The Future of Research Universities in India

IndraStra Global

The Future of Research Universities in India

By IndraStra Global Editorial Team


Cover image attribute: DNA Strand, Pixabay.com / Creative Commons 0

Cover image attribute: DNA Strand, Pixabay.com / Creative Commons 0 

For a country like India, the research universities play a wide-ranging crucial role in advancing society and the economy. It is therefore highly important for the governments at the center and state to have a thorough and a shared understanding of the functional benefits generated by these institutions. 

It is evident that the future of India (and its states) is very much tied to the performance of a complex research ecosystem – one in which research universities serve a series of unique and crucial functions. In turn, these functions provide robust returns across social and private dimensions, and market and non-market dimensions that justify both public and private investment in Indian research universities. 

Image Attribute: School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, IAR Gandhinagar / Source: IAR Gandhinagar, Flickr, Creative Commons

Image Attribute: School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, IAR Gandhinagar / Source: IAR Gandhinagar, Flickr, Creative Commons

Universities are key players in India's future as they have an enormous potential, but this potential is not fully harnessed and put to work to underpin India's drive for growth and more jobs. There are several things that could be done to enhance the future of research universities.

First, research universities must be given real autonomy to become innovative and responsive to change.

Second, research universities need to develop structured partnerships with the business community and other potential partners.

Third, Indian research universities need to act internationally.

They need to use the potential of sharing knowledge under the "open collaborative research" framework, which is one of the best ways for students to learn. Here the Indian higher educational elements can be very advantageous in creating large-scale operations, which could be tailored to international needs. Indeed, publications and citations are the important factors to decide the impact of the research originating from a particular university. For that, sources like Elsevier (Scopus) and Clarivate Analytics (Web of Science) are the yardsticks — which directly influences the ranking as well as future funding options.

Image Attribute: A research student at one of the laboratories at School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, IAR Gandhinagar  / Source: IAR Gandhinagar, Flickr, Creative Commons

Image Attribute: A research student at one of the laboratories at School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, IAR Gandhinagar  / Source: IAR Gandhinagar, Flickr, Creative Commons

By the definition, research universities produce the bulk of original research — both basic and applied, in most countries — and receive the funding based on the outcomes of research (sometimes, milestone-driven). Their professors are hired on the basis of their qualifications to conduct research and are rewarded for research prowess and productivity. Institute of Advanced Research, Gandhinagar (IAR-G) is one such newly built research-based university in India where all its tenured and tenure-track faculty continuously engaged in advanced biotechnological research, and at the same time, most of its academic community, including the undergraduate students, get the opportunity to participate and get exposed to the research culture. Developing such kind of university in a country where "higher education market" is considered as a lucrative "business model" with an expected market capitalization to be doubled to $180 billion by 2020 [1], buoyed by the rapid expansion of the digital learning technologies and the world’s largest population in the age bracket of 6 to 17 years - it's simply unprecedented and highly commendable. For IAR Gandhinagar, research ranks highest, although teaching and advisory services remain important pillars of its foundation.

Image Attribute: Research students at School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, IAR Gandhinagar  / Source: IAR Gandhinagar, Flickr, Creative Commons

Image Attribute: Research students at one of the laboratories at School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, IAR Gandhinagar  / Source: IAR Gandhinagar, Flickr, Creative Commons

Any research university's future depends on the multiple stages of development — both economically and scientifically — of the country where the university is located [2]. For example, some research universities will have both undergraduate and graduate programmes, whereas some research universities will have only Ph.D. programmes. And, in many disciplines, the boundaries between basic and applied research are blurred. It is more of a continuum and one should think more in terms of short-term and long-term research. Hence, universities are moving toward supporting this continuum.

This very continuum provides necessary impetus in conducting the research at the university levels, a vital component for the development of scientific thinking. And, any continuing research-based education depends, not solely on academic researchers but also on the relationships one builds with seniors, peers and within various academic and non-academic communities. Many of those relationships are built through conducting joint-research, co-publishing and sharing results for the greater good.

Government funding is crucial, but with the rise of private funding or contract research - the independence of universities can be affected. Every research institution has to balance the need to be connected with the marketplace, economy, and society, with the need to do innovative and exploratory research. It's a balancing act [3]. There are certain advantages in taking private funding from companies as they can connect academia to the marketplace and help you learn about the real problems that can make a difference in the world. In doing so, universities are able to educate their students on how to tackle problems that are of interest to industry, helping them to enter the job market. However, too much private funding can mean that a particular project or a department is turning into a research arm of a particular company.

Image Attribute: Tissue Culture Laboratory at School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, IAR Gandhinagar  / Source: IAR Gandhinagar, Flickr, Creative Commons

Image Attribute: Tissue Culture Laboratory at School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, IAR Gandhinagar  / Source: IAR Gandhinagar, Flickr, Creative Commons

Turning towards private funding gives birth to the issue concerning intellectual property, which, in turn, gives rise to the question of whether research-based universities should become commercial institutions or not. Although every institution has the right to protect its intellectual property, the underlying mission of universities is to educate. Attempting to run a research university with corporate timelines is like walking on a tightrope.

There is no second opinion needed on the fact that India needs research universities which are being built on their own strengths and later differentiate their activities on the basis of these strengths. But research is not an isolated activity. Some institutions may find it appropriate to pay increasing attention to applied research, others not. Examples like IAR Gandhinagar, a classic public-private initiative (under the Gujarat Private Universities Amendment Act, 2011 [4]) in research-based higher education domain, calls for developing connectivity between to collaborative commercial research opportunities; leveraging universities' talent pool; improving performance on key technology transfer metrics; which can be shared across the academic circle with no-strings-attached. 

Cite this Article:

Editorial Team, IndraStra Global, "The Future of Research-based Universities in India", IndraStra Global Vol. 004, Issue No: 06 (2018), 0022, https://www.indrastra.com/2018/06/Future-of-Research-Universities-in-India-004-06-2018-0022.html | ISSN 2381-3652 | 

References:

[1] Rai, Joseph, "India’s education market to nearly double to $180 bn by 2020" VCCIRCLE, November 18, 2016, https://www.vccircle.com/indias-education-market-nearly-double-180-bn-2020-1/

[2] Interview, "The future of research universities. Is the model of research-intensive universities still valid at the beginning of the twenty-first century?" EMBO Rep. 2007 Sep; 8(9): 804–810.

[3] Altbach, P. G., "CHAPTER 1: The Past, Present, and Future of the Research University",  The Road to Academic Excellence Published: (September 2011)  Pages: 11 - 32,  https://elibrary.worldbank.org/doi/abs/10.1596/9780821388051_CH01

[4] The Gujarat Private Universities (Amendment) Act, 2011, Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Department, Government of Gujarat, https://lpd.gujarat.gov.in/guj-acts/the-gujarat-private-universities-amendment-act-2011

Editorial Team, IndraStra Global, "The Future of Research-based Universities in India", IndraStra Global Vol. 004, Issue No: 06 (2018), 0022, https://www.indrastra.com/2018/06/Future-of-Research-based-Universities-in-India-004-06-2018-0022.html, | ISSN 2381-3652