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Does more focus on research affect teaching in higher education?

Time is ripe for creating an adequately robust framework for delivering the updated quality of education through research-inspired teaching and thus safeguarding the interests of teachers, students, and HEIs alike.

ByOnkar Singh

Updated on 9 Jan 2022, 10:39 am

(Image: Unsplash)

(Image: Unsplash)

 

The desperation to secure a better ranking among educational institutions has started eroding the quality of teaching in higher education institutions (HEIs). This deterioration in the quality of teaching and lackadaisical engagement of teachers with students can only be felt while talking to students through their mumbling about certain subjects taught to them at any point of time in their respective educational program. Nevertheless, the presence of teachers focussing on the quality of teaching and passionately making students learn is not ruled out.

Looking at the mechanism of recruiting teachers and promoting them evinces significant contributions of their academic credentials, research output, and relevant outreach activities. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has prescribed minimum qualifications for the appointment of teachers and a wide range of attributes that accumulate into metrics called academic performance indicators (APIs). Anyone aspiring for getting into a particular post has to cross the threshold APIs and then pass through a laid-down selection process.

There are a number of premier institutions in the country that are not under the purview of UGC regulations and have their procedures and criteria for recruitment and promotion of teachers in them. However, in all HEIs, the performance of teachers is assessed through the performance indicators relying heavily on the research outcome in the form of their publications, intellectual property rights, projects handled, etc. As a result, the driving potential of earning maximum on these research outcome attributes entails teachers maximising them for the sake of their career upgrade and visibility in the academic world.

National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) of the country offers the consolidated performance of institution based on 'Teaching, learning and resources', 'Research and professional practice', 'Graduation outcome', 'Outreach and inclusivity, and 'Peer perception' with weights of 30%, 30%, 20%, 10%, and 10% respectively. Here, the component of research and professional practises is merely 30% but the score in it depending upon the consolidated efforts of the teachers in respective institutions calls for enormous efforts by the teachers individually or in groups.

Besides, India's NIRF, the global ranking framework like QS World University ranking relies upon the methodology comprising of the institutional performance on attributes namely Academic reputation, Employer reputation, Faculty/student ratio, Citations per faculty, International faculty ratio, and International student ratio with weightage of 40%, 10%, 20%, 20%, 5%, and 5% respectively in the cumulative score. Among these attributes, the citation per faculty is solely centred on research and allied activities of the teachers while academic reputation and employer reputation too get affected by it.

Thus, the relevance of research can not be undermined for the teachers, nonetheless, the implications of it in the teaching institutions with poor faculty to student ratio in particular and the HEIs, in general, necessitate introspection. In contemplation of the HEIs accomplishing well in the research component with other components of the ranking score, the institutional governance keeps on pushing teachers for enhancing research output quantitatively.

Undoubtedly, the research output of teachers helps in enriching the knowledge of teachers, but in the absence of immediate connection of research outcome with the subjects taught by teachers, the students are unable to reap the fruits to the same extent as that of teachers. Further, research consumes a lot of time and requires a good degree of involvement, and incurs the inevitable drift of focus from teaching. As a result, the quality of teaching may get affected to a certain extent, especially in the undergraduate level courses where the students need much more hand-holding and intense mentoring to develop concepts. In post-graduate programs, the students are usually mature and can make up for some learning deficiencies on their own.

HEIs usually have three distinct sets of teachers namely those deeply engaged in research, reasonably engaged in research, and those with least indulgence in research. Nevertheless teaching undergraduate and postgraduate is the primary job of teachers along with running doctoral programmes in the majority of HEIs in the country. It goes without saying that the basic mandate of HEIs is to inculcate the requisite competencies as per the need of the respective program and roll out well-educated & capable human resources. The problem of inadequacy in teaching resulting in knowledge deficit is quite precarious in a country like India having a huge diversity of languages, culture, geography, and socio-economic conditions where students largely depend on educational institutions. It is worth mentioning that due to the global horizon of education, learning sufficiency is the only parameter that brings parity amongst all those possessing certain degree/diploma certificates across the world and provides them a competitive edge.

Sometimes, it is perceived that the students admitted in HEIs are brilliant minds coming after cracking stringent admission processes and are apt to grasp the subjects taught to them even with lesser rigour. Such assumptions tempt some teachers to bombard voluminous study material and absolve themselves from the obligation of interactive teaching. Quite often, the students give poor responses to teachers in the classroom owing to their overconfidence emanating from the ubiquitous availability of learning resources in the digital world, presuming that they can learn on their own. Consequently, teachers too develop a propensity to share study material and burden students for going through it with meagre classroom interactions.

Hence, the apparent dichotomy and the arising implications from the more of teacher involvement in research and the teachers of HEIs decreed to teach future generations for sustainability summons immediate interventions so that the students do not lack basic knowledge and understanding for application of knowledge.

Time is ripe for creating an adequately robust framework for delivering the updated quality of education through research-inspired teaching and thus safeguarding the interests of teachers, students, and HEIs alike. Else, the knowledge gap of students will also create poor quality of research scholars and diminish the possibility of good quality research outcome as well as teachers with deficient capabilities of teaching & research. 

Needless to say that practising different prevalent pedagogical approaches, such as lectures, seminars, discussion, and other student-centred approaches urges reasonable contact hours with the passionate attitude of teachers towards students to make them learn and imbibe desired competencies for sustainable present and future. Students are to be treated as curious learners irrespective of the level of education and programme.

Lukewarm classroom interactions require sincere brooding and strategizing by concerned teachers, academic governance, and regulating authorities of higher education for translating classroom teaching into worthwhile and captivating learning. This will indisputably secure the future research potential of the country along with capitalising demographic dividend for survival and growth of human civilization.

(The views expressed is personal)

Onkar Singh

Onkar Singh

Founder Vice-Chancellor of Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur, UP.

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