Innovation and research in higher education is one of the most important aspects of the education policy unveiled by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Narendra Modi. Human resource development minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ has also spoken about strengthening research and innovation in higher education during his meetings with vice-chancellors and directors. The HRD minister has also tried to assert the value of our ancient knowledge and requested to weave it into contemporary research aimed at rectifying an emerging crisis caused by modernity. But most of the time he emphasised on evolving research and innovation which may also contain traditional knowledge of various communities of Indian society. The draft of the New Education Policy carries this spirit.
The problem encouraging research and innovation in higher education is two-fold. One is the constant decrease of funding in research and innovation in social sciences in Indian institutions. Secondly, the pressure of producing own internal resources is creating worries among scholars, intellectuals and social sciences. One can clearly see that research and innovation in natural science or in the science sector are taking up the bulk of the funding. On the other hand, funding for research and innovation in social sciences is not proportionate. But social science research also needs funding for extensive and long-term fieldwork. Exploring ideas from traditional knowledge also needs deep fieldwork, which includes documenting the lives of people with knowledge of different practices among various communities.
The ancient knowledge on which the HRD minister has emphasised a great deal is not just textual. Some of them are being practised by various communities in different parts of India. The “Jyotish” or astrology tradition in India is also not homogenous. Various communities practice it in their own ways. In south India, we find many a kind of “Jyotish” or knowledge of predicting the future. Buddhists have their own knowledge on this. Even among Buddhist, there are various traditions of knowing the bhavishya (future). Some of this knowledge also evolved during their practice. Social scientists need to document these knowledge traditions; they can analyse new innovations being added to them and look at the possibilities of their use and reuse in contemporary time. The people who administer funding for educational institution usually miss these points and think that social science research doesn’t need much funding. The need for doing original and people-centric research, the requirement of sufficient funding is now being realised by institutions of higher education in India.
The HRD ministry is trying to link research and teaching to enhance various kinds of skills. We have many communities who practice traditional skills for their livelihood. If the government is eager to reinvent these traditional skills of the people based on the need of our time, we need to document these traditional skills with their latent nuances. For that, social science research in the universities and research institutes could be strengthened. The ideas, quality and funding are three components required for strengthening social science research in higher academic institutions. Institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai, the Centre for the Study of Developing Society, Delhi, and Centre for the Study of Social Science, Calcutta have strong traditions of social science research traditions.
The HRD ministry can think of special support to institutions which own strong traditions and high quality in social science research. The ministry can also plan a new survey of the institutions doing excellent work in the field of social science research. Then, the ministry can think of evolving these research institutes as centres of excellence or eminence in social science. The efforts and inclination Ramesh Pokhriyal may lead the country in this direction and help us evolve the knowledge based on our constant interaction with tradition and modernity. How the HRD ministry balances natural science research and social science research in the domain of higher education in India will be worth watching.
(The author is the Director of the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad)