Research in any developed economy is directed towards generating useful knowledge which is exploited for economic gains, which then fuels further research. In these knowledge-based economies, academia, Research Institutes (RIs) develop expertise in their fields of interest and this expertise is offered up in the open market. Firms collaborate with RIs and academia which helps to off-set research costs and cut development time of end products. For instance, Oxford, Cambridge, MIT and Princeton are world renowned institutes with expertise in specific fields and they collaborate with market firms to generate new processes and products.

Knowledge in scientific terms is something new and should be differentiated from know-how, which is generally information pertaining to existing processes and products, and at best pertains to specific information about scientific principles involved in the working of an existing product and its trouble-shooting.

Knowledge is something original which does not exist before, in the world and market, and ultimately leads to innovation. Jet engines, integrated circuits, facsimiles were innovations at their time as they were underpinned by new knowledge. However, knowledge repositories are not built overnight, but are a result of decades of research done by firms, institutes and universities. These kernels of knowledge help to develop breakthrough technologies which change and shape our lives.

In a developing country such as ours, there is confusion between know-how and knowledge. There are generally three steps which we need to take to move towards a knowledge-based economy. In the first step, we have to understand know-how of technologies underlying existing products; and understand if we have the scientific knowledge to understand and troubleshoot the existing processes and products of these technologies. In the second step, we should be able to improve and upgrade existing technologies. Finally, we should be able to make better versions of existing technologies. This would be a stepping stone for generation of knowledge which could be used for developing processes and products suited to our economic and societal needs.

Thus, to move from know-how to knowledge-based economy, we need to have a focused scientific and technological policy. Relevant stakeholders may be consulted and pertinent key performance indicators maybe established. Accordingly, instead of allowing mushroom growth of new universities and research institutes, government should prioritise what sort of technologies do we need to develop and task existing universities and research institutes to tailor their capabilities (such as infrastructure, faculty) accordingly. This would help develop a focused research aimed at solving problems relevant to our economy and society.

Presently, COVID-19 scenario woefully exposes the lack of scientific and biological research capabilities of our relevant universities and RIs. Most information about the virus strain and possible short- and long-term treatment is coming from knowledge-based economies. Furthermore, information on how COVID-19 will behave as weather patterns change is also coming from knowledge-based economies. Therefore, as argued above, instead of graduate-churning universities, we should develop focused and result-oriented scientific and technological research institutes to stay relevant in the 21st century.