PhD has become a non-negotiable minimum requirement for teaching in colleges and universities, the Delhi High Court ruled in its judgement on a notification by the UGC. This has literally opened the floodgates for PhD admissions. Some universities were recently exposed when they began to offer 1000s of PhDs within a year. So what ails India’s research system?
The rise in the number of PhDs is indeed a good sign, but what about the quality of work? Prof. M Periasamy, In-charge VC, University of Hyderabad (UoH) argues, “Many students join PhD not with any primary intention of pursuing a research career but because of not getting a suitable employment opportunity after their Master’s. At present there is a rise in quality research, but not on expected lines to compete at the global level.”
Quality of research is hampered to a large extent by systemic shortfalls in data and software support. Scholars try to overcome this by banking on their mentors for support. Kumar Ashish, a PhD scholar who chose UoH is impressed by seminars, conferences of national and international repute, 24X7 campus-wide Internet and well-stocked library, but a little upset about limited support towards gaining some rare data and statistical software. “Each chapter of my thesis requires multiple revisions, substantiation and modifications at every stage. I deal with this by periodic consultation with my guide,” says Ashish.
Dr Rajendra Pandey, President, NIIT University
The insistence on a doctoral degree as the minimum qualification for a teaching position without a quality control mechanism has also been responsible for the deterioration in the quality of our doctoral degrees. We have not been able to distinguish a pure teaching institution from research and teaching institutions.
Dr. Rizvana Nulwala, who was recently awarded PhD in the area of clinical social work at TISS, Mumbai shares similar views. “My mentor enhanced the freedom to develop the research gaze, fostering intellectual growth. I developed the ability to critically analyze issues,” she said.
What is a PhD?
Doing a PhD is about creating new knowledge. It involves generally three to four years of work of which first one or two is devoted to extensive course work followed by a comprehensive exam or viva. The next two years are devoted to research, where a candidate applies a theory to a set of data to test or verify or enhance the same or creates new frameworks or theories. Some universities have an MPhil as a pre-requisite for PhD and some others permit students with a Master’s degree. Many universities offer a fellowship to the scholars and some even allocate teaching duties to them. But still research is not a very popular proposition.
PhD – Not that popular a choice
In India lack of awareness of research and poor compensation structures have dissuaded brilliant students from choosing it as career options. Dr Rajendra Pandey, President, NIIT University says, “The cumulative effect over the past several decades has led to serious shortage of qualified faculty pool. By the time a fresh postgraduate completes his doctoral degree the average age is about 28-29 years. We must provide an assured career path along with an appropriate compensation.”
Dr Nulwala is anguished that even family members and friends don’t seem much convinced of not seeking a job after doing a Master’s. “Financial needs come in the way,” says Ashish. “We need to be self-dependent financially and need to support family. The scholarship we get is much lower compared to foreign counterparts. There is also regular delay in disbursal of scholarship amount,” he says, stressing the fact that a good research requires considerable funding without having to worry about return on investment.
It is the recent UGC notification that made PhD a mandatory qualification for teaching, resulting in a mad rush for PhD registrations. Academicians say this could erode quality. “The insistence on a doctoral degree for a teaching position without a quality control mechanism has also been responsible for the deterioration in the quality of our doctoral degrees,” says Dr Pandey, adding, “absence of a research culture has made the problem more complex.”
Dr Shrihari Honwad, Vice Chancelor, University Of Petroleum And Energy Studies
Why PhD in a few pockets?
I feel the culture in India is more towards obtaining the PhD than for solving a problem or pushing the boundaries of knowledge. If problem solving or movement towards a better solution do happen they are likely to be incidental than out of creative or innovative contributions. Luckily for us there are great many exceptions and while comparisons with the rest of the world are pathetic, I am really appreciative of the hard work put in by our researchers under the extreme circumstances. We are obviously not progressing in a healthy direction.
Research needs a larger heart and nationally we have been very miserly and discriminatory when it comes to research spending. The society has to spend on research either through the tax payment route, or the premium fees route or as it happens in most cases through purchase of exorbitantly costly technology route. Whenever there has been a political will for research spending indigenous talent has come through tops. Let us spend more for research without discrimination on the basis of either, the institution or researchers’ pedigree. Let the criteria be the idea, the most important ingredient for research. Financials can be handled by competent team. Let researcher enjoy their quest. Utopian idea perhaps but need to think out of the box.
