Recently, the Global Network of Doctorates organized its 5th International Conference on Issues and Challenges in Doctoral Research to mark its 5th anniversary on 25th August 2017 at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. This network celebrates 25th August as World Doctorates Day as informed by its founder, Prof KK Dwivedi, Vice Chancellor, ITM University, Gwalior. It was a great opportunity attending its inaugural session and listening to Dr BB Kumar (Chairman, ICSSR), Prof Ashutosh Sharma (Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India), and Prof Jagadish Kumar (Vice Chancellor, JNU). The whole conception of this annual event is to brainstorm on the issues related to doctoral research and work towards developing ways through which the quality of research can be improved. The network has more than 4,200 members from across 60 nations. It has developed strong discussion forums to deliberate on the issues concerning research quality and doctoral programs using LinkedIn platform.
There is no second thought that when we talk of higher education and weigh India’s relative position as compared to other domains, the condition is gloomy. The quality of doctoral work is deteriorating and is not able to cope with the pace with other countries. It is learnt during the conference that India produces somewhere around 24,000 doctorates annually as against around 52,000 that China produces. Doctoral program is roughly around a century old in India whereas for China it is half a century old. Prof Sharma was of the view that we do not really need to focus on quantity rather our focus should be on improving quality. I too feel that even if the size of doctorates that we produce is maintained at this level, if we are able to work on quality it would be produce better results. At a time when Ph Ds are for sale, improving quality is a greater challenge. The number of doctorates that we produce a year are more than enough if they culminate into real research which is good for society and which can be translated into real products, policies and services.
Public money gets spent on research projects yet the degree of accountability is almost absent. Mafias of education are hand in gloves with teachers, scholars and publishers to make money and provide short term returns. The whole culture of research and the motivation is weak. Students want to pursue research because they think it is much easier than qualifying UGC net exam. It is general perception of doctoral students that after doctorate their employability becomes better. But they forget that in the state of UP for the post of peon 255 doctorates applied two years back. More than obtaining the degree, holding the degree is important.
When it comes to support from the government to pursue research there are excellent schemes and enough provisions, scholarships and fellowships which facilitate their subsistence. If we leave aside top class institutions (IITs, IIMs, IISc, TIFR, Central Universities etc) primarily focus of doing research is to get a teaching job in an undergraduate college. In most cases there is lack of awareness regarding research potential and opportunities especially in the off urban campuses. It is more a problem of a mentor than of a mentee. The teachers of today have not exposed themselves to the new methods of research and they are ill informed, complacent and laid back type in most of the colleges and universities.
Prof Jagdish Kumar shared his own story of getting selected for doctorate at IISc and for masters at IIT Madras. Initially he chose to pursue doctorate from IISc Bangalore. When he went there and met his prospective research guide, he was disheartened as this professor was hostile, egotistical and arrogant. Prof Kumar says that since he came from a rural background, he was skeptical as to how would he gel with such a person in his pursuit for Ph D. Instead, he went to IIT Madras where he met a professor who was polite, humble and down to earth. He tried to first make him comfortable by asking about his family, village and other concerning issues. This is how he preferred masters at IIT Madras over doctoral program at IISc. His masters professor later became his research supervisor and mentored him which helped him reach at the place he is today.
So the personality, attitude and behavior of mentor plays very important role in shaping research aptitude in the mentee. As Abdul Kalam said – Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, caliber, and future of an individual. If the people remember me as a good teacher, that will be the biggest honor for me. Teachers as supervisors have to provide wings to the scholars and not to use them as their personal slaves. There are many cases where scholars report of misbehavior on the part of the research guide. This is also one of the reasons why the image of teachers in the eyes of society has deteriorated. At times students face humiliation and mental torture by their supervisors and still continue as they are left with no choice.
Proper guidance and serious mentorship does not necessarily require excellent academic but a good human being. Discussions on multidisciplinary approach of research and use for common people should form base between mentor and mentee. Many times it is observed that the thesis just occupies space in the library. Many times it is seen that the thesis has good potential of publication but because of lack of awareness and understanding it does not find a place in good quality journal. The whole work comes to a standstill after the award of degree. In the present times with the mandatory requirement of API for promotion, teachers get to publish papers in the journals which are much faster in their response and many a times they fall prey for predatory publishing.
When it comes to the field of science and technology, research publications from India we stand at 5th position in quantity of publications whereas when it comes to the quality of publications, it is somewhere 12-13th position, informs Prof Sharma. This gap has to be reduced and all the guns should target to hit that point. Quality has to be emphasized by inculcating a sense of quality publishing culture. He also informs that the government is aiming to improve its position from 5th to 3rd in coming 5 years which should ideally culminate into 6th or 7th position when it comes to quality.
Condition in social science and humanity domain is in a shape where less is said better it is. It is not that good quality research is not happening but the issue is that the motivation to do research is very different. Publishing in good quality journals is not targeted by the scholars and many a times research supervisors are not aware of quality outlets available for their work. We need to develop a culture of doing serious research culminating in creation of new knowledge and communicating it to the stakeholders. I know many researches in the domain which are excellent in rigor, methodology and contribution, yet they are not communicated with good quality journals. Much of what gets published is because of the force for career advancement and the kind of API system UGC has at present. What I have observed over the years that there is strong need of improving expression ability among youth. Their ability to express both orally as well as in written form is weak.
So after listening to the speakers and getting into some thinking I feel it would be more important for us to make teaching and research for young graduates a priority over other professions, especially for those who are full of energy, enthusiasm and passion to do something unique. Avenues are aplenty for them but getting a good mentor is a challenge. Hence we need to own up our responsibility to commit ourselves and make good teachers, researchers and scholars for the next generation. Otherwise generations would not mind cursing us for not showing them the right path. It is not students of today who need to be blamed, but it is the teachers of today who need to commit themselves with introspection, intellect and humility for the cause of improving the quality of doctorates.
It would be a real tribute on this World Doctorates Day if the doctorates of today pledge that come what may they would keep holding their degree with pride by not getting involved in compromising the quality.