There was much outcry recently when industrialists Ratan N. Tata and Anand Mahindra made substantial donations to American universities Cornell and Harvard. The $50 million Tata gift to Harvard Business School is the largest donation in its 102-year history, according to Harvard. The Mahindra contribution is also the largest gift for the study of humanities in the history of Harvard University.

Again, Harvard says so. In the case of the latter, the funds will be used to set up a Mahindra Humanities Center. Tata also contributed $50million to Cornell; $25 million to establish the Tata-Cornell Initiative in Agriculture and Nutrition, which would contribute to advances in nutrition and agriculture for India; and $25 million for the Tata Scholarship Fund for Students from India.

Could such funds find their way to Indian institutes which focus on humanities or for that matter other kinds of research? While it’s difficult to argue the case on merit, SPR's Danielle Collaco feels it’s worth looking at how starved social science research in the country is.

Salaries Are High

A recent Education Ministry instituted review (June 2011) looked at what ailed India’s social science research. The report was written by a committee of academics and others brought together to review the Indian Council For Social Science Research, which part-funds some 25 institutes which conduct social science research programmes, give grants to associations and individuals and provide financial support to organisations dealing with social science research.

At a time when it could be playing a more prominent role in studying a liberalising socio-economic landscape, the ICSSR’s own funding has been shrinking.

Moreover, the “Apex Body of Social Science in the Country” has been mostly using its funding to meet its own expenses, like paying salaries to employees.

For instance, of a total expense figure of Rs 51.9 crore in 2009-10, expenditure on ‘core activities’ stood at Rs 36.3 crore. So expenditure on salaries and internal were Rs 15.5 crore. The contrast is sad. Five years ago, in 2005-06, total expenditure on 'core’ activities were almost the same, at Rs 31.6 crore. While salaries and internal expenditure were Rs 10.6 crore. So, between 2005 and 2010, while every head of government expenditure has gone up, ICSSR’s outward grants barely rose by Rs 5 crore. In proportion, as is evident, ICSSR’s expenditure on itself has been rising.

Tempt The Funders

Red tape could be one reason many donors turn away from helping the Indian institutes. Or they are not confident they would get the right bang for the buck. Like we said, its difficult and perhaps unfair to make direct comparisons. Maybe if the ICSSR was made autonomous like it’s counterpart in America, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) possibly some of these issues could be resolved.

The Committee that submitted its report on the ICSSR has asked for a ten-fold increase in funding. Which may take time but a start would be good. Else, more students would continue to pursue their humanities studies overseas; where much of Indian private funding is clearly headed.

Here are some ICSSR funded institutes you may have heard of some..

1. ISEC: Institute For Social and Economic Change, Bangalore

2. CDS: Centre For Developmental Studies, Thiruvananthapuram

3. CSSS: Centre For Studies In Social Sciences, Kolkata

4. CPR: Centre For Policy Research, New Delhi

5. IPE: Institute Of Public Enterprise, Hyderabad

6. IEG: Institute Of Economic Growth, New Delhi