Budget 2021 and Nepal’s science and technology landscape

Dr Raju Adhikari

  • Read Time 3 min.

The government unveiled a budget of Rs 1,647.57 billion for the fiscal year 2021-2022, close to 14 billion dollars, the largest ever in Nepal’s budget history. The economy is projected to grow by 6.5 percent. The budget aims to control the Covid-19 pandemic and achieve economic recovery.

Past few years, the science and technology (S&T) sector has been successful to some extent in gaining some traction in the budget. Considering the current status of S&T in the country which needs heavy-lifting, however, more needs to be done.

The budget this year has put forward some policy changes and recommendations to prioritize and use S&T for the country’s development.  The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology received close to 11 percent of the total budget. The budget aims 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 but much depends on how STIC will be structured and how its function and roles will be defined.

Madan Bhandari University of Science and Technology which aims to produce world class manpower 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 Panchkhal of Kavre has been listed as the priority project. For this, one billion 550 million allocations have been made. Under the policy change, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) will be restructured and BP Koirala Memorial Science Museum will be converted to BP Koirala National Science Park with additional budget.

Some of the S&T investment highlights include 70 billion for COVID, Rs 45.09 billion for agriculture sector, three billion for Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC), Rs four billion for skill development training, conducting feasibility study of uranium in Mustang and grants scheme introduced to students on merit basis. It will be good if COVID funds are 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 of NRNA and NAST.

Nepal needs long term commitment, internal and external collaborations and alliances in science and technology if the country is to achieve sustainable economic prosperity. 

Nepal’s Science Technology and Innovation Policy (2004) outlines vision, mission, strategies, institutional coordination, priority areas, problems and challenges and monitoring and assessment mechanism for S&T.  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. Provinces of Nepal are trying to develop their own S&T policies, especially in 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 even more important considering our capital and human resources limitation and the long-term investment on S&T. 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 with an integrated approach to get federal funding.  The funding can be reviewed based on the R&D performances and outcomes using key performance indicators 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 sciences such as artificial intelligence, genomic research, smart and functional materials and technology.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology should consider forming a Provincial Council for Science & Technology to align provincial activities to development goals and they should 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, it will enable provinces who may not have necessary experiences to start the process of planning and promotion of S&T at provincial level. S&T provincial councils can be chaired by Chief Ministers of respective provinces or by eminent scientists. Likewise, a national S&T advisory body, composed of provincial S&T council representatives and eminent scientists from different disciplines, directly under the Prime-Minister should also be formed. NAST can play a crucial role to facilitate in establishing, developing and providing S&T Councils on S&T with support from their technical secretariats.

Nepal is geopolitically close to two S&T giants, China and India. Nepal needs to develop long-term R&D alliances with them to benefit from knowledge and resource sharing.

Nepal needs long term commitment, internal and external collaborations and alliances in science and technology if the country is to achieve sustainable economic prosperity. 

Dr Raju Adhikari, a Nepali scientist based in Australia, is a member secretary of Skill Knowledge and Technology (SK&TT) Department of the NRNA.