HIGHER EDUCATION: Assessing University Research

HIGHER EDUCATION: Assessing University Research

The recent integrated statutes have been framed in haste and some clauses need reconsideration and re-assessment before their implementation

Sometimes we as humans are feeble when it comes to original and creative imagination. We usually need an external stimulus for the birth and germination of ideas. Universities in this regard provide the space in which the external stimulus operates with the greatest effectiveness. 

The shared goals of investigation and discovery bind together the disparate elements to create a sense of wholeness and university is the place where ideas flow, new initiatives blossom, flexibility abounds, and global reputations expand. In this context, the recent initiatives taken by the Kashmir University to streamline the research courses is a welcome step.

At least, for the first time since the inception of the University, authorities have centralized the research admission which hopefully will improve the quality and save the precious time of our budding scholars.

Importantly the new guidelines will provide the ‘breathing time’ for the preparation of synopsis to our scholars once they are successfully done with the course work.  

This will directly improve the standards of our research rather than promoting mere ‘Ph.D culture’. Nonetheless, unfortunately the new statutes are too bureaucratic and rigid in nature that instead of promoting research friendly culture within the university are highly autocratic and look very repressive. I believe that these new rules have been framed in haste and some clauses which look very autocratic need reconsideration and re-assessment before their implementation.

The first question is that why the statuses are called as “Integrated Ph.D (program) statutes”. 

It was better to  label  them  as Direct Ph.D statutes because the term  ‘integrated’  in  academics  also  stands  for  combining  two  courses  together  in  such  way  that  both  courses  form the whole and the awarded degree serves the purpose of both the courses. According to Cambridge dictionary, the term integrates means “to combine two or more things in order to become more effective.”

 The question here is that in these new statutes it is nowhere mentioned that M.Phil cum Ph.D  courses are integrated in such way that at the end of the course a candidate will be awarded with both degrees.

But the statute goes like this: “In case a candidate passes only two theory papers out of three papers and secures not less than 40% marks in the third paper, he/she can pass out with an M. Phil degree after he/she goes through a semester based research project work (not exceeding 6 months to be reckoned from the date of declaration of result in theory papers) compiled in the form of a dissertation to be evaluated and examined by the DRC and a nominee of the Vice Chancellor before final recommendation for the award of M.Phil.

In case a candidate is interested to leave out with an M.Phil degree, for some other reasons, the same shall be allowed under exceptional circumstances. Such a candidate can be re-admitted for Ph.D programme under these statutes.”

It is clear from these statutes that the committee which has framed these rules would like handing over M.Phil degree to candidate whose percentage in course work will be less than 40% and give something to those who are not able to perform or pursue their research studies.

It is similar to FYUP experiment of Delhi University which did not work. Perhaps the drafting committee has overlooked the fact that our research students are much the same products of our own system and our own university with little exposure to research, thus scarping M.Phill degree is an unwelcome step.

In the context of our university, M. Phil course at least serves the purpose to act like research orientation programme for new scholars and introduces them to the world of research.

It is good to regulate the course than to scrap it. We know many leading universities of the world including Oxford, Cambridge having kept the M. Phil course as part of their Ph.D progamme. The authorities should hold more deliberations on the same issue. Making course work part of it or re-naming it as pre-Ph.D will not justify the philosophy of Integrated Ph.D program. 

My second concern is about the statuses which directly attack the freedom, autonomy of research scholars, thus affecting the research culture.

Instead of bringing autonomy and creditability in the research courses, these statutes once again try to institutionalise the research programmes in such a manner where it will become unnecessarily time consuming and more specifically create a tortured space for a researcher.  Let me cite another para of statute which further buttresses the claim:

‘Each scholar shall be required to maintain a data note book (wherever applicable) to meticulously record/ append the raw data (observations/ photographs/autorads/graphs/ consent forms/survey-responses/other routine collections etc) with dates and tampering free page numbers. The raw data endorsed by respective supervisors shall have to be made available for assessment on demand. During the period of residency, every scholar shall be assessed by the Research Progress Assessment Committee (RPAC) at least four times to monitor his/her progress. This assessment shall be done twice a year beginning from 2nd year of residency. These six monthly assessments shall be the responsibility of respective DRC’s, with a Vice-Chancellors nominee to be included in 2nd and 4th assessment process.

The RPAC shall evaluate the progress made by the scholar, assess the attendance records, and make suggestions for improvement, if required, modify or revise the synopsis (title, objectives, methodology) on a prescribed format. Last RPAC shall make recommendations for grant of academic clearance or more evaluations (if so desired) by the RPAC.

