Inadequate funds impede social science R&D

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 18 2011, 09:58am hrs
Resource constraint along with over dependence on state governments for project finance has led to a dilution of research quality in the already underfunded social science research in the country. In fact, in 2009-10, out of the total University Grants Commission (UGC) expenditure incurred on research in social and basic sciences, only 12% was allocated to social sciences.

This has had a direct bearing on the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) which is the apex institute to promote research in social sciences in the country and has 25 research institutions under it.

Funding for the ICSSR has been so modest, especially when seen in the perspective of funding received by comparable bodies of repute like the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that from 2005-06 to 2009-10, the total grant to ICSSR was just about 2.3% of the total grant to CSIR and about 11% of the total grant to ICMR.

This clearly shows that compared to the research support to natural and medical sciences, the research support to social sciences is extremely low, according to a report by a committee setup by the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) which was headed by former vice-chancellor of Delhi University Deepak Nayyar and comprising Bakul Dholakia, former director, IIM-Ahmedabad and economist Kirit Parikh.

Due to this, the total ICSSR grant to all its institutes, as a percentage of the total expenditure of all these institutes taken together, decreased steadily from about 27% in 2005-06 to just about 14% in 2009-10.

With dwindling financial support from the government, it has become almost impossible to do research (especially applied empirical research) without funding from international agencies. This demonstrates that even within the UGC, research in social sciences is underfunded relative to basic sciences, the report adds.

The quantum of funds provided by the ICSSR for research projects directly to individual researchers is generally very small and as much as 83% of all projects sanctioned by the ICSSR between 2006-07 and 2009-10 involved a total grant of less than R5 lakh per project.

Apart from ICSSR, the other major public institution which supports social science research is UGC.

The fellowship amounts for all schemes -doctoral, general and senior- are relatively low, compared to what is provided by the UGC under similar schemes. It is no surprise that meritorious students tend to prefer UGC fellowships to those from the ICSSR, the committee said in its findings.

Interestingly, in the distribution of fellowships economics, political science and sociology together have been getting a larger share of the total fellowships. More than 60% of the doctoral fellowships and 62% of the general fellowships went to scholars working in these three fields.

The HRD ministry too agrees that due to over emphasis on science and technology, social sciences and humanities have suffered both in quality and numbers. This has become a high priority area for us as the focus on social sciences has diminished in the last decade, said a senior ministry official.

It is due to the dismal performance of social sciences that the government has now chalked out a three level action plan to give them a fillip. The first involves changes in Memorandum of Association which the ministry will do at the level of sponsoring social science research programmes and projects administering grants to institutions and individuals for research in social sciences and to give financial support to learned associations.

The second level of action is reorienting the scholarships and this will not require funding. The last action requires large scale expansion in scholarships and that will need a 7-10 times increase in funds. Hence, that will be taken up in the 12th Plan, the ministry official added.