by B.H.S. Thimmappa
The Reality of Research Route
The fruits of research tomorrow are in the seeds of today and stronger action is necessary to accelerate the pace of research activity to write new chapters on many different scientific fronts in India. The higher education institutions in India play a pivotal role in enriching knowledge and skill development by embracing multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. Scientific research focusing on solving problems is the systematic process of collecting data, logically analyzing, and extracting useful information by reliable and standard procedures for specific purposes, and drawing valid conclusions from them. We research to generate new specialized knowledge, explain a new phenomenon, create new products, processes, or systems, provide solutions to problems, explore and analyze more general issues, and investigate certain existing situations. A research ecosystem can generate relevant knowledge for innovation and fill the knowledge gaps. It is important to note that India ranks fourth among the countries by the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded and awards nearly 24,000 doctoral degrees annually, but there is a decline in quality. Though the number of research publications in India is high, the citation per publication is 3, which is the least among the top 10 countries in the world. The Indian research ecosystem is far behind in the quality of research and capability to have a powerful impact on national development. The nationalist thought is necessary to increase the number of tertiary degree holders to maintain a proper innovation ecosystem in a range of science sectors and technology domains. Most rigorous tertiary education programs, lead to high-quality Ph.D. graduates. Part-time researchers register themselves in the universities just to get a Ph. D. tag leading to a continuous spectrum of practices. Many of today’s teachers join higher education institutes by chance, not by choice, and are not serious candidates for a tertiary degree and they are publishing just for the sake of it as they do not have a research mindset. Curriculum design plays a crucial role in higher education programs and diluting the syllabus beyond recognition in some cases amounts to making a mockery of the whole higher education system. Criteria of a good research process must include the following; i) the purpose of the research should be clearly defined ii) the research procedure used should be described in sufficient detail iii) the research design should be thoroughly planned to get accurate results iv) acquire sufficient data v) the validity and reliability should be carefully checked v) adequate analysis and explanation of the data to extract significant information vi) conclusion should be based on the data analysis vii) all limitations and assumptions of the study must be disclosed and documented viii) high ethical standards must be applied and viii) all findings should be presented unambiguously and all conclusions must be justified by sufficient evidence. The steps for doing good research include raising a question, literature review and evaluation, suggesting a hypothesis, data acquisition, data analysis, and interpretation, hypothesis support, and conclusions. Further, publish the record of research and scholarly discourse or file patents as part of scholarly literature in the pursuit of knowledge.
Challenges and Solutions in Research
The challenges to promoting research culture in higher education institutions include the following; i) lack of awareness about career or scholarship/funding prospects ii) inadequate cutting-edge research infrastructure and access to resources iii) general lack of internal encouragement to conduct high-quality research to produce papers, file patents, and participate in standard conferences. iv) insufficient grants and inordinate delays in creating incentives for research, v) disconnect between pure and applied research, higher education institutes, and industrial establishments, and an inadequate platform for knowledge sharing with global research institutions. All these factors contribute to India’s inability to solve immediate pressing problems and stand out in the research outcome in international rankings. There is more advanced education, but less common sense, good knowledge but less wisdom, and YouTubers are more successful than university graduates. Indian research scholars pursuing doctoral and post-doctoral studies abroad have fewer job opportunities back home in institutes under the CSIR, ICMR, and ICAR, and bias against researchers applying from abroad purely on merit without any influence is common. A robust and well-established recruiting system without any consideration for other factors other than merit is the need of the hour. There is a skill mismatch for graduates from universities to work in other areas like publishing, communications, and R & D in the industry. Remarkable scale and speed are required in building a higher education system that would make finding a decent job easier or becoming a founder of a start-up company. We should take the initiative to promote scientific journalism to make the general public increasingly aware of the new advancements in science, engineering, and technology. An incentive-based system at the university level, conducting workshops and training sessions for learners at a young age, the introduction of science journal clubs, research scholars’ colloquiums, and providing access to good quality journals would help improve the research aptitude and develop research culture.
