«Edited by Govindjee Urbana, Illinois, USA and Shyam Lal Srivastava Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India i The Cover A photograph of Krishnaji (Dada), 1980 ...»
The equitable distribution of work load (teaching) does not permit anybody who is conducting research to transfer some of his teaching load to colleagues not interested in research. Well, you are paid for teaching and not for research! It is intriguing to observe that every work in the university other than research is paid for. For example, one is paid for teaching, for maintaining discipline as a proctor, for invigilating during examination, for examining answer papers, for working as a tabulator, for coaching hostel students or scheduled caste students, for officering the NCC cadets, for looking after the students as a hostel superintendent etc. If one happens to be interested in research activity, he has to subscribe to journals, pay for the price of reprints out of his own pocket. Curiously enough the audit rules do not permit of expenses on correspondence connected with research.
Besides, the library cannot subscribe to all journals.
I have failed to understand how anybody who is not actively engaged in research can possibly teach and guide effectively post graduate students; but this is what takes place on a very large scale in most of the university departments. In most of the university science faculty departments there is a restriction on the number of research scholars one can supervise either by convention or by rules. It is an established fact today that scientific research worth the name is not possible by restricting oneself to narrow classifications of subjects like physics, mathematics, chemistry, zoology or botany etc. The various subjects overlap so much that a physicist may specialize in something which is in the domain of the chemists or the biologists. A mathematician may enter the field of the physicists or linguistics and so on. The universities do not easily permit a member of the physics department to carry on his research work in the zoology department or a member of the mathematics department to do so in the physics department on the hardly justifiable plea that it creates a lot of complications if such relaxations are made. A top scientist who has control over the universities, as well as Government department, told in my presence a young friend who is a member of the mathematics department and has taken his PhD in theoretical physics, that it will be difficult for him to get a job in the physics department of a university because his basic degree is in mathematics. The young theoretical physicist was evidently disappointed. I do not mean that this is always done. I have mentioned this incident to show that our top scientific persons hold such opinions and naturally control things in the same manner. A very serious matter which requires attention is the way in which active research workers have to move from one place to another. A certain assistant professor works hard and does creditable research, say, in University-X and receives a sizable grant worth several lakhs of rupees for purchasing equipment; he builds up an excellent laboratory after spending some years of his active life and several lakhs of rupees. Soon after this, he is appointed as a professor in the University-Y, where he has to start all over again and spend some more years of his active life and more money. The laboratory-X in the meanwhile lies useless in most cases for all times to come. It may be interesting to note that the Y-University professorship fell vacant because the professor there was appointed at Z-University and he left his active laboratory which he had built according to the requirements of his subject, owing to differences in superannuation rules. It is not understood why a person who can be regarded fit as a professor in one university can not be allowed to stay on as professor in the other university where he had built a laboratory and was actively carrying on research. This is all the more puzzling when the experts who do the job of selecting professors are very few and happen to be common factors in both the universities.
Further, it is the same Government which finances the two places in question. Cases of the type quoted above are occurring so frequently that one feels surprised why nothing is done to stop this waste of time and money, both of which we need so badly. The research output as a result of all these anomalies is the natural casualty.
In some universities including the one to which I belong, a very curious situation exists as far as recognition of work and merit in terms of emoluments is concerned. If you go to some foreign country for conducting higher studies and advanced research and remain on leave without pay (in most cases) for some years, after your return you get a salary lesser than what you would have got if you did not go on leave and did not do creditable research. Some authorities argue that increasing qualifications by doing research is one’s personal benefit and so why should the university pay for it. But in case you are not a university employee, you may be appointed with a higher starting salary because they think that the university will benefit by your qualifications and experience and therefore should pay for it.
The tyranny of red tape When everything else is all right, it is the red tape which may often cause a disaster and make completely ineffective many of the good schemes launched after long deliberations. The red tape is held responsible for the sad death of Dr Joseph and probably of many others not generally known. The red tape is troublesome anywhere and more so in the field of scientific activity because research scientists are said to be allergic to it. I know the cases of a few brilliant and mature Indian scientists who have left India and are working in the United States because they were harassed by the red tape.
One of the typical examples of the all pervading red tape in action, is seen when you want to get some equipment from outside India.
Before you can get the desired equipment you have to get three quotations, a proforma invoice, import license, ‘no manufacture certificate’, duty concession certificate and the necessary funds. All these items have to be procured from different agencies through proper channel and very often these are not easily available or else reach you after a very long time and in the meanwhile the price of the equipment has changed and you have to proceed all over again as far as proforma invoice, allocation of funds and import licence are concerned. Purchase through UNESCO coupons does simplify the procedure but only as far as import licence is concerned. Sometimes the equipment reaches India from the foreign country in a reasonably short time, say, two months but invariably it takes anywhere between four to eight months before it can be cleared through customs and reach you. In a large number of cases, the problem you had in mind when the equipment was ordered, has been already solved in some other country. I am sure things can be simplified with a little thoughtful effort in this direction. I do not need to elaborate on this point because this is known to everybody but they are unable to get over the difficulty. The red tape has converted every able Indian scientist into an administrator.
