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Significance of Research in the Indian Domain

Sarah Chaudhary February 27, 2024

“Research is seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.” -Albert Szent-Györgyi 

The term "research" has its roots in the Middle French term "recherche," which conveys the idea of actively seeking. This Middle French word itself stems from the Old French "recerchier," which is a blend of "re-" and "cerchier" or "sercher," meaning 'to search.' The earliest documented appearance of this term dates back to 1577 (Research Definition & Meaning, 2024).


Research is a careful, defined, objective, and systematic search for new knowledge or the formulation of a theory-driven by a curiosity about the unknown to expand what is already known (Booth et al., 2008). It involves creating hypotheses or solutions, analysing data, making deductions, and determining if the conclusions match the original hypothesis. Essentially, research is the process of creating new knowledge that did not previously exist or adding more insight to a previously existing topic. The research process begins with a practical problem that needs to be clearly defined, including why it is important to solve (Booth et al., 2008). This problem leads to a focused research question that helps avoid getting overwhelmed by too much information. The research question defines a manageable project that ultimately results in an answer, which helps solve the original practical problem.

Research is vital for progress in the scientific domain as it establishes a body of reliable knowledge through empirical and logical investigation. There are several reasons why research is fundamental in science:

  1. Testing existing ideas and theories: Research allows prevailing assumptions, conceptual models and theoretical propositions to be subjected to rigorous verification. This ensures that only accurate and valid explanations survive the scrutiny of scientific investigation. 

  2. Discover new information and relationships: Exploration is the essence of research (Taylor, 2019). Researchers design studies to reveal new insights into phenomena, uncover patterns and associations, and elucidate unknown facets of nature and human behaviour. This leads to discoveries that fill gaps in current understanding. 

  3. Basis for innovations: Research furnishes solutions to existing problems and answers to questions that lay the foundation for innovations.. 

  4. Evidence-based decision-making: Research provides empirical evidence that informs policies and practices (Davis, 2021). In medicine, public health programs and government policies are based on data acquired from sound research on the effectiveness of interventions. Reliance on evidence gathered via research ensures that decisions are rational.

If early thinkers had not been curious about the human mind, we would know nothing about psychology. Decades of research have led us to where we are today: an enlightened society with the knowledge and tools to progress. If research were to halt, ignorance and oblivion would ensue. We would neither understand nor advance. Countless discoveries are still awaiting inquiry – the intricacies of memory, the origins of personality, and the complexities of relationships. Research makes all of this possible.

Importance of Research

Research plays an essential role in expanding the frontiers of knowledge. Systematic investigation and analysis of topics in science, social science, history, and other disciplines aids the learning of new concepts and the development of critical thinking skills. Engaging in research helps foster a scientific attitude and maintain awareness of contemporary advancements, trends, and issues related to diverse fields of study. In the modern world, keeping pace with and contributing to the latest innovations depends significantly on active involvement in research.

One of the most vital benefits of research is the opportunity to uncover novel information that enriches understanding. As Bell (2021) elucidates, “exploratory studies open horizons for original interpretation, insightful observations, and new ways of defining, viewing, classifying or modelling phenomena.” Both theoretical and applied research can reveal relationships between ideas, point out phenomena calling for more in-depth examination, and indicate potential directions for constructive human endeavours. Hypothesis formulation, evidence collection, data analysis, and interpretation constitute a systematic methodology to incorporate innovative concepts into the prevailing knowledge base of humanity (Davies & Hughes, 2014).

Additionally, the research process instils transferable skills like analytical thinking, critical evaluation, and clear communication that can be utilised in diverse professional and personal contexts. As students or scholars carry out studies, they must gather information from reliable sources, assess the credibility and relevance of evidence, identify methodological flaws or logical gaps, and present compelling arguments to support their conclusions. Through working on research papers or projects, they develop expertise, integrity, and meticulousness (Phillips & Pugh, 2015). These competencies and attributes enable them to separate facts from fiction and articulate informed opinions on complex issues they encounter throughout life.