In some universities there is a shortage of scholarly faculty to supervise research scholars is a serious issue that results in less research output. A compartmental attitude is detrimental to research and universities must encourage inter and intra-departmental collaboration leading to better research outcomes. Sometimes because of very heavy teaching and administrative responsibilities (80 %), faculty members are left with insufficient time to carry out intense research activities, reducing their growth potential. The one nation, one subscription (ONOS) initiative by the GOI aims to provide countrywide access to international scientific/academic content and act as a vehicle to develop an interest in domain-specific research. The silver lining is that there is now a greater sense of research than before with a workable national mechanism! The inclusion of names of authors other than those who have contributed to the paper discourages good people to involve themselves in active research. There are several scientific godfathers in premier institutions and national laboratories who misused their position to include their names in the papers of colleagues with no contribution to gain a high H-index, an indicator of research impact based on citation measurement. The incorporation of an unusually large number of authors to reflect collaborative activity where only one or two authors have struggled to put their sweat in would act as a deterrent in their future participation. The material conditions of researchers push them to become greedy for easy publications with parasite publishers and predatory journals without good peer review to get quick promotions or positions instead of publishing in standard journals. Recently UGC has found that about 75 % of the published papers during Ph.D. are not in quality Scopus-indexed journals and withdraws mandatory research publication before Ph.D. thesis submission. We are better off setting standard operating procedures (SOPs) for everything from registration to tertiary degree to progress reports, submission of a thesis, and final defense presentation than bending the rules. It is essential to make academia more attractive as a long-term career option in the country through an increase in funding to improve research infrastructure as well as better salaries and stipends. University administrators, research councils, and policymakers must identify the various challenges at different levels and adopt suitable strategies to improve the existing situation and promote quality research.
Research between the Lines
The growing crisis facing young aspiring scientists dealing with a multitude of complex issues and fundamental problems, needs discussion in various research forums to create a comfortable enough atmosphere to carry out free and fair research activities. The process of faculty recruitment should become more democratic by removing the current practice of keeping one or two heteroelements at the department or institute level to show that it is an institute of national importance. In some universities/institutes the appointment of vice-chancellor, director, and dean is based on favorable candidates close to the political party in power. Illegal financial transactions happen during such recruitments and many who do not satisfy the minimum eligibility criteria for a particular faculty position will get selected. Choosing the right candidates having good academic track records and research credentials in a particular field and professional integrity can promote both proactive and productive work culture in an organization. Corruption is a worm that is eating our society and higher education system. Similarly, international scientific conferences conducted in India should become truly international in character by attracting participants from all over the world. It is essential to give due credit to the persons who have worked hard to get the breakthrough output. Merely showing lip sympathy by higher authorities for their inaction against any politics involving nepotism or favoritism in including some names in the papers or patents by the division heads is irresponsible behavior and a grave error that would kill the true scientific spirit in the young scientist. To keep our house in order and bring projects on track, the research project grant to certain pockets by the funding agencies, depending on the godfather influence should stop and it should be based solely on the merit of the research projects in specific streams. Progress and momentum are possible if we realign research activities through strict regulations to obtain impactful results to have more of a globalized influence. People have to become mature enough to understand the issues of educated unemployment and underemployment and the research infrastructure deficit that forces several Indians to go abroad in search of R & D-related work. In recent years, we are on an upward trajectory as things have picked up again, significant improvement is required to increase the scope, scale, and intensity of research in the interest of the country. We have to encapsulate entire research features to create a dedicated team of research-trained experts to become a global research hub. Eventually, it will provide an opportunity to showcase India’s rich research culture. Technical innovations in several fields are in their infancy today and huge improvements are expected down the line to bear the fruits and profound impact at different levels. It takes time and energy to change mindsets and devise working alternatives for making India unlock its growth potential.
