Sunday, October 10, 2010

A nation of third-rate researchers

Professor Helen Christiansen, who is on the Faculty of Education, at the University of Regina, Canada, is an authority on second language acquisition.  I spent a couple of days with her when she came to India as a visiting professor.  A feminist, atheist and an uncompromising scholar, Helen doesn't accept anything at face value and subjects it to a critical examination. She had for a long time been a foreign examiner for research programmes in some Indian universities, and I felt it worthwhile to ask her about her perception of the state of research in India.  Helen didn't hesitate.  She described the dissertations she had received from India so far as third-rate ones and took pains to justify her accusation.

Helen was blunt.  And what she said hurt my national pride.  But the fact remains that we are a nation of third-rate researchers.  Much of what goes on in the name of research in our universities cannot stand up to close scrutiny.

The recently reported case of the deputy registrar of an Indian university is typical: a part of his PhD dissertation is a word-for-word reproduction of his research guide's.  About a year ago, I received a dissertation for evaluation from a reputable university in South India.  What the researcher had done could not be called research by any stretch of the imagination.  She had not even stated her hypothesis (I don't think she had ever had one!), had a whimsical research design, and rushed to facile, unsubstantiated conclusions.  I refused to evaluate the dissertation and asked the university to spare me the agony in future.

The fact of the matter is that our academia consists predominantly of lowbrows.  How appallingly lowbrow it is can be evident from this vignette.  Once I attended a scholarly lecture on research methodology.  The audience consisted of college teachers most of whom were engaged in either MPhil or PhD research.  Behind me was a row of women teachers who launched into an hour-long natter minutes after the lecture began.  In front of me were several rows of male professors, some chatting, some snoozing, and some with a bored expression on their faces.  My own row was kept awake by the loud snores that came from a young lecturer seated beside me.

No comments:

Post a Comment