MANA PRASAD WAGLEY
Research is part and parcel of higher education worldwide. Many universities around the world have contributed much to their nation and to the world with research, innovation and invention. Universities are geared towards research-based classrooms helping students to become future researchers. Moreover, universities are found doing research for the government, the industry and other business sectors. In some universities, the research grant exceeds the total annual budget. That is the reason why graduate students abroad are basically involved in research projects under their professors, earn some money and complete their studies. Ninety-nine per cent of the graduate students doing their study in western countries are assisting their professors in such research projects.
In the Asian context, there is still a debate of research-based or teaching-based university. The weaker universities are claiming that they are teaching-based whereas quality universities are fighting for generating funds for research for their future survival. Each university is teaching-based. The question is “Has the teaching been research-based?” If a university itself is not doing any research or involved in research activities, how can one trust that it is promoting quality? Most universities in South Asia fall in this category. With some exceptions, none of the universities are doing any significant research contributing to new knowledge. Many of them might be involved in some research projects, but they are commissioned research and not the research to produce new knowledge in the academic discipline required. In commissioned research, one has to satisfy the company from which the research grant is made available instead of generating knowledge.
In Nepal, there are nine universities and four medical higher education institutions. It is a pity that none of them are involved in research activities. They prepare curricula, teach the students and distribute certificates. And, they claim their university is teaching-based. Why, then, are our universities not involved in research? Is it because the professors are not competent enough to conduct or lead research activities? Or the professors are not trusted by the companies providing grants? Both of these questions are critical to the universities. If the professors are not competent, how do they sell their CVs to outside companies and the private companies are making money through projects by selling the same CVs? If professors are not trusted how are they continuing their jobs as professors? These need to be further analyzed.
There are several research projects in the Nepali market each year either through the government’s planned activities and/or through I/NGOs as part of their regular activities. An informal estimate shows that in social science sector alone 3 to 5 billion rupees is spent every year for research purposes. In technical education, it is estimated to be around one billion. Our universities do not have the certificates of PAN and VAT which are required to apply for the research projects within the country as per the Financial Regulations of the government. The universities are reluctant to get those documents simply because they do not perform the regular auditing of the institutions and the submission of the audit report is required to satisfy the Tax Department. Moreover, the VAT ones need to submit their progress quarterly.
Talking about the past, why the universities were not selected has an interesting story. One, they have less technical expertise to prepare proposals. Two, they do not bribe as other private institutions dare to. Three, they are professionals so they make the findings public without manipulation and that is not digestible to the donors. Four, the criteria for submission and performance of academic research activities of the development agencies are not compatible with university simply because it is the same as bidding for bridge construction.
These are the main reasons why the universities are considered for research grants even in projects sponsored by the government. The irony is that the private companies collect the CVs of university professors, sell them to companies and get the projects based on that. And, our professors work for them as researchers. Isn’t this a big shame? Instead of making efforts to generate and/or win the project funds within the university, the professors are found to be ego-centric by selling themselves outside the university. This has made them rich but the university remains poor both in terms of finance and new knowledge.
At least the government could be flexible in its financial regulation of VAT and PAN to universities because they are non-profit institutions. Second, the government research funds must go to the universities with a competition among them and not outside. Third, development agencies on academic research must be geared towards the universities and not elsewhere. Fourth, the government-university partnership should be started and strengthened so that the government can expect new knowledge from the universities for development purposes. Fifth, professors should be trusted to the extent of their expertise in their fields and they should be encouraged to contribute to the nation.
Dr. Wagley is an educationist