Research is not a priority
Many of the state and Central Universities do not have long-term plans for promoting research. Passionate individuals, rather than institutional policy drive most of the research activities. Today most of the public and private institutions in higher education lack infrastructural facilities. The governmental as well as industry support for R&D has been meagre, leading to resource crunch. “These factors have prevented us from producing translational research output leading to products and patents,” Dr Pandey said.
Research in just a few pockets
The emphasis on research has grown at UoH so much that, in 1977-78 there were just 16 students enrolled for PhD, which rose to 473 in 1990-91 and is at 1939 as on date. In the last two years alone the university had research projects worth 50 crore rupees. Dr Periasamy reveals, “All our faculty are involved in research in their respective areas. At present the University has more than 235 research projects, which is worth Rs.251 crores. More than 42 patents have been filed in India and abroad out of which at least 17 have been granted.”
Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur has more than 400 publications in top quality international journals and conferences in 2015. Dr Narendra S. Chaudhari, Director, VNIT says, “Minimum two research papers publications in Science Citation Index (SCI) journals or Institution of Scientific Information (ISI) recognized journal is compulsory for VNIT’s PhD students for submission of their thesis.” NIIT, in the last 5 years of its existence has published more than 100 research papers in SCI journals.
“At Kalasalingam University all papers, which are communicated to journals for possible publication, are checked using iThenticate Software and scholars/faculty members are permitted to communicate the paper only if the similarity index as shown by the software is less than 20%. Similarly PhD thesis is received for evaluation only if the similarity index is less than 20%. Further all scholars have to publish minimum three papers with at least one of them in SCI journal with impact factor for thesis submission,” says Vice Chancellor Dr S. Saravana Sankar.
Prof. M Periasamy, In-charge Vice-Chancellor, University of Hyderabad
Many students join PhD not with any primary intention of pursuing a research career but because of not getting a suitable employment opportunity after their masters. At present there is a rise in quality research but not on expected lines to compete at the global level.
Need for solid research culture
Research is the fodder for the nourishment of higher education, but it requires the right type of environment. “Doctoral scholars require an engaging, stimulating and thought-provoking environment which encourages critical thinking and equips them to deal with the emerging challenges in continually changing fields. To prepare the next generation of researchers institutions we will need to provide an environment in which scholars can do much more than research their own specialties - they will need to learn to be effective communicators, work in teams, manage other people, see the bigger picture and develop a multi-disciplinary/trans-disciplinary approach to their work,” says Dr Surinder Jaswal, Deputy Director, TISS, Mumbai.
Better infrastructure facilities, research-orientation in Master’s level and attractive funding are the need of the hour. India needs to increase qualitative and quantitative research to match global standards. Research institutions should motivate students to undertake research in areas like technology, sciences to compete with global institutions.
Some of the crucial reasons for non-completion of doctoral degrees or shallow theses are non-availability of resources; incompetent research guides; lack of depth; and low commitment levels.
“More funding to establish research facilities is definitely needed, so are opportunities for researchers to present their work to their international peers. The role of a publication does not end with its appearance in a journal, it also has to be presented, publicized, discussed and debated for greater impact,” says Prof. Amol Dighe Dean, Graduate Studies, TIFR, Mumbai.
Academicians say that what is needed now is a nationwide research grid that promotes, facilitates and advances research and development.
Facilities available at National Laboratories and institutions of repute should be networked and co-ordinated to increase research publications. Dr N. Sundararajan, Vice Chancellor, Jain University says, “The work load of faculty members who are actively engaged in research must considerably be decreased from classroom teaching.”
South Asian University’s President Dr Kavita A Sharma emphasizes treating both teaching and research as parts of the same coin, “Some countries predominantly look at research, others teaching and some combine both.” She is critical about non-committed PhD scholars. “PhD should not be taken as just another degree. It should create intellectual leadership. In developed countries, many begin their PhD research after work experience. This gives them insight and equips them to tackle real problems of the real world that impact people’s lives,” she says.
What is essential is that students get into research it with full knowledge of the challenges and opportunities. A piece of work done well will always stand in good stead throughout a scholar’s career.
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