Higher education in India: Significance of research in Indian institutions

Group-Study-Zone-Cambridge-libraryProf. M H Bala Subrahmanya, Department of Management Studies, IISc, Bangalore takes a look at research in Indian institutions and what should be done to improve its quality. Prof. Subrahmanya also shares the impact of recent initiatives on research with Careers360. Read on the full article below.

Academic Research in general and Management Research in particular, in Indian institutions has a long way to go to reach international standards. A high quality of research, on the one hand, is a positive reflection on the status of economic development achieved by a nation, and on the other, can have a significant influence on the rate of economic growth achieved by a nation. However, achieving a high quality research is not an easy task. A strong basic (school) education system in place is a fundamental requirement. More often, this is achieved in urban and semi-urban areas through private sponsored school education than through public-funded school education in India, as of now. However, the role of private education largely ends with primary and secondary school education (and is primarily confined to middle and high-income groups). But professional education is still dominated by the public sector though private sector has entered this domain long back and grew considerably in recent decades. Though several private universities have emerged in the recent decades, none has made a mark in the field of research, yet.


Academic research in India

Academic research in India is enriched by faculty members of higher education institutions on the one hand, and exclusive research institutions and laboratories on the other. These faculty members are either home grown PhDs (from premier institutions such as IISc Bangalore, IITs, IIMs, or public/private Universities) or PhDs from foreign countries, invariably, from the USA, Europe or Australia, among others. Academic research is also enriched through academic exchanges, joint research projects or workshops, various Fellowship supported visits to foreign universities, etc. during a faculty member’s academic career. While all these would have definitely contributed to academic quality improvement and enhancement of research quality over a period of time, the quantity as well as quality of Indian academic research is still a long way to go, to make an impact globally.


Given the above, there are two pertinent issues in the Indian context:

  • How significant is research in Indian institutions? and;

  • What should be done to improve the quality of research in Indian institutions?

These two questions are dealt with, in the context of management research, with which I have some overall familiarity.


Research environment

A fundamental requirement for carrying out management research is the “prevalence of research environment” in a management school.  This would emerge adequately, provided the management of these management schools lays emphasis on research performance of faculty members in their evaluation. Research performance has three dimensions: (i) Research projects, (ii) Research guidance leading to the degree of Ph.D. and (iii) Research publications (in refereed journals and conferences). It is the first two (research projects and research guidance) which lead to the generation of the third (research publications). Today, private sector management institutions primarily focus on “generating management graduates” rather than on management research (due to the much higher short-run benefit-cost ratio of the former relative to the promotion of the latter). As a result, faculty is loaded with teaching assignments due to which a considerable proportion of faculty time is devoted for teaching. Management research is, at the most, supplementary and therefore research performance has taken a back seat.


Impact of recent initiatives on research

Recently, many of these institutions have introduced their own Ph.D. programmes and do periodically conduct management conferences. How far these initiatives have impacted the extent of research undertaken by their faculty is a debatable issue. Undertaking management research projects by faculty members in private management institutions is an exception than a rule. Similarly, the presence of Ph.D. programmes to enable research guidance by the qualified faculty in these institutions is an exception than a rule. As a result, research publication contribution from these faculty members may not be considerable. If at all significant in number, these publications will be mostly in mediocre (obviously, un-refereed) journals. Of course, exceptions are there.


Research in public-funded institutions

Let us understand the extent of research undertaken in public-funded management education institutions. Even here, though the focus is on both management education and management research, the former has an edge over the latter (in terms of work-load and importance within an institution). All these institutions have their own Fellow Programmes in Management (equivalent to Ph.D.) (in IIMs) or Ph.D. Programmes (in the case of Departments of Management at IISc, IITs and NITs, among others). The faculty members do undertake research projects periodically, funded by national and international agencies. Given these two, there is scope for publishing research articles in refereed journals and conferences. In fact, there is an explicit emphasis on research performance in many of these institutions at the time of their evaluation for a promotion or at the time of recruitment for different levels of faculty positions. As a result, there is an indirect pressure on each faculty member or prospective faculty members to produce at least, a threshold level of research performance, in the form of (i) research projects, (ii) research guidance for Ph.D., and leading to (iii) research publications (in refereed journals and conferences, apart from contributing either books or chapters to edited books). However, those who have “inherent motivation to excel” consistently involve in undertaking research projects, guiding research students, and publishing research papers to exhibit a “higher level of research performance”. But, this group of faculty members account for a miniscule minority even in public funded management education institutions. This sums up the current status of management research in our country today.


Promoting management research and its quality

How to promote “high-quality management research” is a major challenge confronted by all the management education institutions today. This leads to the question: what needs to be done to promote management research and its quality? The leading management schools across the globe have always promoted management education and management research simultaneously as both feed each other for better quality. Therefore, neglecting any one of the two can only be detrimental to the other. But, this realization has not yet dawned on the management education promoters in general, in our country adequately.


If a management school has to enhance its reputation steadily to make a global mark, it is essential to recognize the imperativeness of management research promotion. If management research has to be promoted adequately in a management school, the teaching load on management faculty has to be moderated by providing them adequate time for management research in the form of carrying out research projects, guiding research students for Ph.D., and developing research articles for refereed journals, conferences and edited books. This implies that faculty members must be encouraged to take up research projects, individually or collectively as a group. Similarly, it is advisable for a management school to have its own management research programme, leading to the degree of Ph.D.


Way ahead

Along with the above initiatives, an explicit emphasis must be laid on research performance in the form of research projects, research guidance and research publications, for the annual/periodical evaluation of faculty members, particularly for their promotion. A consistent adherence to and promotion of these initiatives can bring about a “turn-around in the research performance” of management faculty members leading to a gradual but steady improvement of quantity as well as quality of management research in the country, in the coming decades.


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