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March 05, 2021 Friday 11:40:30 AM IST

At Vantage Point

Cover Story

India is witnessing a surge in number of people enrolling for PhD in universities with annual growth rate of 10%, according to Union Grants Commission (UGC). The Total PhD admissions doubled from 77798 in 2010-11 to 161412 in 2017-18. The highest enrolments are in Science, Engineering and Technology stream followed by Social Sciences/Humanities. Despite the positive growth in numbers, concerns have been raised about the quality of research undertaken in most universities.

"Most often research is not undertaken to solve any problems the nation or a region faces but to fill the gaps in research literature. There are umpteen number of peer-reviewed journals to publish them," according to Dr Bhasi Marath, Professor at School of Management Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT).

A UGC Committee on 'Promoting and Improving the Quality of Research in Indian Universities/Colleges (July 2019) had noted that Indian academics had contributed 35% of all articles published in various kinds of fake journals in the period 2010-2014. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists had identified 11,000 fake journals in 2010-2015.

In view of the complaints against journals, UGC took a review of the approved journals and published a revised UGC-CARE Reference List of Quality journals in June 2019 directing  vice-chancellors, screening committee, research supervisors to ensure their decisions on evaluation and assessment of people for selections, promotions, credit-allotment, award of research degrees must be based on the quality of published work rather than just numbers of articles published or a mere presence in a peer reviewed journal.

Problem solving is inter-disciplinary but our universities are governed by age old discipline boundaries which makes it difficult to conduct quality research, according to Dr MS Francis, Professor of Botany at Sacred Heart College, Kochi. The UGC report quoted earlier said that disciplinary boundaries should be removed and pave the way for inter-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary and even trans-disciplinary research. In the field of science, areas like modern biology have become increasingly interdisciplinary with major contributions from researchers formally trained in other disciplines like physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, engineering and medicine. Since Humanities and Social Sciences deal with human subject, their disciplinary boundaries often converge without losing their identities but resulting into a deeper understanding of human subject/social reality.

A Good Start
"A large number of students taking admission to PhD programs carry with them accumulated deficit of disciplinary knowledge and research methodology and often even lack communication skills and linguistic competence,” according to UGC. 

It has become clear that a student entering the University cannot be suddenly taught to overcome the basic skills of lack of disciplinary knowledge, communication or collaborative skills.  Right from school level on wards scientific temperament, entrepreneurial learning and attitude to research can be inculcated in children. And the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is seen by many as a magical cure for all the ailments affecting our education system although it only creates a framework for improving the existing system from early learning to university levels.

Value Addition
“There is a need to connect education to everyday life. Are we teaching students the 21st century skills such as creativity, communication, collaboration etc and use the lessons learnt in school, unlearn and relearn where required so that their education suits the challenges of tomorrow? If we have done that we have put in a scientific temperament in them, we have put in this research mentality into them. It is very important to connect students learning to ever day problems in society,” according to Anupama Ramachandra, Principal of Delhi Public School, Electronic City, Bangalore.

She pointed out that even Grade I students can take up a community project. However, field trips to markets or museums and community projects are most often done just for the sake of doing it rather than based on a value that children may derive it. Such efforts are publicized in newspapers and photographs shared on social media. “I was in US for a short time on a Fulbright Fellowship and I noticed that there students going on field trips are given a write up about the place they are visiting, they are also given a set of questions which has to be answered after the trip is completed and they do it in the venue itself,“ Anupama added.

She also felt that we don’t allow our children to think and take risks and ask them what if they do not succeed in something. Children are told what not to do rather than what they should do. Learning should be so much more worthwhile if children are made accountable for what he or she is learning.  Children can be initiated into research by asking them to collect data, compiling and analyzing them and when teachers also start doing it, a research-driven mind will be formed early on in children. Research, vocational and entrepreneurial skills should be put into the school curriculum. Indian teachers are hard-workers and since the final destination or goals has been laid down in NEP 2020, the task now is to chart the right path to achieve it, according to Anupama Ramachandra.
Pallikkutam SELFIE

The advent of Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Machine Learning and Big Data puts pressure on the school system to adapt its teaching-learning practices so that children are able to withstand the challenges of tomorrow. “The Pallikkutam SELFIE (Smart and Sustainable Entrepreneurial Learning for Families in India and Elsewhere) was conceptualized to meet the unique requirements of the 21st century based on Pallikkutam Pedagogy,” according to Nicy Mathew, Project Manager of Pallikkutam iSchool. It is a self-motivated family based learning methodology from pre-school to pre-university following the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) syllabus offered free of cost. Every activity builds on the 5 C’s- Creation, Celebration, Collaboration, Challenge and Campaign.

Dr R Ganesan, Founder and Chairman of National Foundation for Entrepreneurship Development (NFED), Coimbatore pointed out that innovation, entrepreneurial learning and research outlook is not fostered in students at school because of the syllabus based target centric approach rather than knowledge-quality approach. “We require enterprising faculty members who will follow a multi-faceted teaching and grooming of youth,” he said. He also felt that all PhD candidates may have to undergo a pre-PhD course so that they learn the research methodologies and gain domain knowledge.

The Future

It was the awareness of problems and challenges faced in education and research that prompted the Government to come up with NEP 2020 whereas the 5th Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP 2020) aims to bring profound changes through short-term, medium term and long-term mission projects by building a nurtured eco system that promotes research and innovation on the part of both individuals and organisations. The issue of brain drain also needs to be addressed but on the positive side some young scientists and technologists are either remaining in India or returning back after short tenures abroad. Dr Surya Kumar S, Professor of Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad said that in his batch of BTech with 30 students only 2 are now in India. However, recently he had the opportunity to interview a student of his institute who had spent a year in US to gain some exposure and is back in the IIT campus to set up a startup.

Most of the patents taken by universities and research institutions are worthless and expire after the statutory 20 years without going into commercialization. A draft Biotechnology Development Strategy 2020-24 aims to develop an ‘Ease of Doing Science Index’ like ‘Ease of Doing Business Index.’ Ease of doing science is critical for doing quality science with relevance and direction that translates into socio-economic opportunities.  

Research and Innovation Excellence

Sreekumar Raghavan

Sreekumar Raghavan is an award-winning business journalist with over two and a half decades of experience in print, magazine and online journalism. A Google-certified Digital Marketing Professional, he specialises in content development for web, digital marketing and training, media relations and related areas. He is the recipient of MP Narayana Pillai Award for Journalism in 2001 and holds a bachelors degree in Economics and Masters Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Kerala University.





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