Do we have the 'real' freedom in academic research?

Unconditional freedom for the researcher to select a topic, the methodology of research and sharing of research results are inevitable for successful research.

Published: 03rd April 2019 03:52 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd April 2019 03:52 AM   |  A+A-

Graduate, academics, research

Representational Image. (Representational Image)

KOCHI: At a time when every research scholars are free to attend the burning issues of the society, several years of researches have not yielded much result, except piling up of PhD theses to the library stack and a gush of Doctor of Philosophy holders. Our academic researchers are often insensitive to social needs and have reduced to an act of securing of Doctoral title.

The circular issued by the Central University of Kerala (CUK) to shelf a list of research topics of national priority in all its departments has kindled a new controversy. This circular was issued sequel to the resolution of vice-chancellors' conference of central universities. Neither Vice chancellors nor government can suggest a list of topics on which the researchers of that nation has to pursue. Prof. Gopakumar, vice-chancellor, CUK has clarified that the circular is misinterpreted. Further, MHRD’s clarification has stated that it doesn’t believe in interfering the freedom of researchers and academicians.

Let us look at the flipside of the issue. Knowingly or unknowingly, every research supervisors are tacitly following shelving of research topics ever since the starting of their supervision. This is done to match the preferences of the funding agencies, publication potential of the research specialisation and many other factors including personal and political preferences. In fact, the absolute freedom of a researcher for selecting a topic is a myth in our contemporary society. It is theoretically true that every student has the right to select a topic of their own based on their lived experiences. But the research supervisor put up the methodological hurdles, issues of practicability and many other technical issues, sometimes pointing out the shallowness of the experience of the student to offer a worthy research topic. Finally, the research student succumbs to the supervisor.

Still, there are admirable research supervisors who value student’s experiences and help them to come out in flying colours. But entertaining students’ interest and their lived experiences as researchable problems involve the risk of digressing from the area specialisation of the research supervisors and many foist their interests and preferences on students. It compels the students to reduce themselves to be the instrument in the hands of authority, methodology, tools and publishing agencies.  

Do research supervisors enjoy absolute power and freedom in the process of research? It would be a wrong notion if one thinks that the research supervisors are free in different dimensions of their research. Every research supervisor is enslaved by the paradigms of methodologically constrained research. How many of them dare to break the existing methodological paradigms and go ahead with absolutely creative and independent research? Even if someone dares, they will be handled at Doctoral committees, synopsis presentation meetings and so on. These institutional arrangements regulate and control the research supervisor and student to ensure that they follow the paradigms approved by the system.

Unconditional freedom for the researcher to select a topic, the methodology of research and sharing of research results are inevitable for successful research. At the same time, the researcher must be honest to one’s own investigation and must be able to face the funding agency and the peers and scholars and must do justice to the fundamental purpose of research.

Amruth G Kumar is the associate professor and head of the department, School of Education, Central University of Kerala Kasargod.

(The views expressed by the author are his own)

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