A March 13 circular issued by the Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Kerala (CUK) that was circulated among the deans and heads of departments of the university has caused a flutter after it was posted on social media.
It exhorted the faculty to discourage research in irrelevant areas and ensure that topics for theses should be in accordance with national priorities.
It referred to a tripartite MoU between the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the University Grants Commission and the Central University of Kerala, which was discussed at a meeting of VCs held in Delhi in December 2018.
Girish Hosur, Joint Secretary for Higher Education (Central Universities), said this was not a directive or part of the MoU but an advisory given to all Central Universities.
“Some VCs raised the question of irrelevant research being carried out, so this was added,” he said.
It appears that only the CUK has issued the advisory to its faculty. G. Gopakumar, V-C of CUK, said, “In many State Universities, and even Central Universities, research topics are often repeated. Of the entire GDP, less than 3% is spent on higher education, and less than 1.5% on research. We need to take up research in topics like nanotechnology, pharma, IT, engineering, nuclear science, etc. where we have the potential to grow.”
He said basic and pure research were also very important, but even in theory building, we should work on new theories instead of old theories, and that the advisory which led to his issuing the circular was aimed at stopping duplication, prioritising, being scientific and progressive.
‘Up to scholars to decide’
He said it was up to the faculty and scholars to decide what was relevant and needed.
A senior academician who has served as a vice-chancellor of a central university said, “It is rather disingenuous to say that this is a mere advisory given to universities, especially as it bestows a lot of power on people at different levels. For instance, the researcher and her mentor may have no say in deciding whether the problem is relevant or irrelevant.”
He added that in the absence of a clear indication of what constituted national priority, this merely bureaucratised a creative process.
K. Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the government, said in an email, “The notice from the Registrar, Central University, Kerala, could have been worded slightly better to capture the spirit and purpose on this matter.”
According to him, a significant number of the PhD topics tended towards the pedestrian rather than an attempt to answer important basic questions in the field or developing important applications, and the purpose of a research effort is to address such questions.