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Plans to boost social science research

In a bid to rejuvenate social science research, India has announced several measures targeted at the Indian Council of Social Science Research, or ICSSR. They include establishing a Social Sciences Knowledge and Research Network, a National Social Science Research Innovation Centre and a fellowship scheme to attract young scholars into social sciences.

The government will also institute 10 annual Amartya Sen awards for advancement of knowledge in the social sciences.

The ICSSR is the central government institution that looks after funding of social sciences research in the country.

The initiatives follow a report last June by a review committee set up by the government, which found that social science research in India was suffering severely from lack of funding, recognition and initiative.

Addressing an international conference on “Indian Social Sciences in a Changing World: Roles, responsibilities and reforms” in New Delhi last week, Education Minister Kapil Sibal announced that the ICSSR would develop a fellowship scheme to encourage young scholars interested in pursuing social science research.

“We need to attract bright minds to social science research in the country,” Sibal said. Simultaneously, the number of fellowships awarded each year had to be enhanced.

The review committee report said: “Ample funds must be made available for research projects so as to attract good scholars. The fellowships (postdoctoral) should be competitive and the amount should be no less than that provided by the University Grants Commission for comparable schemes.

“This would ensure that very distinguished and senior social scientists are provided the kind of opportunity appropriate to their stature.”

The ICSSR has been asked to establish a National Social Science Research Innovation Centre to identify innovative research methodologies in new areas of knowledge and assist in building a network to carry forward the research interests of institutions and academics.

The centre will be complemented by a Social Sciences Knowledge and Research Network with an open source, virtual assembly of quality research papers and PhD theses in the social sciences. The network will also provide authorised translations of research papers in various Indian languages.

But to make the network successful, content generation was essential, Sibal said.

“ICSSR should create a network of eminent academics to collaborate on the creation of academic content including publications of texts, digests and manuscripts in specific areas in social sciences.

“These manuscripts would provide an inexpensive aid to teachers and students and could also be delivered electronically through the National Knowledge Network, which aims to interlink all institutions of higher learning with an information super-highway,” Sibal added.

Another significant announcement was the Amartya Sen awards, along the lines of the Bhatnagar awards for excellence in science research. The new awards aim to recognise the contribution of social scientists and to spur research.

Government support for social science research in India is very low both in absolute terms and relative to state support for the natural and medical sciences.

In the four years to 2009-10, the total grant to ICSSR rose by only 22% in nominal terms – in real terms, it shrunk by 7%. In the same period the total grant to ICSSR was around 2.3% of that received by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and 11% of the grant received by the Indian Council of Medical Research.

“The need for the country is for ICSSR and its affiliated institutes to carry out research that helps achieve an inclusive society,” said Abhijit Sen, a member of India’s Planning Commission, adding that the funding requirements for the council would be addressed in the upcoming 12th Plan.

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