Keeping up with cutting-edge research also promotes awareness of breaking discoveries that can positively impact society or inspire new technologies. For instance, research on renewable energy sources may bring about environmentally sustainable solutions to meet rising power demands. Studies analysing risk factors and the biology of diseases can pave the way for better diagnostic tests, targeted treatments, and preventive healthcare. Similarly, research on effective teaching strategies could help enhance learning outcomes. When teachers and policymakers refer to scholarly educational research, they can make prudent decisions for school reforms (Ion & Iucu, 2014). Hence, dissemination of research via academic publications, conferences, and expert interviews aids professional practice and evidence-based planning for progress.

The active engagement of students and scholars in research activities creates manifold learning opportunities, nurtures transferable skills, and drives innovation. A vibrant research culture stimulates deeper understanding in every field, providing meaningful direction for growth and change. Educational institutions should encourage participation in research by having dedicated centres, funding for projects, and incentives for publications and events to facilitate knowledge exchange between experts. Promoting research helps develop professional expertise and proactively address contemporary challenges faced by humanity.

Identification of Trends and Patterns

Identification of Trends and Patterns is a crucial aspect of research, particularly in the social sciences. By analysing data collected through research methods such as surveys, interviews, and observations, scholars can discern recurring trends, patterns, and correlations within society. This process aids in the formulation of theories and models that attempt to explain and predict various social phenomena. For example, by identifying a correlation between socioeconomic status and educational attainment, researchers can develop theories about the mechanisms through which economic factors influence access to education.

Moreover, understanding trends and patterns allows researchers to gain deeper insights into complex social issues. For instance, by analysing crime statistics over time, researchers may identify patterns in criminal behaviour and societal responses, leading to a better understanding of crime dynamics and the effectiveness of law enforcement strategies. The identification of trends and patterns in research enhances one’s comprehension of the multifaceted nature of society and contributes to the development of evidence-based theories and interventions aimed at addressing societal challenges.

One of the key benefits of identifying trends and patterns is the ability to discern significant social changes and phenomena. For instance, in a study by Durkheim (1897), titled "Suicide," the author analysed statistical data on suicide rates across different social groups and identified patterns that pointed to underlying social factors influencing suicidal behaviour. By understanding patterns, researchers can develop theories to explain why certain groups may be more prone to suicidal tendencies and devise interventions to prevent them.

The identification of trends and patterns serves as the foundation for formulating theories and models that help explain and predict social phenomena. For example, in the field of economics, researchers often analyse trends in consumer behaviour, inflation rates, and market fluctuations to develop economic models that guide policy decisions. A seminal paper by Keynes (1936), "The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money," formulated a macroeconomic theory based on observed patterns in economic activity, which continues to influence economic policy to this day.

Researchers can also gain deeper insights into the dynamics of social systems and processes. For instance, in a study by Granovetter (1973), titled "The Strength of Weak Ties," the author identified a pattern wherein weak ties in social networks play a significant role in information dissemination and social mobility. This finding contributed to a better understanding of how social networks function and how they influence individual behaviour and societal outcomes. Another important aspect of identifying trends and patterns is its predictive value. By analysing historical data and identifying recurring patterns, researchers can make informed predictions about future trends and outcomes. For example, in a study by Kahneman and Tversky (1979) on Prospect Theory, the authors identified patterns in decision-making behaviour under risk and uncertainty, which laid the groundwork for predicting how individuals would make choices in various scenarios.The identification of trends and patterns in research is essential for advancing knowledge and understanding within the social sciences and other fields. By analysing data and discerning recurring patterns, researchers can formulate theories, predict future outcomes, and ultimately contribute to the development of evidence-based interventions and policies.

