A new practiceThe country should invest more in research to foster a culture of knowledge production
Since the 1950’s democratic movement, two generations of Nepalis have devoted their life faithfully expecting something good to happen. Now, the third generation hassimilar expectations. Given our poor planning and implementation record, the current government has to work hard to change that. To attain perceivable results, government should turn to technological development i.e. using science and technology with investment in research and development. Our immediate neighbours have realised its relevance and made enhancements in such investment.
Seemingly, this fiscal year’s annual budget has increased funds for technology. The investment here implies procuring equipment with corresponding software and its installation in addition to training skilled human resources. There should be sufficient and competent human resource to run, maintain, and upgrade the devices. We lag way behind in technical know-how compared to the industrial nations. Our entire politico-bureaucratic-technical mechanism should work fast and efficiently to recover the lost growth. Interestingly, our level of technical know-how can be judged from how the roads and traffic lights are maintained in Kathmandu.
University education and research
The universities should generate new knowledge through research. They should produce a sizeable batch of researchers and scientists in different fields by training students from the undergraduate level and making research culture more rogorous in the postgrad level. Making them competent requires different tools depending on disciplines: social sciences would require more of ‘soft tools’ whereas technical sciences would require more of physical devices in labs or fields.
Many of our universities have weak research wings which are equivalent to being nonexistent. Current research status of the country across disciplines is in a sorry state. Since the universities are not performing as they should, Pratyoush Onta, a few months in one of his article published in this newspaper suggested creating functional universities or overhauling the existing ones. The institutions designated for facilitating or doing research are Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), and University Grant Commission (UGC). All of them seem to be lending their support to scientists. Establishing a new academy of science and technology as mentioned in the recent budget should serve research purpose better. Incidentally, BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences provides a grant of fifty thousand rupees per plausible research proposal to its scientists or faculty members with a provision of increasing the fund if the proposal is interdisciplinary and on a larger scale. Accordingly, it leads in research publications among the medical institutions in Nepal. Therefore, it should support doctoral (MD/PhD) program further.
In reputed universities, research and teaching are inseparable from each other. Teachers should do research, and researchers or scientists should teach as well. Paradoxically, we have created NARC separate from concerned university (agriculture and forestry). They should engage with each other meaningfully. Unfortunately, our higher education primarily pays attention to teaching rather than facilitating the students to understand, visualise, and experience what they have learned. A good teaching should be thought provoking whether in school or in higher education. Our high school education is even worse. Rote learning to score high should be discouraged; it leads us nowhere.
Either we have failed to create working platforms for university graduates or we have ignored inculcating right attitude and skills in them. Many university graduates draw salary simply by signing papers instead of working in labs or fields. Hence, formal education should focus on the development of all domains of education such as knowledge, skills, and attitude.
Research and Development
Technological advancement is causally linked to investment in research and development that enables operating, maintaining, and upgrading the hardware and software installed in small or mega projects. Meaningful research support initiates a momentum and develops indigenous research culture ultimately strengthening capacity building. It may take decades but then we can explore the fields of science and society that are still unexplored from a research aspect. Should the country produce competent individuals and good researchers and, they will be employed by industries or academies and they can support the development better. This way, gradually we can develop our ‘own science’ and scientific manpower. In turn, it will engage more muscles and brains in this field, minimising the brain drain.
The scientists, researchers, policymakers should sit together to set national research priorities. The scientific community can then classify the priorities according to their
faculties, expertise, and resources. Nepal currently requires more of descriptive research—a research that describes the phenomena being studied. Such as describing a school regarding its infrastructure, teachers’ competency and so on. If the school is compared with a ‘standard school’ yardstick, it becomes a research hypothesis testing. This type of research is used more in technical sciences. It generates a higher level of evidence although its findings, at times, may not come as expected. Nevertheless, the research should continue patiently as it eventually pays off.
The findings of researches conducted by using valid and reliable techniques are vital for decision making. The level of evidence generated from a well-designed research is far better than the consensus reached among knowledgeable experts. Thus, we should abandon such ‘wishful’ approaches and follow evidence based practice for effective planning and timely completion of projects.
Additionally, we should learn from the past experience, and document the success or failures of the conducted projects. Confidence is lost in international negotiations if the research and knowledge production in our own backyard is substandard. The confidence in negotiations comes from, among other things, a well-built knowledgebase. And a very strong knowledgebase comes only from a x research oriented culture.
Paudel is a professor of basic and clinical physiology and medical educationist at BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, Dharan