While science and technology often get the lion's share of State funding and attention, social sciences that help make policy are not given their due. Academics ponder over the need to shift priorities.

While the nation's premier universities and institutes are under constant scrutiny for not promoting quality research in basic sciences, the state of research in social sciences and humanities in India is simply abysmal.

Research in social sciences, which involves the need to understand the society we live in, pose some of the fundamental questions about ourselves and people we live with and also understand the minority view point, is important for two reasons. It helps enhance the understanding and appreciation of the society and ultimately help policy-makers, including government, civil society and private players, in forming crucial decisions on policy and governance.

Unfortunately, the awareness about importance of promoting research in social sciences and humanities, has reduced considerably and so has the funding by the governments. According to the report submitted by the government of India in which the functioning of the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) was reviewed, the social science research in India remains extremely underfunded in comparison to research in science and technology.

During the period from 2005-06 to 2009-10, the total grant to ICSSR was just about 2.3 per cent of the total grant to Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and about 11 per cent of the total grant to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Out of the total expenditure on research by the University Grants Commission, less than 12 per cent was allocated to research in social and basic sciences in 2009-10. Funding will naturally follow if the interest and priorities shift to social sciences.

The committee report also mentions that institutes based in the south articulate a collective feeling that disbursal of ICSSR funds is far too centred in and around Delhi and northern India. Researchers lament the difficulty with which they procure funds for research, and the little they receive is often confined to economics. S. Gunasekaran, a retired professor of Sociology, Pondicherry University, says that funds were hard to come by when he was researching. “ICSSR most often ignored proposals and most often the funding came from the UGC. There are other independent bodies too that can be approached for funding. But it is important that the selection process in India be made more rigorous to improve the quality of the work and innovative research topics be pursued,” he says.

Academics say that both the Central and State governments are increasingly ignoring basic sciences, which is considered a dangerous trend. The need to realise the importance of research in these subjects, experts say, is both for the sake of research itself, that is to ask some basic questions that interests the researchers and secondly for applying knowledge to solve issues.

“While many a time research seeks to help individuals argue, reason and develop individually, it is also applicable. Applying cost benefit analysis in a construction project for instance, helps understand how much necessary the construction is and also is its social, economic and environmental impact,” says Sudhir Chella Rajan, head, Department of Humanities, IIT-Madras.

“In colleges the scope for research is limited as they are mandated more towards teaching. In universities the awareness and need exists. Here again allocation of resources goes more towards routine needs and in sciences, thanks to availability of project funding and the scope for research is relatively better,” says B.P. Sanjay, vice-chancellor, Central University, Tiruvarur.

“For social sciences, faculty will have to be trained to dip into policy studies pertaining to social sector areas. The need for improvement is more at the level of explicit funding. Imbalance is in the nature of research and definitely science research is capital and resource-intensive whereas social science is conceptual and field-related,” says Prof. Sanjay.

Prof. Rajan emphasises the need to integrate researchers working independently in research institutes to guide and train youngsters to take up teaching in social sciences.

A section of the academics thinks that no significant mention can be made about research and its impact on policy in India at present or in the past. Based on the need, social sciences require modest and essential funding. Still, funding is a serious concern among researchers.

Keywords: social science