The Need for Quality Research

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 27 Feb 2018 12:02:28


Indian institutions (459 universities having 33,0903 colleges) have a long way to go in academic research in general to reach International standards. A high quality of research, on the one hand, is a positive reflection on the status of economic development achieved by a nation, and on the other, can have a significant influence on the rate of economic growth achieved by a nation. However, achieving a high quality research is not an easy task. It needs a strong basic school education system in place.

The Indian Science Congress has recently revealed that India is among the world’s top countries in terms of scientific research output but the country’s universities have fallen way behind in providing good scientific research. According to ‘The Nature Index’, the world's best natural science research, the researchers contributing to a large chunk of research hailed from five countries, the United States, China, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan.
United States stands first when it comes to publishing in the world’s leading scientific journals. China stands second in publishing the high quality articles in the world’s total number of high-quality articles. The country’s growth in science papers and increasing input to those papers has been remarkable. Germany spends a high portion of its GDP on research and development. The contribution of German industry to R&D spending is among the highest in the world. The contribution to high-quality research from British researchers is impressive, with a Nature Index ranking of fourth in the world, and even more significant when considering their efficiency. Japan stands fifth in the index; Japan has spent more on R&D than the top four countries in the index between 2006 and 2013.

In India, Major contributors of research were scientific institutes like the Indian Institute of Science at Bengaluru, the Indian Statistical Institute at Kolkata, IITs and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) institutes. The overall contribution of Indian universities towards the country’s total output is minimal because the universities have the additional burden of teaching, while research institutes have only one purpose—to conduct research. The group found that India’s major contribution to the scientific world has been in the field of chemistry—38 per cent of the country’s papers in 2010 were on the subject. However, contribution of Computer Science (4.8 per cent), Health Sciences (3.5 per cent) and Medical Specialities (4.3 per cent) towards India’s total research output was relatively low. We need to further strengthen our research capabilities in applied research. Basic research is important but applied research is what leads to progress. The inadequate research in agricultural sciences in the country is the most alarming signal for country like us.
The incidents in the past where Ph.D. thesis were plagiarised and even it was found that they were sold at photocopy shops in the national capital for a few hundred rupees, clearly state the deteriorating quality of the research and the quality of existing Indian doctorates. It had once again underlined the serious cause for concern. Therefore comprehensive report by the respected science magazine Nature slammed the government for a shoddy job at improving the state of innovation and research in the country. The magazine noted that the Indian research is hampered by stifling bureaucracy, poor-quality education at most universities and insufficient funding. Successive governments have pledged to increase support for research and development to 2% of India's gross domestic product, but it has remained static at less than 0.9% of GDP since 2005.The first and foremost challenge that confronts the government is of encouraging enough people to take up research. With barely two lakh researchers, the country of over 1.2 billion people has one of the lowest densities of scientific workforce, ranking even below Chile, Kenya, including the US and UK when it comes to research workforce density in the labour population.
India’s rate of filing patents is on the rise because of the entry of multinational corporations, but it is measurably low per capita, compared to others. In 2013, South Korea filed over 4,400 patents per one million of population while India could manage only 17.
Academicians in India feel that the support system from the government is missing in terms of both quality benchmarks and rewards. Many do think that many people will take up research, if they are given incentives in terms of salary, grants, access to libraries and so on but that’s missing completely. The first and foremost challenge that confronts the government is of encouraging enough people to take up research. This has a direct impact on the number of patents and research paper India puts out.

A report compiled by the consultancy and research firm EY had a similar observation about insufficient number of research papers authored by Indian academicians. In 2011, for instance, China’s academics published almost five times more research papers as compared to their Indian counterparts. It is not that Indian spending is much lower than other countries when it comes to investing in research. Even as the US spends over $3,43,000 per researcher, India manages to spend $1,71,000, which is more than what countries like Pakistan and Spain manage, and almost equal to China’s spending of $1,73,000 per researcher. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate into quality research as the Nature magazine highlighted. Even though India’s scholarly output has quadrupled since the year 2000, the rate has been surpassed by the countries like Brazil and China. At the same time, India’s scholarly impact, measured by the number of times papers from the country are cited in other research work, was 30% below the world average in the year 2013.

Even though India is in the forefront in the area of research publication but when it comes to path breaking research that has an impact on society, India is not doing well in the forefront. This needs to be looked into seriously and we need to overhaul entire research programme in order to do cutting edge research and bring laurels to the country.
To emerge a truly knowledge society in the globalised world today, India needs to have quality education at all levels and in all fields. This requires proactive roles from all the stake-holders.

The challenge for the present young generation and aspiring faculty is to provide far better education system to their next generation than they themselves experienced. Some sacrifice at this stage would pay rich dividends for India. Isn’t it a now or never situation for the policy makers, scientists and researchers to take a serious call?
(The authors can be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected])