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Research Crunch: RELOOK VITAL FOR GLOBAL LEAP By Shivaji Sarkar, 17 Oct, 2015 Print E-mail

Economic Highlight

New Delhi, 17 October 2015

Research Crunch


By Shivaji Sarkar


The call for ‘Make in India’ is sadly not being matched with research in the country. An area that the billion-plus nation is definitely lacking in is the research by the large corporate – foreign or Indian. The Government cannot shoulder all the research responsibilities. But beyond Government universities and labs not much research activity is being done either.


At the same time, research contribution of Indian universities with some exceptions has so far had a dismal record. Mostly these are repetitious and are carried out for merely obtaining a doctorate degree to get a career promotion.


The stipulation of regulators like the University Grants Commission in reality has meant that by hook or crook a university teacher must obtain a doctorate degree so that he/she has smooth promotional avenues, irrespective of the quality of the thesis or reasoning. It is well-known that such degrees can be purchased virtually off the shelf. There are many such shops running even in the national capital, Delhi. Though the degrees are genuinely issued by a university many may not strictly speaking be for research.


Teachers in universities are usually not serious about conducting in-depth research for many reasons including too many demanding procedures. The Association of Indian Universities statistics suggest a dire need for conducting research on emerging issues for the growth and development of the society.


The researcher is often unaware of advanced tools and techniques. The topics are too esoteric. The teachers consider the job of being a guide burdensome as the teaching load takes away most of their time leaving little for the teachers to update themselves.


Though some of these could be mere alibi, most teachers say that doing a genuine research is difficult in the universities owing to lack of facilities. They also rue the compulsion of obtaining PhD for career progression. In most cases, PhD is no more a research, says the university fraternity. Despite that 14,000 PhDs are awarded every year!


There are good teachers but all need not be researchers. Forcing a teacher, who may not be genuinely interested in doing research, is a disservice not only to him/her but also to the nation. It is a severe drain on resources. Similarly, there are good researchers but their performance is evaluated on the number of classes they have addressed. This is impractical.


A reason often cited is that the country does not invest much in research. In reality, this is not true. The UNESCO figures state that India spent 0.81 per cent of its GDP on research in 2012, whereas the US spent 2.79 per cent and the UK 1.72 per cent. But India is simply not getting results as the US and UK.


Additionally, there is a great mismatch between input and output – patents, trademarks, quality research published in scholarly journals. For a PhD scholar to produce and publish a paper in 20-peer reviewed journals is a herculean task. It is just not the question of quality but it also requires networking, which most universities in this country lack.


Further, just imagine a person getting a PhD for finding out the silly number of micro newspapers published in the western part of a district in a northern State. This is happening in languages and many other streams. Even research in science lacks the seriousness it deserves if one is working in a university.


At the same time, some of the labs may be doing better and at least it can be said that not all is bunkum, when it is delinked from a doctoral degree. Today, India has its hydrocarbon map prepared by National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI). It is because of that study that oil and gas has been found in Rajasthan, Godavari basin and many other areas. It also has indicated the places where gas hydrates can be spotted. Similar achievements have been done by BARC, ISRO and some other labs. Even the Railways lab RDSO has helped it achieve unique standards.


It must however be remembered that what these labs have done as research was institutional activity led by a large team. That is the difference between universities and many of the CSIR, IARI and other government labs.


Yes, India has a problem that it has fewer researchers. But it is also true that some researchers who could not do well in the country have migrated and excelled in Germany, the US and many other western countries.


According to OECD data, India has 119 researchers per million of the population, compared to 1,564 in China, 2,706 in the UK, 4,605 in the US and 6,807 in Iceland. In terms of the number of researchers per 1,000 people employed, India, with 24 researchers, ranks below China (115), Japan (131), the European Union (231) and the US (324). This is an indication that somewhere the country has not been stressing on research despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for ‘Make in India’.


With the corporate sector looking only at its profits and not coming forward to take the responsibility of encouraging and supporting research, should the government alone shoulder the responsibility? Recall, the CSIR encouraged the development of the electric car REVA and instead a large private group made the best of it by owning it. Can the Government work all the time at public cost to boost private profits? No. It can only be a catalyst. But why should it bear all the costs and if the hard work is transferred should it not get the investment plus other costs be taken back?


These are many issues, which yearn for a discussion threadbare. India cannot simply follow the Chinese models to promote research in universities, as scientist Prof Yash Pal says. And not all universities can do research. Those which cannot do should be freed of this responsibility.


The Departments of Science and Technology will spend Rs 15000 crore ($340 million), and Information Technology Rs 500 crore, amounting to 0.6 per cent of the country's gross domestic product in the next five years. Spending has not been a problem. How to generate results is.


In the past seven decades, India has done a bit. It is now time for consolidation of efforts to take a giant leap. This calls for a review. The compulsion on doctoral studies must be done away.  It requires setting up of research pattern for the next at least three decades in all disciplines. Industry too not only needs to contribute but also must share costs in promoting specialized studies as it is the largest beneficiary.


An inter-disciplinary review to promote the culture of society-centric research is needed to take a leap in the global arena. The Government has to step in to have synergy in all spheres. Research is necessary but it has to have the right orientation and the right partners and not just the numbers. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)



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