Anybody who tries to raise his voice against the conventional methods is immediately overawed by the mention of a galaxy of renowned Indian scientists such as Ramanujam, Ray, Saha, Raman, Bhabha, Bose, Krishnan, Kothari etc. who, they say, are products of these very methods of education, research and administration. The wise men have, however, said ‘genius is not a product of any system but is produced in spite of the system!’ The success of a system is not to be judged by the five per cent extra brilliant people whose brilliance could not have been reduced by anything or by the another five per cent whose dullness could not have been brightened by the best system, but by the bulk of ninety percent people who are susceptible to the climate all around them and are capable of being moulded.
What are we to do It is my conviction that universities are the best places where high quality research can be produced in shorter time and at much lesser cost than any other establishment. I do not mean that research establishments run by CSIR, Defence Science, and other Ministries, are not necessary. Those establishments have to be there but they should normally take up applied research and undertake certain specialized types of work.
Uniformity of employment The research output (quality and quantity both) from the universities in the present context of things, will never increase as long as such a large disparity in emoluments exist and as long as facilities are provided for earning extra money by doing all kinds of extra unacademic work. The only solution of the problem is to raise the emoluments of the university teachers to a decent level which is comparable to those of other research establishments so that they do not need to run after extra work for augmenting their income. When this has been done, all the extra payments can be stopped and the extra work distributed equitably as part of normal duties. A department may have on the permanent staff 30% of the total strength as professors and 50% as assistant professors and 20% as fellows. The scales of salaries may be: professors-Rs. 1000-1800, assistant professors Rs. 400-1100 and fellows-Rs. 250-450. The fellows will normally be required to run practical classes only and devote half the time to research. The research fellowships financed by CSIR and UGC will continue to be there.
Radical change in syllabus, teaching and examination methods Increase in emoluments alone will not work as a magic wand and produce good research and competent research personnel unless drastic changes are made in syllabus, teaching methods and the examination system.
If one looks into the problem a little more closely it will be clear that at present it is the examination system which dictates the syllabus, which in turn controls the teaching methods. In the scheme of things, the examination thus controls our education and becomes most important when it really should be the least important item. The system of external examiners compels every body to finish the course in such a manner that the students might be able to answer the stock questions. As a natural corollary to this, memory is at a premium and intelligence is at discount. The method is designed to iron out independence of mind, originality, and native curiosity, and to turn intelligent young men and women into automatic machines. An examination is a very necessary thing, and when properly devised it measures the intellectual development of the student as a result of the educational experience he has undergone. Our present examinations are very unreliable and inaccurate from this point of view. Nor are they efficient ways of producing graduates, which is evident from the fantastic failure rates, at the various examinations.
Once we are able to shake off the control of examination on us, it will be possible to achieve the correct objective of lecturing to a class. The present teaching method upholds the definition of Education given by some one as ‘Education is that mysterious process whereby information passes from the lecture notes of the professor through the fountain pen on to the note book of the student, without passing through the minds of either’. The main object of a lecture should be to stimulate the student’s mind, to get him to think, to suggest new ways of looking at subjects to open a window so that the student sees his subject in a wider perspective. The primary appeal of the lecturer must be to the students mind not to his memory. They have to be taught the art of studying, of reading, of using a library, of digging out information by their own efforts. We should hold discussions, seminars, let the students write essays and read papers, require them to solve original problems which are not in the book.
Education rightly understood is not to ‘put in’ but to ‘draw out’. It is in this way that education becomes a training, a discipline in tackling problems with intelligence, resourcefulness, and creative freshness.
It should be clear that education comes through doing, not through listening. The above objectives can be realized only if the system of external examiners is given up. The person who teaches a certain branch of subject should be responsible for examining the students in that branch and grading them. This will automatically put a stop to hankering after a number of examinerships for earning more money.
I have devoted a little time to this problem because a proper solution to this will enable us to produce intelligent personnel who would be suited very much better for quality research as well as any work in life. We can then raise the standard of our research degrees as well by introducing more stringent conditions with regard to knowledge, understanding and originality.
Under the present circumstances of our slender resources, financial and otherwise, it is very necessary that duplication of effort has to be avoided as far as possible. This is necessary only till the time our resources become adequate. This work can be done admirably by most of the Government agencies.
Instruments industry should be given high priority Instruments of some kind or the other are needed by all kinds of research including theoretical physics and mathematics (they need calculators and computers). One can easily see that it is futile to depend on the instruments imported from other countries because they cannot serve our purpose for all times. It takes very long to get them and usually they are obsolete by the time they are here. In some cases they do not stand the rigours of our climatic conditions. They can not be maintained in operating conditions after a few years because spares are not available. Well, the most important point is that you always work with a comparatively obsolete type of instrument. The import of costly, complicated and automatic machinery lands us into another amusing situation; we have to choose problems to the convenience of these machines and only routine problems will submit to such a treatment! One of the Government organizations which is supposed to carry out high priority top secret work for the country has been solving the problem till lately in a very simple way. They decided not to import any new equipment but to carry on their research with the surplus war disposal instruments most of which turned out to be unserviceable.