August 19, 2016

Giving more attention to research at universities

In this Age of Globalization, universities all over the world are playing many critical many functions.  Geoffrey Boulton and Colin Lucas (2008) in their paper “What are universities for?” published in LERU, point out that as crucial national assets, governments all over the world consider universities as “vital sources of new knowledge and innovative thinking, as providers of skilled personnel and credible credentials, as contributors to innovation, as attractors of international talents and business investment into region, as agents of social justice and mobility, and as contributors to social and cultural vitality.”  Among the many functions enumerated above, two functions, teaching and research are still considered as the core functions of universities. As Boulton and Lucas note, research and teaching “interact powerfully to generate emergent capacities that are adapted to the needs of the times, embodying and creating the potential for progress through the ideas and the people that will both respond to and shape an as yet unknown future.” In Myanmar, the majority of higher education institutions are universities and all of them offer both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, while the more prestigious ones like Yangon University and Mandalay University also offer doctoral programmes.  Research is given its due place at Myanmar universities. It is compulsory for all post grad students at Myanmar institutions to conduct small scale research as part of their studies. Similarly, faculty members are encouraged to do individual and team researches.  Faculty members are given incentive to carry out individual and collaborative research by offering research grants, holding annual research conferences at universities, selecting best research papers, publishing annual university research journals and holding research competitions at university, Lower Myanmar, Upper Myanmar and national levels.  However, despite the support and drive to do research, many faculty members who have submitted research proposals fail to keep to the deadline for their researches, and many are unable to complete their researches before their transfer to other institutions. This may be due to the fact that even though there is a follow-up system in place at universities regarding the completion of researches, there is no penalty system and there is lack of understanding by faculty of the importance of research to them or to the country.  At one time, as incentive, research was one of factors considered in giving promotion and so faculty members were more enthusiastic about doing research which has waned since it no longer plays a role in promotion. In addition, while research methodology is offered as a subject to postgraduate students at the majority of university departments, there are few activities at universities to update faculty with new developments in research methodology.
For a developing country like Myanmar, research at universities play an important role because it contributes to raising the quality of university faculty and teaching, and the development of not only the education sector but also other sectors and the various regions and states.  In the education sector, research and teaching interact in a multiplicity of positive ways.  Many of the university teachers who conduct research feel they are more capable teachers because of the better mastery of their fields of specialization due to knowledge gained from their research and while doing literature surveys. They find that their teaching has also improved as they can incorporate the latest discoveries from their research and other researches they have studied. They also feel that their thinking skills and the way they view things have improved vastly by doing research.  In return, better researchers are nurtured due to improved teaching.   Moreover, prestige gained from research also helps universities to retain and draw the best academics to them.  So also, researchers and research facilities at universities can assist government departments, industries and enterprises in catering to their research needs and assisting them to develop new products, and services. Similarly, in the social fields, research conducted at universities can help advance knowledge, correct past errors and discover peoples’ lacks, needs and wants.  In return, research conducted for external organizations and private enterprises can also generate income which can be used to improve research facilities of the university concerned.
Since at this stage of development, the country needs the research services of universities, how can more interest in research be generated among faculty? With so many young qualified people wanting to teach at universities, when recruiting, only those who are interested in both teaching and research should be selected. So also, once appointed, so as not to frighten them with the complexities of research, young faculty should be initiated to research with simple ones and then move on to more complex ones. Faculty should also be made to explore new areas instead of simply making a few changes and replicating other researches. If education authorities decide that faculty members need to also possess research skills, then their research record should be taken into consideration in giving promotions.  Rectors and heads of departments should see that as part of their responsibilities, they need to promote research capabilities of their institutions, provide proper supervision and have a follow-up system to ensure that researches are of high quality and that they are finished according to the deadline.  As research methodology keeps advancing along with technology, to update faculty with the latest research methodology, it should be made compulsory for faculty members who have gone abroad on further studies should on their return, if they have acquired new research techniques, disseminate it to their colleagues. In addition, as all universities now utilize computers, they should have a database on completed and ongoing researches so that they are not replicated at other universities and that time, effort and money are not wasted.  Moreover, as part of university-enterprise/industry collaboration for the development of the nation and themselves, universities should market their research capabilities, seek the patronage of both the private and public sectors and  generate income through research which can be utilized to improve their research facilities.  It is also time for universities, if they want to raise their quality, to introduce a reward system for those faculty outstanding in teaching and research instead of treating all faculty, whether hardworking and enthusiastic, or laid back and apathetic, as equals.
Those who know Myanmar well acknowledge that it possesses an abundance of human and natural resources, many untapped and unknown. Also, as a developing country, Myanmar faces a myriad of political, social, economic and environmental challenges.  Therefore, there is no dearth of areas to be explored, there is no shortage of topics to be researched, and there will be no disappointments of not being able to make new findings.  There is no doubt that research can have a many positive impacts on the institution, faculty and students.  It can bring dynamism and prestige to the university, renewed vigour, better analytical thinking skills and improved teaching skills to faculty, and better insights to the chosen field of studies to students.  It can also assist in perfecting existing knowledge, making new discoveries, promoting national development and improving the lives of ordinary people. Hence, our universities and their administrators, professors and faculty members, who are all leaders in education, should be more enthusiastic about research and give more time and thought to it.


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