The state-funded research has now degenerated into a purposeless activity. The rise in the plagiarism cases only proves the point
The Delhi Gazette
recently produced a video with the title “Academic Dishonesty
” capturing an entire market that sells projects, thesis and final dissertations, involving the most reputed institutions of Delhi. This brings to the fore the sorry state of academics/research in India. However, this is not something new. Research in India has been plagued by cases of plagiarism
and fake PhDs
for quite sometime. In this light, let’s explore the possible causes for this phenomenon.
Education in India is fully state-controlled; probably the most regulated sector after agriculture. Since the state decides everything from what you teach, to how much you charge, to how do you grade students, there is very little room left for any innovation in this field. Even as the state’s monopoly continue to ruin the sector, we keep crying for more of its intervention. One can write so much about the ill effects of this on the whole education system, but let’s confine ourselves to PhD research programs in this piece.
"Government should spend more on R&D", "We need to pay our researchers more", we keep hearing these lines all the time - especially during the Budget discussions. We talk as if there is some innovation vending machine out there, and that if the government puts more money into it, we can draw more innovation. Quality human resource is central to research; but it hardly ever occurs to us to question the kind of research that is even possible with the students produced from our lackluster educational system. This is one of the major reasons why we struggle to get private investment in this field. In addition to the shortage of quality human resource, coercive taxation and the lack of proper Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) protection, scares investors away.
Instead of fixing these crucial aspects, and thereby letting the private investments flow into the sector, we take the easy route of demanding the state to invest. The state gladly accepts the ‘responsibility’ by imposing new taxes on us. And we have seen over the years on how the government handles things - as favors, dispensations, subsidies come to the fore, merit and reason takes backseat.
While a private organisation investing in research, surveys the market where it should invest so as to get returns, government’s investment decisions are based on immediate political advantages and/or bureaucratic whims and fancies. As a result, they produce low quality researchers who are more concerned about the number of papers published by them
(paperwork) and less about coming out with real solutions that could change things on the ground. Hence the state-funded research has now degenerated into a purposeless activity. The rise in the plagiarism cases
only proves the claim. Can we imagine a private research organization, after paying the researcher, tolerating plagiarism without extracting any work from him?
One would wonder if not for the research ecosystem controlled by the government that injects laziness, at least for their own sake to compete in the job market later on, the researchers pursuing PhDs should be doing something worthwhile. But, there is an interesting connection between the falling PhD standards and the government regulations on the teaching staff of graduate colleges.
Regulation boards, in the name of maintaining high-class standards, impose norms on the teaching staff that the colleges recruit. For example, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) prescribes
that 1/3rd of the engineering college staff should have a relevant PhD; and a normal student teacher ratio of 1:15. Which means, for every 45 students, a PhD professor is mandatory. Every year, an estimated 15 lakh engineering students
graduate through out the country. Which means, the total number of students pursuing engineering at any point of time is 4yrsX15 lakhs =60 lakhs. If you exclude the 1st year students, where only general subjects are taught, we have 45 lakh proper engineering students. So a back of the envelope calculation says that there is a need for one lakh PhD holders in academics alone. That being the demand let us see the supply.
On an average, in the technical arena, we are producing only 1000 PhDs per year
. Now observe the huge gap between the artificial demand created by the regulatory board and the supply. Unsurprisingly, this report
says 43% of teaching staff in Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) is lying unfilled and mentions lack of PhDs in the field as one of the major reasons. Correlate this fact with the falling PhD standards. A plagiarized or fake PhD can never get you a job in the industrial and production market where merit prevails. But thanks to the inflated demand for PhDs in the teaching field due to the state regulation, you are guaranteed a job just for carrying a PhD tag; and that to with a high salary, which is again fixed by the state as part of the norms. This should explain why students want to get a PhD by hook or crook.
What was the intention behind this regulation? To maintain high standards - and what are they achieving? Exactly the opposite - just like any other government regulation.
Imagine if there were no government regulations on recruiting staff and the colleges were open to recruit anyone. Then the colleges could hire knowledgeable, experienced people from the industry who would be able to impart greater practical knowledge to the students. And they also would then become a competition to these researchers. This would force the researchers to look at PhD not simply as a tag, but something to be achieved by exploring and applying subject. This would not only improve the quality of research, but would also enormously improve the quality of teaching.
Instead of exploring any such alternatives to make the sector competitive, the government regulatory boards come up with silly regulations. To curb plagiarism, the University Grants Commission (UGC) made it mandatory for the universities to install software to detect PhD plagiarism. This did nothing but open up a new source of income for those in the thesis and project selling business. They now simply modify the content to make it pass through the mandated software and sell it as a premium service.
Without addressing any of the core issues, we keep saying, "pay our researchers more". In fact, paying researchers more in the existing set up would not only waste crores of taxpayers money, but also can seriously distort the job market. For example, if the government pays researchers close to the industry job standards, more students will opt for research. This not only increases the number of good-for-nothing PhDs, but also creates a shortage in the production department. Just like what the NREGA did to the labor market.