One of the un-avowed objectives of higher education is the creation of fresh knowledge, perennially for the purpose of teaching as well as building an informed society. This unstated mandate expects to undertake research from the faculty members of the higher educational institutions, especially in the universities and higher learning centres. This inbuilt expectation of undertaking continuous research has bestowed distinction to many higher educational institutions abroad and carved a niche for their presence.
India is one such example to have inbuilt research in the academic curriculum of the higher education system for a long time. The National Education Policy (NEP)-2020 contemplated the first time after the independence has placed priority on research in higher educational institutions. While doing so, it has rightly admitted the fact that academic research is an integral part of the higher education system in most knowledge societies. Research from time to time facilitates understanding the new realm of fresh knowledge, which in turn benefits teaching. Research also exposes societies and economies to innovative thinking besides finding solutions to various socio-economic problems through public interventions. That apart, research brings about innovation in science, technology and in every other field. In fact, the promotion of research in the higher education system is one of the ten envisions of the NEP, by institutionalising research funding, which is a critical requirement. In fact, the NEP has laid a landmark commitment, especially in financing academic research. This has come against the backdrop of a lack of adequate public and institutional funding for undertaking research in the field of art, language, culture, society, economy, society, environment and whatnot. At the same time, there could be some exceptions in the field of space, science and technology, which have attracted a great deal of financial support from the special purpose institutions and private industrial houses.
There has been a major shift in focus from research to only studies at the post-graduation and doctoral levels, especially in the universities that are the highest places of knowledge creation. This shift over the years has prompted most university departments to limit their scope to only the studies and give up the research almost completely. In other words, the academic departments have lost sight of the research in their specific areas and teaching faculty have been given complete freedom from undertaking research. Since undertaking research is left to the whim and fancy of the faculty members, the creation of fresh knowledge is in the doldrums. This new trend besides affecting the very trait and character of higher education made it dependent upon the obsolete curriculum of teaching for a longer period. Secondly, a dearth of public funding has hampered the research culture and caused colossal damage to higher education. It has been rightly pointed out by the NEP that India’s investment in research is less than 1 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, which is far less than the investment of even small countries. Almost with bleak or no public funding for research in the country, what disturbs further is the corruption practices by the funding authorities to sanction research grants. This unethical situation is due to the increasing number of research studies seeking funds, which is, in turn, owing to very negligible public allocations. Thirdly, in the absence of adequate funding, most universities have relegated the research agenda and fine-tuned their budget only to meet the establishment expenditures like salaries, maintenance, etc., owing to a resource crunch. If at all universities funding for research, not only is very negligible but is selectively provided depending on the proximity of the scholars to the authorities. Thus, self-financing by the higher educational institutions for research is largely absent, owing to highly subsidised fee structures. Lastly, corporate funding and industry support for research are not available across all the disciplines. Instead, funding from such sources is project-specific confining to science and technology largely and as a result, socially relevant research themes have been thrown out of the ambit, however important they are.
To reverse the current trend and to bring back the lost glory of higher education in research, the NEP envisaged two very significant roadmaps: (a) to develop research capabilities among the faculty members and to facilitate the development of research culture in the state universities and other public institutions; and (b) to seed and fund the peer-reviewed research studies with the establishment of National Research Foundation (NRF). The NEP has mandated making research a part of the programme curriculum at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. It has directed the introduction of four years integrated programme with three years bachelor's and one year of master’s programme with research. Further, in the two years of Masters’ courses for those who completed 3 years of bachelor’s programme, the second year shall be devoted entirely to research. Lastly, Doctoral research leading to a Ph.D. degree is allowed only with a master’s degree or a 4-year bachelor’s degree with research. The NRF will provide merit-based but equitable peer-reviewed research funding in all the disciplines of the state universities and other public institutions. The first initiative would give birth to new researchers with the needed skill set and is prompting the student-scholars to undertake relevant research of their interest. Similarly, the second initiative is a first and kindles the research interest across all the disciplines by supplying research funds. Importantly, the establishment of the NRF can also solve most of the problems associated with the process of research funding by putting transparent selection procedures in place. Interestingly, the present departments of Science and Technology, Atomic Energy, Biotechnology and Councils for Agriculture Research, Medical Research, Historical Research and University Grants Commission will continue to fund research, according to their priorities and needs.
To recapitulate, the NEP is a path-breaking initiative, which has given a new dimension to research with paradigms in the higher education sector of the country. With this, the intentions of the policy are very clear that the higher educational institutions, particularly the universities would bring back the research culture and becomes knowledge creation centres. But it must be remembered that the success entirely lies in the strict implementation of the policy provisions than confining itself to be a mere policy statement. The NEP must create an environment to promote hassle-free research in the universities and in higher education centres. The other new initiative of the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) shall ensure new curriculum design is enunciated in the NEP at the earliest without losing any more time, in order to suffice the un-avowed goal for the creation of fresh knowledge. Secondly, the creation of the NRF shall not be an analogous institution with paraphernalia in the country. Instead, it must truly live up to its purposes to enhance the flow of research funding in all the disciplines of the higher educational institutions. Thirdly, most of the objectives contemplated in the NEP become reality only when there is substantial public funding earmarked by the government. It must step up the budgetary allocation for research in the hitherto neglected disciplines like Social Sciences & Humanities, Environment, History, Cross-Cultural, etc., across the country. The government shall enhance public spending substantially for research if at all it intends to build a knowledge society like any other advanced society.
The author M. Mahadeva is a Professor at the Institute of Finance and International Management (IFIM), Bengaluru – 560 100