Print Edition - 2018-08-26  |  Free the Words

Building a culture of research

  • The education system needs to shift to a healthy research culture to thrive in a rapidly changing world

Aug 26, 2018-

The need for research is being increasingly recognised all over the world, where now universities’ ranking will get affected should they fail to publish research papers in high impact factor journals. This is because successful publication of research  drawsattention to scholars and their institutions. Impact factor refers to the number of citations per paper published in any given journal. In other words, good quality research papers are referred to and referenced by a great number of people and this, in turn, manifests in

better impact factors for the journal in which the article is published. The mandate to publish or perish thus weighs heavily on academics, and universities around the world are truly implementing this.

For example, in New Zealand, there is now a greater push from the government itself for academics in their universities to publish. If an academic does not publish articles on a constant basis in a high impact factor journal, the academic could eventually lose their job. Moreover, to encourage academics to publish, the government of New Zealand has even come up with something known as PBRF or publication based research fund. This implies that research funds are segregated based on the ability of the scholar to publish in high impact factor journals.

Publish or perish

As with New Zealand, even our neighbouring countries seem to be shifting towards a research-oriented culture.  Tshingua Universities of China is now ranked among the world’s elite universities in terms of research. Indian Institute of Management (IIM) advertises a vacancy for a lecturer on the internet with salary starting at around $100,000. One of their requirements in selecting a lecturer is their publication track record. Hence, many other institutions within India that are progressively pushing their faculty members to increase the number of publication as it is used to measure their competency. Even administrators are increasingly using this as the criteria during recruitments.

Whilst the trend in our neighbouring countries has significantly been taking place, we are yet to adopt the same research culture. The traditional method of role-learning is still preferred over meaningful learning. Theory testing let alone theory development is not even a focal point of any modules taught in our leading universities.

Moreover, for a lecturer to be upgraded to an associate professor, aside from having a PhD, they are required to publish only two articles in any international journal.

While a PhD is a minimum criterion, the two international publications could be really low impact factor journals. Low impact factor journals are usually known to publish below par research and often have problems with their theoretical underpinning, methodology or even their contribution to the wider theoretical debates. It also affected by the number of researchers who read the article. If our associate professors are encouraged to publish in any international journals, then it would be a bit dicey to assume that they are the leading scholars in their field. It would mean they could be publishing only for the sake of it. The implications of not having a research-oriented culture are huge.

First, there is a direct implication on the students that pay hefty fees to acquire their degrees. If our professors do not have the appropriate novel theoretical knowledge, how can we transfer or even expect our students to develop novelty? Second, a direct implication of not being able to publish quality research is in our university rankings. None of our universities

fall within the top 400 universities of the world. An applicant that has completed a masters from a university in Nepal, will not be accepted directly into a PhD at a top 50 university unless additional requirements are met, simply because our universities’ rankings are dismally low.

Third, there are wider implications to the country as a whole. Research is directly linked to policy and strategy formulation of any nation and academics are often given the responsibility to link theory with practice. However, if even the best professors do not have the appropriate new knowledge, then it would seem unfair to blame only the politicians and the government for not formulating the right policy and/or strategy.

Way forward

Our university system requires a complete change and needs to accommodate research as a major component of each and every module. One way of doing that is shifting from text books to recent papers published in top journals of any particular area. For example, instead of recommending a book on Strategic Management, lecturers and professors can refer to papers published in the Strategic Management Journal and can use that as a course content. This will not only provide students with up to date information but will also equally enhance the lecturer’s subject knowledge.

In addition, by encouraging this behaviour alone the lecturer will be informed about recent theoretical debates and might even find a way of critiquing the existing theory and engage in writing a paper themselves. This is not to say that we need to get rid of textbooks completely, but instead of textbooks being used as the primary mechanism to transfer knowledge to students, it could be used as a complementary tool along with recent research papers. This then allows the students to acquire rudimentary knowledge through textbooks and then see the applicability of the theoretical knowledge through reading recent papers that will have applied those theories.

To reiterate, a shift from the traditional way of delivering different course modules is required not simply for uplifting our universities’ rankings but for uplifting the national educational standards. The government plans to establish a research university in the next 10 years but it is time we make a start now rather than wait for the next 10 years. It is our duty as lectures to provide our students with the updated knowledge that their peers in our neighbouring countries get.  

Sharma is the head of Research Depar-tment at Nepal College of Management.

Published: 26-08-2018 07:34

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