A circular has been issued by G Gopakumar vice chancellor of CUK (Central University of Kerala) in Kasargode, carrying a new directive to be followed in the sphere of research. But it is doubtful if it will fit in with even its declared objective, even as the very objective is being questioned. The circular purports to be in line with the decision taken at the meeing of central universities' vice chancellors (VC's) held last December. It says that from now on, only such topics are to be selected for research as have 'national priorities', with the reasoning that most of the current researches are conducted on 'irrrelevant' topics.
The VC has also explained that a 25-year old female student will not be aware of the needs of the country. Therefore, the university will prepare in advance a "shelf of projects to be taken for research study pertaining to subjects considering national priorities". Research should be done only in such areas. What the VC has asked the heads of departments is to prepare a list of topics for research as per the pre-set priorities, and thereby to create opportunity for studies that the country needs. Therefore, "when fellows are being admitted for PhDs, the topics for thesis should be in accordance with national priorities."
VC's, UGC and the Central Human Resources Department are said to be behind this mve. If so, the question to be asked is whether they have all unitedly vowed to strangulate fundamental research in the country. To put it mildly, this is a wrong decision taken on the basis of a right reason. For, there is no dispute that at least a good part of the topics in today's researches are below the desired standard. It would not be wrong to say they do not make room for fundamental thought or studies, and do not contribute anything new to the domain of knowledge. But instead of diagnosing its causes and treating them, what Kasargode varsity has done is to block free and fundamental research itself in an absurd manner. Since it is bassed on a common decision, similar directives are likely to be released by other central universities too. And since UGC also as a role in it, this faulty framework may be introduced in all the universities of the country. One reason for the deterioration of research quality is imposition of such a narrow perspective by politicians on academic realm.
In 2016, the Gujarat government too had issued a similar circular, and the government prepared a list of 82 topics with 'relevance' in state universities . And some of the controversial statements by Harsh Vardhan as central minister of science, had also given a hint on what 'national relevance' represents. Would it be people like him who, believing a fake Facebook post in the name of Stephen Hawking declared a fundamental discovery, decide the 'national priority'? In fact, what the government has to do is create an atmosphere conducive to reasearch – not meddle with it. Instead of preparing a list of topics for theses, what is needed is to make adequate budgetary allocation (which currrently is 0.8 per cent of national income) for research area, and allow freedom to the academic world. And the task for the VC's is to give leadership to unfettered academic activities – not make circulars out of the fiats from political masters.
The core of research is freedom of thought and freedom to study. The soul of universities is autonomy in their functioning. Where, according to the exponents, will the 'relevant' studies that destroy all this, lead the country? There is a vast horizon of knowledge beyond astrology and science of cow urine. Anything fundamental is relevant – for the country and the world. Those may be an inter-penetration of different disciplines. They may be mere theories if viewed from the a narrow utilitarian angle. They may be national, international or local. On the other hand, the insistence on traversing the path coming from some individual on the spur of a moment, will amount to preventing fundamental and reative enquiry. The recent decision of NCERT (National Council for Educational Research & Training) not to teach students about the social agitation for covering women's bosoms, does give us a taste of the said 'national priorities' and 'relevance'. If the picture of Kasargode university is any indication about the state of affairs in central universities, one cannot help observing that the 'priorities' are accurate! Only when the sector of higher eduation and research is liberated from narrow-minded agenda and 'loyal' university bosses, can we even start thinking about the quality level of our research. It is not the circular issued in Kasargode alone, but those who issued it and the thinking behind it are also big hurdles before true research.