Sir Ratan Tata

An overview of the philanthropist's relationship with LSE

In 1997 the Sir Ratan Tata Postdoctoral Fellowship was established at LSE in partnership with the Sir Ratan Tata Trust.

A black and white photo of an Indian man | Sir Ratan TataLSE has long had a close relationship with India and a key moment in this was in 1912 when the LSE Students’ Union elected Nandlal Muzumdar as its first Indian President and when Indian businessman and philanthropist, Sir Ratan Tata (1871-1917) gave a generous donation of £1,400 per year for three years to the University of London to fund research into poverty and inequality.

1912 also saw the formation of a new Department of Social Science and Administration with the merger of the School of Sociology, founded in 1903 by the Charity Organisation Society to support the training of welfare workers, and LSE. The staff of the School of Sociology, including its Director, E J Urwick (1897 – 1945) joined LSE and in December 1912 the future Prime Minister, Clement Attlee (1883 – 1967), was appointed to the post of tutor in the new Department of Social Science and Administration with a salary of £75 per annum.

Establishing a research foundation

In a parallel development Urwick was working with Leonard Hobhouse (1864-1929), Professor of Sociology, on a proposal for a University of London research foundation. The proposal suggested that investigation into the administration of relief and prevention of destitution “should not be confined to questions of private philanthropy, but should extend to legislative and administrative measures dealing with poverty, pauperism and the causes and effects thereof.”

The research would be historical, statistical and international and include research, education and popularisation, employing a senior investigator supported by a research student and a secretary and typist based at LSE. The University sent the proposal to India for the attention of Sir Ratan Tata. Sir Ratan Tata was the youngest son of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata (1839 – 1904), the founder of Tata Group, and with his elder brother, Dorabji, had inherited a large fortune and part of which was devoted to philanthropic works, including founding the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

Generous annual donations

In 1912 LSE’s founders, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, visited India and met Sir Ratan Tata. Beatrice Webb’s diary records that Tata’s offer to fund a school of investigation and research into economics in Bangalore alongside the Indian Institute of Science had been rejected as the Indian government: “Is so afraid of any intellectual development among the Indians because it finds that intellectual development always leads to a desire for self-government.” (Beatrice Webb’s diary, 8-10 April 1912)

Tata had approached the University of London and agreed to give £1,400 a year for three years. He explained: “But it is not unlikely that much human effort is wasted in the absence of available or obtainable positive information in this direction and that much human sympathy that might be enlisted for the relief of destitutionis too disheartened by past results and contradictory presentadvice to show itself.” (Letter from Sir Ratan Tata to the University of London, 28 March 1912)

R H Tawney (1880-1962), later Professor of Economic History, was appointed Director of the Ratan Tata Foundation in January 1913 and began an investigation into minimum standards of remuneration while two students from the new Department of Social Science and Administration investigated the feeding of school children. The work of the Foundation was interrupted by the First World War.

During the First World War

In November 1914 Tawney volunteered for army service and was followed by the tutor Clement Attlee. John St George Heath (1882 – 1918), the Quaker warden of Toynbee Hall was appointed to head the Ratan Tata Foundation but it was difficult to undertake research under war conditions and student numbers fell.

In 1916 the Ratan Tata grant was renewed for a further five years. LSE’s finances were under pressure due to a fall in student numbers. The foundation and department were merged and Sir Ratan Tata requested that the department be transferred to the direct management of the University of London – though it continued to be housed at LSE.

The LSE Director, William Pember-Reeves wrote: “I admit that it is with some regret that I see a department which we have, without question, made very successful, transferred to the University. Still, the needs of the department were growing at a greater rate than funds at the School’s disposal for its benefit and the benefaction of Sir Ratan Tata will make possible developments which I think will result in the establishment of courses of training for social work better than any to be obtained elsewhere in the UK.”

Sir Ratan Tata died in St Ives in 1918 and was buried in the Parsi burial ground in Brookwood Cemetery. His trustees confirmed their continued support for the department and peacetime brought an increased demand for training and research into welfare work.

In June 1919 the course was advertised as “designed to prepare students for any form of social work and in connection with it there are special departments under experienced tutors for training for welfare work in factories and for continuation school teaching,” and by 1920 there were 80 students.

Continued support

The Department also signed an agreement with G Bell and Sons for the publication of The Social Service Library edited by Clement Attlee. In 1921 and 1926 the Ratan Tata trustees confirmed funding for two further five-year terms. They suggested the department to return to the direct management of LSE believing the University of London to be too distant and lacking understanding of the department’s mission and the Ratan Tata funding was to be used to support research.

During the 1920s the School frequently liaised with the trustees through Nandlal Muzumdar who was based in Ratan Tata’s offices at 62 New Broad Street in London. The same Nandlal Muzumdar who had graduated from LSE in 1912 with a BSc (Econ) in Public Administration – the first Indian President of the Students’ Union.

The trustees were regretfully unable to continue the funding in the 1930s due to economic depression, but the Department of Social Science and Administration continued. Links were maintained and in 1997 the Sir Ratan Tata Postdoctoral Fellowship was established at LSE in partnership with the Sir Ratan Tata Trust. 

Fellows are early career researchers engaging in social science research on the themes of Economy and Society in South Asia. This continues LSE’s long term commitment to understanding and mitigating the causes of poverty and inequality across the globe.

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