Thursday, August 04, 2011

Social Science Research in India: Panel recommends ICSSR revamp

Recommending the strengthening of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) to enable it to fulfil its role of fostering and promoting social science research, an official committee said that funding was a major issue that had adversely affected the performance of this institution.

To provide some measure of financial autonomy, the committee's report suggests that the ICSSR should create a corpus of about Rs. 1,000 crore (Rs. 10 billion) as a complement to funds from other sources for funding research and attracting researchers. It has also recommended major changes in the governance pattern. A preliminary analysis of government funding patterns clearly indicates that social science research remains extremely underfunded in India, in comparison with research in science and technology, the report says.

The committee was constituted by the government in September 2010 to review the functioning of the Council (in the last five years) as well as the research institutes funded by the ICSSR for promoting social science research. It comprises Deepak Nayyar, Bakul Dholakia, Kirit S. Parikh — all academics — who co-opted Kishnendu Ghosh Dastidar as member secretary.

Funding for the ICSSR is quite meagre, when compared to funding received by comparable bodies of repute such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The report says that between 2005-06 and 2009-10, the total grant to the ICSSR was just about 2.3 per cent of the total grant to the CSIR and about 11 per cent of the total grant to the ICMR. “This clearly shows that compared to the research support to natural and medical sciences, the research support to social sciences is extremely low.”

The ICSSR was set up in 1969 as the apex body for social science research. It was envisaged to be a premier body for promoting social science research, funded by the government, with the research agenda decided primarily by social scientists themselves.

If we take all the institutes together, on an average, a faculty member takes about five years to write a book, one year to write a paper in a journal and more than a year and half to write a chapter in an edited volume, the report says, while commenting on the research output of the Council. Importantly, it says: “It seems that the disbursal of the ICSSR funds is far too centred in and around Delhi and northern India. In short, there appears to be strong regional bias.”

According to the report, between 2000-01 and 2009-10 Delhi's share of all the doctoral fellowships awarded was 33.2 per cent and North India (other than Delhi) had a share of 27 per cent. Unlike the case of fellowships, there does not seem to be any strong regional bias in the distribution of research projects awarded by the ICSSR.

Pointing out that it seemed that appointments within the ICSSR system do not follow any transparent or systematic process, the committee further says that there appears to be no clear division of jurisdiction, duties and responsibilities of the ICSSR Chairman and member secretary. Even the exact role of the ICSSR Council is not defined.

Calling for a revamp in the appointments, the report suggests that the chairman must be a distinguished academic with leadership qualities, who should be chosen by a search committee. The designation of Member-Secretary should be changed to Director-General with the level and payscale that of a Vice-Chancellor of a Central university.

Source: The Hindu, August 4, 2011
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