Raw data collected by the scholar shall be religiously recorded/ appended in a data note book on regular basis with dates and endorsement by respective supervisors, such that the data is readily available on demand.”

The above statute reveals that university somehow shows trust deficit towards its own teachers and scholars. Their integrity is made doubtful. What is the fun of maintaining data notebook on a daily basis? Suppose someone’s research is purely theoretical in nature, should he or she then bring all the readings to the supervisor and committee for endorsement? Should a researcher become a literature labourer by carrying his/her research data to a committee for evaluation? How and who will evaluate the authenticity of such a huge data in few hours?

 If suppose I am an ethnographer and have some ethical bindings not to share my data publicly, then what will happen to my Ph.D.? I fail to understand why the drafting committee has tried to make our research more bureaucratic rather than academic.

 What is the fun of having RPAC committee which once again is hierarchical in nature?  Having a VC nominee to assess scholar’s attendance records rather than academics is also hilarious.  What about another confusing statute: “Raw data collected by the scholar shall be religiously recorded.”

It would have been better to mention that raw data collected by the scholar shall be properly recorded rather than borrowing the terms which have clear religious conceptualizations.  It takes months together to have one DRC in a year in KU departments.  

The question here is how it is then possible to have several RPACs within a year? All these activities justify the myopic understanding of our university towards our research programs and reflect how much trust the university has on its own faculty. Appointing vigilance type committees will not do well for the university in the long run. Let’s have the assessment of research purely in terms of academic means not in administrative style which seems more time consuming and looks frightening to our young scholars.

Another interesting thing which I noticed in these statuses is that the drafting committee seems more biased towards our own academic efforts. For instance, clause no 24 reads: “a certificate about delivery of seminars and overall eligibility certificate to the effect of having at least one paper published/ accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed/refereed journal not published within the State, barring the subject of Kashmiri and like. The publication should necessarily be a part of his/her Ph.D thesis and should not be a review or commentary.”

It is good that UGC regulation 2009 is implemented while awarding the degrees but what is the logic to make it public – that whatever you publish in your own university journals is not valid and acceptable. Here question arises then, what is fun of spending huge amount of university budget in publishing these journals? I am not against publishing in very reputed journals but at the same time it is not good to disgrace our own academic efforts.

Our university has few journals which can compete at the national level. The Urdu Journal Tarseel of DDE is one such journal which is highly respected in the Urdu academia throughout world. Rather than disowning our own journals, we should promote them officially and help build a serious peer review system. 

Similarly the criteria of making the publication not review based looks also academically irrelevant. Intention seems good but perhaps the drafting committee is not aware that in any research, especially in social sciences, the toughest task is to write a good review article as in the academia of West and Europe well known researchers are invited to write review articles for review journals.

It takes a lot of hard work to write a meta analysis (review article) and I feel no shame to accept that in reality maximum university teachers and scholars in India, including myself, lack the ability to problematize the literature. Instead, we are very skilled in copy pasting the abstract portion of papers to build up review portion for our research. So declaring a review article not as research work speaks of ignorance on part of drafting committee as a lot of humanities research is based on review work.

Even the great researchers have acknowledged that without proper understanding of review of the literature, a good piece of research is normally difficult. I think this issue too needs a serious thought.  

Similarly there are other things which need more attention. For example, the pattern of residency period for part-time scholars is also hilarious. Kashmir is a conflict zone, so how can one expect a female scholar to be present in the evening in the university campus, that too when she is not provided hostel facility within the campus? Let teachers at KU set the academic bench mark in such a way so that our scholars are more concerned about the quality of their research and not about their departmental attendance which has been promoted as a benchmark for awarding the Ph.D degree by virtue of adopting these statutes. 

Let teachers also act as role models so that that the young scholars seeking knowledge under our supervision learn research ethics so that they don’t get involved in any malpractices.

We are lucky to have a local and competent Vice-Chancellor who has studied in Harvard, and has initiated the process to put the university back on the path of academic excellence. But the fact is Prof. Andrabi alone cannot change the system.

We have to work together to change the system for better. Also KUTA should take the matter seriously in order to restore the otherwise lost credibility of our research supervisors and scholars. Let us work honestly and in a timely manner to promote research culture instead of creating obstacles.

(Habibullah Shah is a faculty at University of Kashmir and is presently pursuing his doctorate at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Feedback at habibkashmiruniversity@gmail.com)