The number of PhDs decreased by nearly 19 per cent in 2009 when compared to 2008, as per UGC’s ( University Grants Commission) annual report. Still, the highest number of PhDs was awarded to the arts faculty, followed by science.
Taking the lead in promoting social science research is Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR). Sukhdeo Thorat took over the chairmanship of ICSSR in April 2011. The former UGC chairman has many challenges ahead of him, especially a major reconstruction of ICSSR’s set up, as recommended by the Deepak Nayyar Committee. “The issue with social science research is that of financing and capacity-building,” Prof Thorat told edex during the ThinkEdu Conclave, which was organised by The New Indian Express in Chennai on February 7-8. “Social science research is very underfinanced. The total grant to ICSSR was about 2.3 per cent of the total grant to science and about 11 per cent of the total grant to medicine,” he says.
With a slew of measures on the table, the budget outlay for ICSSR has seen almost a threefold increase. “Our outlay is about Rs 100 crore now, a big jump from about Rs 36 crore.”
Thanks to Deepak Nayyar Committee recommendations, several things at ICSSR have been reformed. “The appointment of the chairman and director-general have been changed to give more autonomy for them. Even the Governing Council will be reconstituted. These changes are already in process now as the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has also given in-principle approval,” explained Prof Thorat.
“The money ICSSR used to get could not meet the research needs of three lakh social science faculty in the country. A number of initiatives have been introduced to encourage researchers to come forward.” For instance, doctoral fellowships have been increased to 500 from 150. Further, honorarium for postdoctoral fellows, national fellows (for retired professors) and senior fellows has been increased to Rs 55,000 from Rs 25,000. “ICSSR has also instituted ICSSR-Amartya Sen award for distinguished social science researchers. We will give away 10 awards worth Rs 10 lakh each for the best scientists. We believe this will lead to incentives and competitiveness among social science researchers,” said Thorat. ICSSR is presently receiving applications for the award.
At a time when there is surging public outcry over increasing instances of violence against women, ICSSR has instituted a special research programme to encourage research in the area of family and sexual violence. “We had organised a round-table along with the movement (against the gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman in a New Delhi bus). The issues of family violence, sexual violence, sexual exclusion and gender have been put under a special programme and we will fund researchers,” he said.
ICSSR offers two kinds of research opportunities. One is called Responsive research, where people apply for funding. “This programme will be a sponsored programme, a series of research projects conducted simultaneously or sequentially on themes of significance, priority and contemporary relevance. We are expecting a lot of applications,” Prof Thorat said.
On the basis of the Nayyar Committee recommendation, ICSSR has decided to fund more research institutes. At present, a total of 27 institutes are directly funded by ICSSR. “Efforts are on to expand our presence and we have set up a joint committee with MHRD. ICSSR has identified 13 states where there are no ICSSR-funded institutes,” Prof Thorat said.