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‘Social science is nobody’s baby, institutes have to depend on state funding for infrastructure’

Tata Institute of Social Sciences Director S Parasuraman speaks to Mihika Basu about the challenges faced by TISS and other social science institutions.

Written by Mihika Basu | Mumbai |
June 23, 2015 2:00:38 pm
TISS, Prof S Parasuraman, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, S Parasuraman TISS, University Grants Commissionm, director Third term, mumbai news, city news, local news, mumbai newsline, indian express S Parasuraman, said that it is the responsibility of the government to support public institutions with adequate funds so that it is possible to offer quality education in social science.

After delay, the central government has released funds with deductions. Which areas will be compromised as a result?

Every December, the institute submits a financial request stating the requirements for the next financial year. Meetings are held in January to fix allocation, following which the government releases funds in two or three installments. In the last three or four years, the Finance Minister would ask us to take a cut of 10 percentage points on what they had previously agreed on. Eventually, the institute would take a 10 per cent cut in maintenance grant.

So we have to be careful as we are never sure whether the government will release the full amount. Now, the Centre, for the last 15 years has been asking institutes funded by it to increase their income share. There are only two income sources: tuition fees and research grants. Currently, this share stands at about 10 per cent for TISS. We can increase this only by increasing tuition fees or the volume of our consultancy work. This process is still being negotiated and eventually some agreement may emerge. But increasing tuition fees for a social science institution is a difficult proposition, primarily because we produce social scientists to work with vulnerable communities and people with government or non-governmental organizations. Usually neither of these organizations pays high salaries. Since students working at the grassroots level do not get high paying jobs, they cannot be compelled to take bank loans to fund their education. Moreover, the institute contributes to social justice by helping students from vulnerable social categories. We ask for central funds to pay salary of permanent staff, pensions for those who have retired, and maintenance cost. It is not possible to compromise on any of these aspects.

What were the constraints while expanding TISS?

We have numerous engineering and technology colleges and management schools to support manufacturing and technology sectors. But the social and humanitarian sector, that is also large, lacks qualified professionals to design and implement developmental programmes that work. Currently, TISS produces 1,400 graduates yearly, but the social sector needs millions. So with the permission of state governments, we set up campuses in Guwahati and Hyderabad. The TISS rural campus in Tuljapur has been there since 1986. All these campuses are supported by the government, and will take time to emerge as self-sustaining institutions. If one sets up a management or medical institute, which take large capitation fees, infrastructure can appear overnight. But for quality social science education we have to depend on state funding for infrastructure and other facilities. It is a slow process.

Your comments on those who have questioned the rationale behind the expansion.

We don’t hear anyone questioning the expansion of management or engineering schools, then why are social science institutions like TISS singled out? Our efforts are towards providing high quality social science education in a country where there is enormous need and scope for such learning.

What kind of help has TISS got from the alumni?

It has not been very encouraging. Social science is nobody’s baby. People tend to value professions that are directly involved in wealth creation. Disciplines like social sciences, humanities, liberal arts help in human resource development and enable the society to function properly. However, these are never a priority for most people. So you don’t find corporate houses waiting to support these subject areas, as there are no clear benefits for them. We, therefore, get neglected.

What is your opinion on social science research in India?

If social science research has to improve, there needs to be an organic growth, whereby the faculty is able to establish an agenda about what is important for the nation, society and discipline. That has to be done collectively and resources have to be made available to do basic and applied research.

What will be the focus areas in terms of research in the next few years?

How to make skill development work will be the most critical area to ensure that new employment opportunities are created. Education, particularly elementary and school education, are also among the emerging focus areas. We propose to start an integrated B.Ed-M.Ed programme from all our campuses so that good teacher-trainers are available in India.

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