It will dent the quality of Research and Researchers
Obtaining a PhD degree is the highest academic pursuit in our educational setup preferably to get a top academic position and settle stable. However any research degree should be aimed at improving our society and not merely getting a degree or chasing citations. How many of research scholars come up with new and innovative concepts or findings and how many of them become part of government policies for social and economic betterment needs to be explored. We need to fix it somewhere so that the field of research and societal needs or economic betterment are synchronised. Further, we should accept that our current approach of admitting, conducting and awarding research degrees is full of loopholes and drawbacks although UGC admission and award guidelines are in vogue. A tough national level common test should screen the aspiring students testing their basic knowledge, intelligence, research skills, aptitude, research capability and interests, writing skills, idea generation, hypothesis formulation, technical knowledge, ethics, honesty and diligence for admission to Research courses.
The success of a scientific research depends on the academic freedom the researcher enjoys honestly in the lab and the institution. Academic freedom is not a luxury but an intellectual freedom to pursue one’s own research interests with a purposeful engagement. Worldwide the deliberations are going on to give more academic freedom, choice, liberal funding and quality infrastructure to research community to enable them for a successful research outcome in relevance to national needs and international standards. However, recently ministry of HRD Government of India has come up with the direction in the form of a circular that PhD degrees will only be carried out in accordance with the fixed topics or problems of national interest or priorities. It is further mentioned that faculty members and teachers of research institutions and universities will choose the topics which are of national interest and students will be allowed to choose only amongst them. It challenges the very essence of scientific research and the academic freedom of the research students. One fails to understand as to why limit or constraint the choice of research topics for the students, and rather thrust on them the titles with whom they won’t be comfortable. It is the aspiring student or researcher only who can choose a better or relevant problem of his or her interest and standard research topic in tune with societal relevance or national interest. By authorising the professors or teachers the job of making a pool of research topics or problems means a limited and narrow research spectrum just like the curriculum or syllabus already designed for various degree courses. Therefore, the present directive will only help to make these PhDs similar to the other degree programmes and awarding them to students who might get the topics by “chance and not by choice”.
A true scientific research follows certain sequential steps as follows:
No doubt a supervisor or guide or advisor is pivotal to research and we must know that academic and research credentials, reputation, and personality of a supervisor plays an important and decisive role in shaping the career in research methodologies. Working under a right, relevant and appropriate supervisor is equally important as is choosing a relevant topic of interest. Secondly, a supervisor who is well connected, open minded and an international person of repute proves quite helpful and fruitful in the long run. I am not challenging the supervisors but the challenge is definitely to the already fixed or decided topics without taking into consideration the interests of the researcher, who has to finally accomplish the target or goal of a particular research problem. Therefore, it is his or her choice to decide a research problem or topic but definitely of societal relevance. An ideal student or a researcher is the future educator, the institution and nation builder in real sense of the term. But that achievement demands ethics, honesty, diligence, academic freedom, taking care of student interests, and expression of choice and exploration of personal ideas. By academic freedom, I do not mean full freedom without any regulation or control and everyone pursuing a research career can’t be entitled to this freedom but only the responsible and honest ones who take full responsibilities of their duty or work with honesty and truth for the betterment of the society and nation. Academic freedom is not a license to do everything but it is in itself is a complex issue from choosing a topic of choice, doing it meticulously and freedom of criticising or advising the organisation on research matters but following proper ethics and duties.
To conclude, obtaining a PhD with limited scope of research topics seems to be an end in itself and can prove disastrous in the field of research and human development. Obtaining PhDs should help us to build a new generation of teachers, educators, researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs and not merely an academic or personal achievement without any synchronisation with societal betterment or with society at large.
(The writer is an Assistant Professor)