The academic community remained an anxious lot with the Central University of Kerala (CUK) insisting on restricting research pursuits within select fields of study which the varsity dubbed as areas of ‘national priorities.’
Eminent social scientist and Kerala State Higher Education Council vice chairman P.M. Rajan Gurukkal said that imposing ‘national priorities’ on researchers threatened to deprive research of criticality and creativity. Research should remain a self-directed and personalised enterprise driven by the researcher’s curiosity, and therefore, the theme and focus of research should be of the researcher’s choice, he said.
“The priorities of the government in matters of research will depend upon the national policy of higher education and development strategies. With a view to ensuring the relevance of researches, the government could draw priorities and provide incentives for researches in related fields. Nevertheless, it is an unprecedented step to impose national priorities and deny research its ideal and unencumbered ecosystem, which is inevitable for research leading to discoveries and innovations,” Prof. Gurukkal said.
Pointing out that universities were statutorily empowered to provide the required research ecosystem with governments having limited direct involvement, Prof. Gurukkal termed the present directive of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) as completely in ‘‘defiance of wise conventions and traditions.’’
“It reflects the corporate interests which are natural in a crony capitalist State. This will deprive research not only of its creativity, but also regional thrust,” he said.
Noted educationist R.V.G. Menon said the diktat could pave the way for an unhealthy precedent in academics. While researchers had perennially been advised to focus on issues of national, regional and contemporary priorities, the imposition of restrictions in this regard was problematic, he said.
“The idea of national priority could vary from one person to another. The impropriety of fixing priorities for others cannot be ignored in this context. Furthermore, the spirit of research will be diluted when political leadership chooses topics for research scholars,” he said.
A section of academics also feared that the move could trigger a major reform in public universities by way of which research funding could be restricted to select areas, thereby discouraging research works in others.
Allaying such concerns, Higher Education Department Principal Secretary Usha Titus pointed out that faculty and research scholars in State universities were currently able to submit project proposals of their choice for funding.
She, however, said that the State was all for discouraging any denial of assistance for certain areas of study. “Research activities should remain broad minded and spur scientific pursuit in all areas. While the funding agencies could lay down priorities to encourage projects in particular fields, other areas should not be excluded from the ambit of funding. At the same time, such bodies could consider apportioning higher amounts of funds for research in specific areas, including cutting-edge technologies such as nanotechnology,” Dr. Titus said.