Domestic funding for social sciences: lessons for Peru

26 June 2019

The future of social sciences in developing countries cannot depend on foreign donations. It has to be owned domestically through public and private support. This is what Peru’s academic community, in partnership with the government, it trying to achieve.

GRADE, CIES, CONCYTEC and On think Tanks hosted a conference for researchers, policymakers and funders from Peru and from around the world who came together to promote greater public funding for social sciences. The event was supported by IDRC.

CONCYTEC, the national science council, welcomed the discussion and the recommendations. At the end of the one day conference, CONCYTEC’s President, Fabiola Leon Velarde promised funding: “there is no way back“, she said. You can watch her here.

Salvador del Solar, Peru’s Primer Minister, echoed this promise. He agreed that the role of social sciences is central to development and that the government would make this a priority.

Since, there have been several editorials by researchers in Peru on the subject: by Santiago Cueto from GRADE, by Luz Gamarra from CIES, by Javier Portocarrero from CIES,  by Oswaldo Molina from Universidad del Pacífico,  by Patricia Ruiz Bravo and Alejandro Diez from Universidad Católica, and by Norma Correa, Stéphanie Rousseau y Maritza Paredes.

For more information about the conference:

More funding?

Peru has (enough) funding. It is simply not being allocated in the most adequate way. Hundreds of millions of dollars are waiting for plans at public universities across the country -earmarked for research. The budget for research has grown almost 10 times in the last decade but little of it has been directed at the social sciences (or humanities) -at most, as junior partners of projects focused on the ‘hard sciences’.

Even more is available in tax break mechanisms through which corporations are able to offset taxes in exchange for public works and services to local governments and universities.

The challenge we face is to institutionalise the use of these funds for research, including research in the social sciences.

In this respect, traditional social sciences funders, mostly bilateral and multilateral agencies as well as international foundations, can play a substantive role in reducing our dependence on their resources and supporting the increase of domestic funding.

Funding for what?

“Research, surely, but also..” Participants at the conference agreed that greater funding should not be managed with a narrow view of what is needed, and must instead include:

  • Long-term support for research capacity: Personal, professional, organisational and institutional. A policy that does not invest in developing capacity will be pouring additional resources on a system that is still relatively weak and already challenged to use the resources it has effectively.
  • Closing gaps: Between private and public universities, between universities in Lima (the capital) and universities in the rest of the country, between the different disciplines that make up the social sciences. If the new policy does not recognise the differences that exist between different disciplines and the particular circumstances of different types of institutions it will simply reinforce inequalities -most likely unfairly punishing public universities and what could be described as the qualitative social sciences.
  • Long term research agendas: A key concern is that if funding is closely conditioned to concepts like relevance and usefulness and new opportunities for research will be limited to addressing current policy questions – akin to a glorified consultancy. A balance must be struck with support to identify future problems and develop new fields.
  • Communication of results: To different audiences and for different purposes. If support for funding research and in particular funding the social sciences is to grow over time, some of the resources need to be allocated to strategically communicating both the findings and recommendations as well as the nuances of the research process to multiple audiences including policymakers, the research community, organised civil society and the public at large.

Funding mechanisms

During the conference, we explored several funding mechanisms and the experience of countries in the region and elsewhere. Some of the mechanisms presented included:

  • Scholarships: Undoubtedly, the number one priority expressed at the conference was the developed of a future cadre of social scientists – across disciplines and with particular attention to geographical as well as gender and socio-economic balance. Greater funding for research can only go as far as the capacity to use those resources effectively. Historical underspent in the field cannot, therefore, be reversed simply by pumping money into it.
  • Grants for research. While opportunities to undertake research within the social sciences have increased, this has been largely fuelled by consultancies with very limited space for manoeuvre. Research bodies require access to research grants that would enable them to pursue broader strategies, develop expertise on emerging issues, and accompany developing processes with independent research and advice.
  • Centres of excellence: Recognising the need to address national or sub-national priorities, participants recognised the importance of focusing efforts around key issues, challenges, social, economic or geographic spaces, etc. The Chilean experience in setting up centres of excellence (also explored in the UK) provided inspiration to pursue multi-partner collaboration between local and international actors.
  • Engagement and communications grants: Investment in research needs to be accompanied by investments in communication and public engagement. These cannot be afterthoughts of the research process. Funding, therefore, should consider support for communications across all its categories: scholarships for research communication studies, research grants with a significant communications component, centres of excellence with a foundational mandate to communicate their fundings, etc.
  • Organisational development support: To allow for these developments and to maximise the benefit of more and better funding, grantees (and potential grantees) need to invest in their own organisational development. Panama’s nacional science and technology secretariat, SENACYT, offered a good model: a small multi-year fund to support think tanks and university research centres to develop their governance, communications and research agenda setting capabilities.

Funding for whom?

Significantly, we must not lose track of the need to address the opportunity gaps described above. But we should also pay participar attention to the need to involve and strengthen the role that universities (public and private) play in the development of the social sciences. We have argued, before, that funding universities can be a far more cost-effective and sustainable approach to supporting think tanks -than simply funding them directly.

It is therefore important that funding is also directed at developing the capacity of universities to undertake research and to study and support the social sciences (the ecosystem) more generally and into the future.

The way forward

Besides the editorials (which keep coming) and public statements of support, it is now necessary for the broad academic community (involving a much broader set of institutions and disciplines) to pursue, together, this common objective.

A key ally in this process is no doubt going to be the international community in Peru who has, up to now, provided the main support for policy research. This development offers them a way out of the unequal funder-grantee relationship and into a more equal partnership in pursue of a common goal.

The experience so far pursued in Peru is also worth considering for other countries. A single event will not change policy but it can, as we have seen, provide a step in the right direction.