Research Internships at Undergraduate Level

Some high profile private universities took this initiative much before NEP recommended it
Research Internships at Undergraduate Level
"The introduction of research assistantships /internships is expected to play an important role in catalyzing inter-disciplinary/trans-disciplinary research culture in our institutions of higher education." [Representational Image] Pixabay [Creative Commons]

In line with the imperatives of New Education Policy (NEP 2020) University Grants Commission (UGC) has decided that research internships at undergraduate level will henceforth be compulsory.

All UG students in Indian universities will be required to do compulsory research internships for eight to ten weeks.

These internships are aimed at enhancing employability of students and hone their research appetite. The internships are off-campus experiences providing students with valuable professional experience and networks.

An internship is a “position held within an established company or organization while completing a college degree, certificate or diploma. It involves working at the company or organization and performing tasks similar in nature and skill-level to tasks done by entry-level employees in the organization”.

In the year 2018 I got the opportunity to participate in some conferences/events organised with the objective of boosting undergraduate research in higher education institutions.

In fact, some high profile private universities took this initiative much before NEP recommended it. The Ashoka University has around 2600 students of which 80 percent are undergraduates.

Some of these universities Viz, Global Jindal University earmark certain percentage of their annual research budget to support student research projects.

The policy of research grants seeks to promote student research by allowing students to undertake assistantships singly or with supervisors.

The stakeholders in higher education in our region need to make advance preparations for introducing the culture of undergraduate research and initiate some baby steps so that a sound edifice for research is erected which can solidify with the passage of time.

Context

The guidelines from UGC indicate that this policy shall be an additional bonus to national self -reliance and also to sub-national development . Three core ideas are at the centre of self-reliance thought process viz, integration of research, innovation and technology development.

The introduction of research assistantships /internships is expected to play an important role in catalyzing inter-disciplinary/trans-disciplinary research culture in our institutions of higher education.

This is a step towards experiential learning to help students develop various skills and attributes essential to pursue good careers in life. This is also essential to transporting research findings into the classroom and do bridge-building between students and community to produce new areas for further research.

It is fundamentally a student-centric approach to teaching and research. This policy aims at mentoring students and linking students, faculty and the community. This initiative is also aimed at getting Indian education closer to global standards and liberalise the landscape of international education.

The UGC has reached out to 500 foreign universities in USA, UK, Europe and East Asia to scale up collaboration with Indian institutions. The UGC is also considering taking steps towards dual degree programmes and Indian Institute of Delhi is readying to set up its campus abroad.

In order to reduce part of the outflow of foreign exchange, prestigious foreign universities are to set up campuses in India.

During ( 2021-22) I got the opportunity to visit some valley-based colleges affiliated to the Iniversity of Kashmir with an objective to assess the extent to which these colleges are prepared for adoption of NEP 2020.

At least in two colleges theme of my discussion was undergraduate research as stipulated in new policy and the type of difficulties faculty is going to face, and whether it is possible for stakeholders to adopt the incremental approach to this issue.

My experience suggests that there are steps viz, short, medium and long term that need to be taken to sail through the system. Before we can delineate these steps it is required to have an idea of existing infrastructure of UG research in our colleges.

Choice Based Credit System

Emphasising the significance of research the UGC in its Choice- Based Credit System(CBCS) has already recommended a six credit research project as part of undergraduate curriculum. It is aimed at teaching students certain skills viz, writing, conceptualisation, data-collection, interviews, field work, paper writing and make them future ready.

The understanding is that some of the best ideas are with young and we need to provide an environment whereby they can have romance with new ideas. Further, 80 percent of our students are enrolled in undergraduate courses which makes it imperative to ignite the young minds.

The excessive dose of examinations (internal and external) have made entire education process a war devoid of joy and humor. The NEP (2020) in this context recommends re-adjustment and re-energising the higher education landscape. After the second or fourth semester, an eight to ten weeks of 10 credits will be necessary for students wanting to exit with a diploma or a certificate, respectively.

The students shall have to complete 450 hours of internship while for a research internship, one credit would imply 45 hours of engagement in internship activities in a week and an engagement of 450 hours is needed to gain the assigned credits. One internship is in any case necessary if the student decides to leave the new UG programme after two years only.

In this context it is necessary to have brainstorming sessions in higher education institutions on how this initiative can be developed and irritants on way removed. Some of the steps that need to be taken and seriously thought about are:

First, there is a growing concern about funding of small research projects in our colleges. The government and other stakeholders must find ways and means to facilitate ease of funding. It is also possible that head of an institution can innovatively mobilise money and do some adjustment with existing resources so that the first step is taken in right earnest. Government of India has been talking about 6 percent GDP on education since 1968.

The allocation in union budget 2021-22 for education is 93, 224 crore, out of which 54,874 crore is for school education which is lower than 2020-21. In the Union Budget 2021-22 Finance Minister allocated 50,000 crore for 05 years to National Research Foundation (NRF).

However, going by reports of parliamentary standing committee on Science and Technology NRF will be funded from the budgets of bodies viz, DST and DBT. The foundation is to be managed by Department of Education. The undergraduate colleges in our part of country have also many other concerns and these relate to soft disciplines viz, Arts and Social Sciences, and how internships can be done there.

All these can be discussed and addressed with the passage of time. In United States of America interest in internships at college level has risen dramatically since 2000 with their designation as a “high-impact” practice.

Second, the initial difficulties in the process of initiation and conceptualisation of research internships can be addressed by adopting and emulating certain best practices. “Annual student Colloquiums” funded by colleges can be an example. These can contribute positively in enhancing student research interests and capacities.

This can be a six monthly event in a college and students from neighboring colleges can also be admitted before a panel of experts. The students can be guided to present research papers based upon field work before a panel of experts.

The primary goal of the colloquiums is to enable students to share research experiences and engagement in peer-to-peer learning.

Third, there is need for out of box ideas to generate research interest among undergraduate students. The institutions can be encouraged to launch initiatives in the name of prominent personalities of the area/place where undergraduate institute is located.

By way of example Degree College Dooru in Ananatnag district can be encouraged to launch “Rasool Mir” or “Mehmood Gami” research initiative to be run by a management committee of students. A hypothetical problem can be flagged and students will be asked to present solutions.

This exercise again can be monitored and supervised by experts and feedback passed on to students. The students from neighboring colleges viz, Verinag, Qazigund, Kilam, Kokernag etc., can be clubbed together.

The students by adopting and working through this initiative can pick up some valuable skills viz, ability to communicate better with others, work independently and be a self-starter and motivator. These soft skills are greatly needed in today’s competitive environment.

The college administration can reach out to philanthropists or affluent people in the area to provide some financial support. The colleges can also pool their resources so that the initiative can be institutionalised and replicated in other colleges.

The other building blocks needed for creating research culture in undergraduate institutions can be taken up in the next column.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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