Foreign funding and social science research in Peru

11 January 2013

Kelly Bay, Cecilia Perla and Richard Snyder undertook, back in 2008, a study of the way foreign funding affects social science research in Peru. Its findings are quite interesting and can also be highly illustrative of how international cooperation influences the research agenda as well as the ways academics may adapt themselves to such an environment in other developing countries.

In Peru, social science research depends very much on foreign funding. However, when analysing bibliometric evidence, they found that there is little external control over the Peruvian intellectual agenda. Nonetheless, the authors also explored five strategies of Peruvian academics in order to see whether the dependence on foreign funding caused or influenced them in any way. They found: multiple institutional affiliations, hyperproductivity, forced interdisciplinarity, parochialism, and a weak national community of scholars.

Peru is a country that lacks an institutionalised public interest in intellectual production, particularly in the social sciences. There is also little domestic consumption of social science, a rather weak academic civil society, and very few private publishing houses willing to edit and distribute academic books. This is a challenging context in which to produce high quality knowledge. Academics thus usually look to the international cooperation in order to procure resources for their research. This has led to ‘fragmented pluralism’: there were 143 domestic and foreign institutions which provide funding for the 168 books included in the sample of the study. This translates to approximately one funder per book.

Some interesting facts from the bibliometric analysis carried out by the authors:

  • Only one fifth (18.5%) of books do not receive foreign funding.
  • Foreign funding comes from a handful of donor countries, with more than half (55.5%) of the books published receiving support from just 6 countries: the United States, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Spain.
  • Funding from sources in the United States plays a major role, which is almost as much as all Peruvian funding put together.
  • Domestic (i.e., Peruvian) funding focuses on culture and economy, with very little support for work on politics, society, and transnational relations.
  • The Netherlands and the United States provide the most support for the study of Peruvian politics and society.
  • Almost half of all research on “political order” (45.8%) and on “political actors, institutions, and processes” (41.4%) is funded from the United States.
  • Almost half (44.1%) of the work on “societal actors, institutions, and processes” is funded by the United States.
  • 115 foreign institutions located in 16 countries invest in social science research in Peru. They include government agencies, public and private universities, secular and non-secular foundations, and other types of NGOs.
  • No foreign (or domestic) funding source seems capable of wielding a dominant influence on Peru’s social science book production: no institution funds more than 12% of books published in Peru.
  • 31% of books receive support from multiple sources, thus further weakening the influence of particular funding institutions on the intellectual agenda.

The diversity of institutions that fund the books studied suggests that Peruvian academics still have a considerable amount of autonomy when determining their research projects. Most respondents (55.7%) stated that they first defined their research projects and then sought out funding, and that they rarely set up their projects in a way to maximise their chance of obtaining resources.  Most (76.9%) also answered that they wouldn’t undertake a research project they normally wouldn’t work on just because funding was available for it. Furthermore, there seems to be little effort from funding institutions to control the research agenda as only 13.5% of those interviewed responded that institutions provide comments on funding proposals.

So how does foreign funding cause or affect the strategies used by Peruvian academics in order to procure resources? In a context where resources are scarce, academics must have multiple institutional affiliations to increase funding. Many of those interviewed stated that there were advantages to strategic: including more funding options associated to different organisations, better quality of research, broader professional networks, etc. Some disadvantages include time constraints and the dispersion of the research agenda.

Hyperproductivity, however, did not seem to be directly related to dependence on foreign funding. But it could be interpreted to be a consequence of the dispersion of sources and multiple affiliation strategy.

Interdisciplinarity is quite common in Peru: 64% of those interviewed considered that they had produced interdisciplinary work which does not often reflect their academic training. Moreover, the lack of resources associated to single disciplines makes it difficult for researchers to build strong disciplinary institutions and networks.

Possibly as a consequence of this there is also much parochialism among Peruvian academic research, as most research is about Peru. There are few comparative studies, but this is not due to the predominance of foreign funding, as the latter usually promotes cosmopolitanism, not parochialism.

And lastly, foreign funding seems to pose a barrier to build a strong community of scholars both in Peru and across the region. There is more collaborative authorship between colleagues from Peru and from the North than there is between Peruvian academics and Peruvian and Latin American academics.

The Peruvian case fits in with other studies on think tank funding in Latin America – Lardone and Roggero have found that think tanks in Latin America are mostly dependent on private and foreign funding, while governments don’t have a policy toward funding them and the social sciences sector as a whole. In this blog we have also noted the dependence of think tanks in developing countries on international cooperation and how domestic philanthropy needs to be encouraged in order to prevent the possibility of the research agenda being determined by foreign funding, as in the case of India.