that role at the request of the State Department since moving to my present position at AAAS.  Other GB members from India have been prominent officials from several science departments and distinguished members of the academic science community.  On the US side, NSF, NIH, NAS, DOE, NIST, and USDA, as well as the business and university communities, have been represented for varying terms.    

We also quickly learned that to run a bilateral program it is essential to have an office in both countries even if the funds, all in rupees, are managed by the Secretariat in Delhi.  Michael Cheetham, who initially supported IUSSTF activities  at the NAS, became the US director and is now located at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington (mcheetham[at]si.edu), but we are exploring a possible relocation of the US office to AAAS.  That office also manages a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization called India Science and Technology Partnership (InSTP), which was created on the US side in order to accept tax-deductible contributions to the IUSSTF.   
Based on 10 years of experience, the IUSSTF appears to be remarkably successful and has made very good use of its modest financial resources.  The focus has been on bringing US and Indian scientists together through workshops, advanced training schools, a large number of visitation and internship programs for faculty and students, and selective travel grants.  This approach is based on the belief that US and Indian researchers who have met each other and have found common interests will likely be able to secure resources for extended research cooperation.  Three times a year the Forum issues a call for proposals, which are peer reviewed in each country and funding decisions are made jointly.  A key criterion for approval of a proposal is that there should be good prospects for Indian-American cooperation to emerge from the proposed activity.  

In the past seven years, we have involved nearly 10,000 scientists, held over 150 workshops, have leveraged many tens of millions of dollars in resulting joint projects, created 26 virtual joint R&D centers, and facilitated exchange programs in physics and microbiology, as well as a number of fellowship programs.  We have two flagship programs focused on young scientists and engineers (under 45), called Frontiers of Science and Frontiers of Engineering.  One conference each year, alternating between science and engineering, brings together about 30 carefully selected young leaders in their fields from each country to spend several days in multidisciplinary discussions; a small amount of seed research money is available on a competitive basis at the end of the meeting to kick-start closer cooperation.  Six Frontiers symposia have been held to date and have won high praise.  Furthermore, some corporations and government agencies have found the IUSSTF to be an excellent instrument for managing a variety of special programs, including initiatives that promote innovation and entrepreneurship, such that total activities this year exceeded $4 million - all consistent with our core objective of promoting India-US S&T cooperation

In July 2009, another S&T-related agreement was signed between the US and India during the visit to India of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It created a $30 million Endowment, which will be used for joint applied-research activities and for emphasizing entrepreneurship, innovation, and eventual commercialization of the results.  Appointment of the US and Indian members of the joint board that will oversee implementation of the Endowment is imminent, and it has already been agreed that the IUSSTF Secretariat will provide support functions for the Endowment program. 

A very important insight drawn from my experience with this IUSSTF model is that establishment of such a private body with a stable (even if small) endowment has several advantages.  One advantage is that it provides a known level of funding each year on a continuing basis.  A major problem in all international S&T cooperation is the inconsistency of funding that must be newly appropriated each year.  Another advantage is that a well-run NGO can operate more nimbly and flexibly than a government agency and can respond quickly to new opportunities.  Governments usually do not like to spend money on endowments that can go on forever, but with good management by an effective board, the board can decide to spend out the endowment and terminate the program if a mission is no longer needed.  For those of you interested in international S&T cooperation and/or science diplomacy, the establishment of an IUSSTF-like NGO could be a valuable model for consideration. 
A highlight of our 10th anniversary celebration in India this month was attendance at our GB meeting by Professor Peter Agre , Nobel Prize winner in chemistry in 2003, director of the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and current chairman of AAAS, who was the featured speaker at our celebratory anniversary banquet.  He also spoke at a special student science camp to an amazingly well-prepared group of eleventh graders who bombarded him with remarkably detailed technical questions about his Nobel Prize work on aquaporins (water channels).  In addition, he gave a well-attended public lecture at the International Centre in Delhi, and had a private meeting at his residence with the former President of India, A.P.J. Kalam, who is also a distinguished aeronautical engineer and rocket scientist.  
In India science is booming.  The country sees its future as a knowledge-based society.  They are opening new universities, emphasizing training in science and engineering, and greatly increasing funding for R&D.  As India advances, there is also increasing interest from other countries in cooperation:  India presently has cooperative science agreements with 80 countries.  While we were there, French President Sarkozy was just winding up his official visit, in which science cooperation and high-tech trade were discussed.  My cochair was involved in an event honoring the new director of the Indo-French Center for Promotion of Advanced Research, which funds cooperative projects.  The day after our GB meeting, I briefly attended the 2010 Technology Summit convened by the Confederation of Indian industry (CII), in which Germany was the international partner.  Later that day, along with Dr. Ramasami, I went to the inauguration of the newly established Indo-German S&T Center in Gurgaon, led by the German Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Thomas Rachel

What all this activity makes clear is that science and technology are writ large in India's future.  And it is the intention of the Forum's joint Governing Body that the IUSSTF should continue to play a key role in helping to define the future of the US-India S&T relationship.    

Update on PUST

Some of you may have seen my earlier bridges piece on the dedication of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) - a most remarkable institution in North Korea.  The dedication ceremony was held in October 2009, and there were plans to begin operation with students in April of 2010.  That date slipped to May, then August, then September, but finally in October the university began instruction of the first group of specially selected North Korean students - 98 undergraduates and 46 at the graduate level.  At present, the only classes being offered are in English language proficiency, since English is to be the principal teaching language of the school.  The present plan is to begin teaching the science curricula in March of 2011, but English will likely be an important subject for some time to come.  I am told that PUST is interested in recruiting teaching staff both for English and for science subjects.  Qualified individuals interested in possibly spending a semester or year there should send an email to Ms. Norma Nichols at norma.nichols[at]gmail.com to get more information


The author, Norman Neureiter, has been a senior advisor to the  AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy (CSTSP) and the Center for Science Diplomacy (CSD)  since July 2009.  {/access}