The science and technology awards have been devalued and the prestige associated with them has suffered in recent years. This decline is because those in the inner scientific circles who are influential or are proximate to the strong local powerhouses have an advantage over others. Many unworthy persons have managed to obtain the honors while deserving candidates failed to get them, creating an asymmetry among the scientific community. Personal and political considerations, narrow scientific purposes, ad hocism, and favoritism in the decision-making process lead to the selection of mediocrity. There are others whose selection can be questioned and many have lobbied to win awards, including some examples of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prizes for Science and Technology. The performance of these people cannot be considered scientific works important enough to fetch national-level honors after critically examining their published work. Sometimes, the selection committee is not competent enough to evaluate the standard work of very good candidates for the awards. It is embarrassing for genuine winners to share a platform with a shady company. There is a need for radical change and it is essential to exercise caution in the selection of awardees, restrict the number of awards, follow global best practices and make the selection system more transparent and independent. The recent decision of the government to reduce the number of awards and make the selection process more transparent and recognize the people who have shown excellence in their field of work and dedication to service to society is the right step in this direction. Instituting institute/university-level research awards or cash incentives for the best paper/patent within the organization following standard selection criteria would certainly boost the motivation of the researchers and enhance the research activities eventually leading to quality output. An incentive point system/funds and freedom scheme for acquiring patents to promote innovation in their specific streams amongst faculty members would be very beneficial to increase the number of breakthrough innovations. It is always better to get to the root of the problem and deal with the underlying causes rather than with superficial symptoms. Our contribution may be a nanodrop in the ocean, but we can do our bit to make the world a better place to live. Hope for the best research results in the future because of concrete plans and solid ideas due to better insight, clarity of mind, and focus. Progress and momentum are possible in research activities with the right choice of approaches, methods, and tools for data collection, analyses, and conclusions.
Developing a Research Culture
The vision is to make the most of human academic talent and potential through higher education required for an innovative, knowledge-based society and inspiration for students to reach their full potential by creating a learning environment that both challenges and supports them. The mission is to build a better student experience with high-quality, accessible training and talent development opportunities to develop leadership acumen. The integrity of research is based on core values of fairness, objectivity, honesty, service, caring, empathy, excellence and performance, academic freedom, rigor and scientific integrity, collaboration and sharing of knowledge, transparency, and accountability, and respect and social responsibility. It is essential to inculcate a scientific spirit and multidisciplinary flavors among youngsters who have above-average abilities, task commitment, and creativity, provide them exposure to research aspects and impacts, opportunities and challenges, and orient them towards research activities for the benefit of the country. Developing original thinking and a ‘think big’ attitude through an academic capacity-building process on a remarkable scale and speed on a priority basis across India will go a long way in producing a quality research output and make possible an unprecedented public good through incredible opportunities. Further, providing easy access to modern, sophisticated equipment and other research infrastructure matters the most in collecting scientific data or evidence required for analyses and conclusions. Basic and applied research, engineering, and technology research in various domain-specific areas and streams should be actively supported by the central and state governments as well as corporate houses as a part of their CSR activity. Research incentive schemes with proper checks and balances would eventually lead to high-quality research papers or transformative patents. Finally, a research culture has to be established in multiple phases in public and private higher education and research institutions and other research centers across India by creating conducive research environments to make a radical shift in the current research system. The way forward includes developing a culture of excellence through the process of continuous improvement to achieve excellent results in the research and development sector. It is important to recognize that we have to set things in motion in the right direction with greater responsibility in nurturing and furthering research that will have far-reaching implications for the specialized research outcomes in the international scenario that becomes a part of India’s developing story. The higher education institutes will need to focus greater attention on research infrastructure and academic facilities and require a much higher degree of local autonomy to unlock their growth potential. Organizing focused events on specific topics by inviting external experts periodically would refresh the minds of in-house researchers to think about new ideas along with exposure to the recent advances in various scientific fields. Providing seed money to carry out preliminary investigations in thrust areas is a good practice to encourage and motivate young faculty members. It is necessary to establish a local sophisticated instrumentation center (LSIC) at each university housing modern research instruments to help us to have a competitive advantage over top-ranking universities across the world. The decentralized university management structure and strong leadership at the institutional level are critical elements in developing the research culture.
1. Singh, V.K., Nandy, A., Singh, P. et al. Indian Science Reports: a web-based scientometric portal for mapping Indian research competencies at overall and institutional levels. Scientometrics, 127, 2022, 4227–4236. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-022-04395-6
2. Banshal, S. Kumar; Singh, V. Kumar; Mayr, Philipp Comparing research performance of private universities in India with IIT’s central universities and NITs Current Science, 116 (8) 2019, 1304-1313 doi: 10.18520/cs/v116/i8/1304-1313
About the Author:
B.H.S. Thimmappa is a writer from Udupi, India