Research in India 

Kumbar et. al., (2013) study on India's performance in social sciences research revealed that India has great potential to achieve even higher growth in social sciences publications compared to other countries in the coming years. Realising this potential will partly depend on increased investment in research and development and higher education, strengthening the educational and research infrastructure, deploying more qualified personnel, better interaction among the professional community, enhanced international cooperation with other countries, and stricter evaluation and monitoring systems for promotions, awarding degrees, allocating research grants, and approving research projects. 

Research flourishes when researchers have the opportunity to focus their efforts on problem-solving. India offers a fertile ground for research, and when Indian researchers effectively manage their time between teaching, administrative duties, and their primary research, they can produce remarkable scientific results. However, similar to any profession, conducting research in India comes with its own set of complex challenges that need to be overcome.

India and Research  

Science has a long and rich history in India, with early Indian scholars making seminal contributions to the development of scientific knowledge through their studies of natural phenomena. However, the modern concept of science, based on observation, experimental testing of theories, and the scientific method, largely emerged and advanced rapidly in the West from the Baconian period onwards (Thacker, 1957).

Visionaries in India had long emphasised the need to cultivate science not just for extending the power over nature but, more importantly, for improving human conditions. However, for a long time, the practical application and societal benefits of scientific research remained limited, as science remained detached from technological and industrial advancement. Under inevitable influence from the rising prominence of science globally, India too recognised the necessity of organised scientific inquiry in the pre-Independence era. However, meagre progress occurred in mobilising the country's scientific and technical resources or employing scientific advancement for national development and welfare. Science had little links to the broader national development agenda.

It was only after Independence that scientific research began to be viewed systematically as an instrument for national welfare. In 1948, an independent Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was constituted and in 1951, a dedicated Ministry of Natural Resources and Scientific Research was set up. The Ministry enjoyed heightened importance and ease in executing development and expansion plans for science in India. Additionally, in 1954, a separate department for nuclear energy research was also instituted. Since then, India has progressed in terms of research and development consistently. However, it is still in a state of progress and not immune to challenges and obstacles.

Between 2017 and 2022, India experienced a significant increase in its research output, with growth estimated at approximately 54%, as reported by the research insights database SciVal. This growth rate surpasses the global average and notably exceeds that of its more established Western counterparts in academia, demonstrating a remarkable expansion in India's scientific contributions during this period (Chhapia, 2023). A key obstacle to advancing social science research in India is the gap in priority and funding across disciplines. Whilst economics features in most colleges and universities, other fields like anthropology, public administration and sociology receive less institutional support and importance. Insufficient finances also hamper research efforts. The Indian government promotes research practices but greater funding is still needed for academic rather than administrative areas. The migration of skilled Indian scholars and researchers abroad seeking better jobs and lifestyles also signifies a significant brain drain and loss of homegrown talent. Researchers typically gain skills and training domestically before applying their final expertise to benefit developed economies instead (Kaur, 2019).

As a developing nation, India has made consistent progress in advancing its education sector, research enterprises, and innovation capacity. The past decade witnessed massive growth in Indian science, technology, and higher education in terms of enrollment numbers and institutional expansion. However, despite increasing access, India has struggled to establish world-class universities and institutes that produce pioneering research.  

Analysts have identified numerous constraints faced in Indian higher education and research, including demand-supply gaps, deficiencies in quality, and poor management systems and infrastructure, among other bottlenecks. Globalisation continues to profoundly transform higher education and research policies worldwide through various evolving phenomena. Social science research funding in India is primarily from the Government and agencies such as the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and the University Grants Commission (UGC). Accurately estimating the share of the national budget allocated to social science research alone is difficult. In the 2011-2012 budget, ICSSR received Rs 68.49 crores; the Indian Council for Historical Research got Rs 14.10 crores.  

Despite India's reasonable academic heritage in humanities and social sciences, massive higher education expansion prioritises science and technology. For instance, during 2006-2010, ICSSR's total grant was just 2.3% of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research funding, and around 11% of the Indian Council of Medical Research (A Mapping Report - Social Science Research in India, 2011).  

