Trends in Social Science Research and Funding in India

This post by Sagarika Bose outlines the dynamics and patterns of funding in the science and social science research in India. It draws on a study that she, in collaboration with Abhimanyu Singh, has done for International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Science and social science are the foundation stones of a dynamic economy and inclusive society, while research and development are the means for strengthening this foundation. Globally, the private sector recognises the need to encourage innovation and research, and is an important stakeholder in the issue. Given the private sector’s increasing importance in research, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) commissioned this paper with the objective of mapping the sector’s role in funding public-sector research in South Asia. The purpose of the study was to understand trends and patterns in private sources of funding for public-sector research in the South Asia region, and to identify specific sources with a view to engaging them in a dialogue for future collaboration. The researchers carried out extensive secondary research and web-scanning of relevant institutions, in addition to interviews with experts in academia and the private sector.

This paper presents the state of play of private-sector funding in public-sector research in South Asia, and juxtaposes the dynamics in the region with a case study from South Korea. The authors propose several models for furthering private-sector engagement with public-sector research. They also provide policymakers with specific models of engagement with the private sector – not just in South Asia but also in other low-income and developing countries. The full paper will be available on the IDRC website soon.

Limited government funding in India

Social scientists have become increasingly vocal about the poor state of research within their discipline in India and the wider South Asian region. There are many reasons for this, but it can partly be attributed to insufficient emphasis on social science research. This starts with limited government funding: in India, the social sciences receive a mere 8 per cent of the national budget for science and technology research.

Deepak Nayyar 1This amount also seems to be steadily shrinking. The Deepak Nayyar Committee observed in its June 2011 report that funding for the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) declined by 7 per cent between 2005-06 and 2009-10.

It is noteworthy that, unlike other such institutions (Indian Council of Medical Research, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, etc.) which are funded by and report into their respective line ministries, the ICSSR does not have its own ministry. It is funded by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), which also funds the Indian Council of Historical Research and Indian Council of Philosophical Research. In addition to the MHRD, other ministries and state governments also fund research projects. As a result, many research institutions are turning to international foundations.

Some macroscopic trends from the study

  • Governments are the biggest source of funding for public-sector research in the region. Direct funding comes from particular ministries or departments aiming to fulfill their individual objectives, while indirect funding occurs through intermediary organisations such as research councils.
  • Across the region, social science research gets a small fraction of public funding compared to the physical and life sciences, as science and technology are seen as fuelling economic growth.
  • Much of the research undertaken is academic in nature and is not applicable to policymaking. Theoretical research is considered superior to applied research.
  • Research themes have mostly endorsed the basic ideological premises of social and economic development that evolved during the Independence movement, which have rarely been questioned. However, social scientists have actively debated the practical means adopted by successive governments to further those premises.
  • Linked with this is a further issue: not all social science disciplines get equal space and importance. Economics has emerged as the discipline attracting maximum funding and research interest due to the wide-ranging socio-economic issues faced by the country.
  • Another abiding problem is the lack of inter-disciplinary research both within the social sciences and cutting across the sciences. Going forward, this is an area which requires increased attention.

Further, from the 1970s onwards, norms promulgated by the University Grants Commission have left very little time for teachers to pursue research in most university departments and colleges. Many social scientists recommend greater interaction between teaching and research at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, much like in the newly-formed Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research.IISER

A view of the entrance gate of Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, Pune (Courtesy:

Towards commercialisation of research

Philanthropy is an established feature of several large business houses in India, but very few Indian donors have invested strategically in social science research. While there is evidence of greater funding from the private sector, much of this is philanthropically driven rather than strategically planned, and has little or no synergy with the needs of the discipline.

Financial support for research has become more motivated by specific, short-term and often commercial concerns. Most research funding is project-based where the objective, scope and even methodology are specified by the sponsors. And sponsors, irrespective of whether they are public agencies, private foundations or international organisations, have their own agendas and goals.

Apart from research councils, universities, colleges and non-profit organisations which have traditionally carried out social science research, private consultancy firms have emerged as a new space for social science research. They are funded by the government as well as domestic and international private sources. This is also contributing to the commercialisation of research, which is now focused on areas of interest to the private sector and not necessarily the greater public good.

Sagarika Bose is a Corporate Social Responsibility and Development Consultant and was Vice President at NASSCOM Foundation. She can be contacted at

This entry was published on December 30, 2013 at 11:44 am. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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