In alignment with domestic and global economic trends, India's research funding climate remains challenging presently. Recent surveys have highlighted how research management in most Indian universities and institutes lacks robust systems, structures, and networks for sharing best practices. Standardised research administration is frequently absent as institutions fail to learn from one another's successes and pitfalls in nurturing research excellence.

While widening access and opportunities remain priorities, developing excellence through improved research management emerges as imperative for India to unleash its full potential as a global knowledge leader. Sustained government commitment and funding are needed to strengthen governance and connectivity across the national research ecosystem. There is a growing consensus amongst India's premier technical and professional institutes that it is no longer sufficient to simply produce graduates well-versed in engineering, software, or management theories. These institutes believe they must nurture 'well-rounded professionals' with a deep understanding of society, economics, politics, history, and other liberal arts subjects. 

In recent years, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IITs), and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have significantly increased their focus on humanities and liberal arts. This is evidenced by new degree programs being offered, an expansion in the range of available elective courses, and the launch of interdisciplinary initiatives across these institutes. The aim is to produce graduates who not only have technical or professional expertise but also have a breadth of knowledge across subjects and an appreciation of wider societal contexts (Sharma, 2022).

Funding of Research in India 

The Indian government and agencies like the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) substantially fund social science research in India. Central universities receive funding from the central government through the UGC, which in turn is granted money from the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Other universities are funded by respective state governments. While a sizable proportion of India's budget supports social science research, accurate data on total funding from the Indian government across disciplines is unavailable. Reportedly, only 20% of allotted research funds are invested in projects, with much of the money used for administrative expenses instead of research development. For example, in the 2016-2017 budget, ICSSR was granted £0.85 million, the Indian Council for Historical Research £0.17 million, and the UGC £57.7 million.

Whilst their funding share is relatively small, notable non-state contributors supporting social science research in India include multilateral groups (e.g. World Bank), bilateral agencies (e.g. USAID) and foundations. Key research areas funded cover poverty, jobs, schooling and healthcare. Major Indian non-state backers are the Tata and Gates foundations. Additionally, some leading institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, and others collaborate with government and external donors to progress research and development. For example, Ph.D. students can now apply for financial support from the Dutch organisation—Sephis, to conduct doctoral research in developing countries. This overseas assistance enables the advancement of knowledge and skills.

India has tremendous potential to be a global leader in scientific research and innovation. More resources for universities and institutes would allow them to upgrade facilities, attract top talent domestically and globally, and undertake pioneering projects across disciplines. Robust grants for researchers could support breakthrough discoveries as well as research focused on pressing social issues like healthcare, agriculture, and clean energy access. Additional investment in R&D would also facilitate greater collaboration, both between Indian institutions and with international partners. This cross-pollination of ideas speeds innovation. Furthermore, commercialisation initiatives help translate academic findings into new technologies, services and businesses - generating economic growth and high-skill jobs.

The newly established National Research Foundation (NRF) aims to address India's research funding woes through consolidated support. The NRF intends to couple research and education more tightly to strengthen university efforts. It also promotes inclusive, diverse and interdisciplinary work. With sound leadership and ongoing government backing, the NRF can transform the research ecosystem.

Collaboration and Scope 

Research collaborations can take multiple forms, including teams within a single department (intradisciplinary), across departments but within similar backgrounds (interdisciplinary), across different backgrounds (multidisciplinary), or involving non-academics (transdisciplinary). All types aim to meet common goals like operational planning, communication, credit and fund sharing, regular meetings, and open dialogue (Bansal et. al., 2019). However, miscommunications can also arise when working across research disciplines, due to differing scientific perspectives, vocabularies, or methods. Individual researchers have their own preferences as well, for instance regarding verbal agreements versus written contracts, or publishing new findings piecemeal versus single comprehensive publications (Bansal et. al., 2019).

The Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) dedicates considerable time and effort to fostering collaborative relationships with social scientists, social science organisations, and academic institutions both within India and abroad, as part of its International Collaboration Programme. Over time, the Council has forged robust international connections through research partnerships and academic leadership, establishing enduring ties with scholars based in various countries (INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION | Indian Council of Social Science Research, n.d.).

Since the 1950s, the US and India have engaged in research collaboration, initially with the Fulbright-Nehru program, which initially prioritised bringing Indian talent to the US. Collaboration has since expanded, particularly in STEM fields. Recent initiatives focus on encouraging more Americans to study in India. The 2019 India-US 2 + 2 Ministerial Dialogue reinforced commitment to STEM research and innovation, especially in space research. Additionally, organisations like USAID and the National Science Foundation (NSF) facilitate development and scientific collaboration between the two countries.

The Europe-India Platform for the Social Science and Humanities (EqUIP) is a collaborative network comprising research funding and support entities from both Europe and India. Launched in 2014, its primary aim is to enhance research cooperation in the social sciences and humanities (SSH). Currently, EqUIP consists of 20 organisations representing 15 European countries and India, fostering closer ties among research funders and researchers to promote cross-border collaboration and knowledge exchange (Final Report Summary - EQUIP (EU-India Platform for the Social Sciences and Humanities) | FP7 | CORDIS | European Commission, n.d.).

A 2004 study by Tyagi and Johri identified the United States as India's foremost collaborating partner in social sciences, followed by the United Kingdom, based on co-authored papers in the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) in 1997-1998. This reflects India's substantial and growing contribution to global research, across fields.  Indian research output is rising at 14% annually, compared to a 4% global average, making it the world's 6th largest producer of published studies. Beyond bilateral partnerships with over 40 countries, India also participates in global mega-projects like CERN and the Thirty Meter Telescope, and hosts overseas science and technology centres from France, Germany and the United States. Additionally, India contributes to networks like the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility and the Human Frontier Science Program.

This breadth of global engagement highlights India's extensive integration into international research, via multiple modalities of collaboration. Tracking partnership patterns over longer periods could reveal evolving trends and priority areas. Examining collaborations at the institute- and individual levels may also offer more granular insights into how Indian academics operate within global knowledge networks across different fields.

India's clinical research is projected to reach a staggering £5.3 billion by 2027, with 29% year-on-year growth, establishing the country as a hotspot for career opportunities. Over 127 contract research organisations already operate in India, conducting trials for 60% of global drug development programmes. This translates to over 38,000 new jobs created annually, offering life science graduates abundant prospects to participate in this thriving domain. Moreover, graduates can take satisfaction from work that directly and positively impacts millions of lives.

Various ministries within the Government of India (GOI) have established distinguished research institutes at both the central and state levels. These prominent institutes include the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Institutes for Rural and Urban Development. A 2007 review by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) identified 67 sector-specific government research institutes. The main objectives of these institutes are to generate databases and publications to inform policy making. While they may not directly engage in pure social science research, many of their research programmes incorporate social science methodologies and sub-studies  (Kaur & Nagaich, 2019).

The Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) itself is an autonomous agency established with the mandate to sponsor new research across all social science disciplines. Though funded by the government, it is managed by social scientists. Through its network of 25 research institutes, the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) has approved close to 3,000 research projects over the past 38 years, averaging 75 projects per year (Kaur & Nagaich, 2019).

Research is imperative for national progress and India has immense potential for global leadership if fully tapped. Raising R&D funding would unlock myriad benefits from international collaborations to high-value jobs. Although social sciences warrant more prioritisation, India already contributes notably to global knowledge pools. With its talent base and emerging ecosystem, India is primed for an exponential growth trajectory across research fields. Sustained policy commitment and strategic investments in fundamentals can help India achieve its ambitious aspirations to be an international research powerhouse driving innovation.


Sarah Chaudhary is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP) under IJNGP.





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