Who is responsible for the poor academic research?

It is a common saying that the world’s greatest minds solve nothing. Others have also argued that intelligent researchers spend most of their time on academic work and neglect their role in society.
A student experimenting with a  solar and wind hybrid green tower as part of her research project.  (Solomon Asaba)
A student experimenting with a solar and wind hybrid green tower as part of her research project. (Solomon Asaba)

It is a common saying that the world’s greatest minds solve nothing. Others have also argued that intelligent researchers spend most of their time on academic work and neglect their role in society. While there is evidence for works of their studies in form of books, journals and papers, the applicability of research findings in real life remains a daunting mystery for both scholars and communities to resolve.

University of Rwanda vice chancellor, Prof Philip Cotton, says the problem starts with the initiation of research projects.

 

“When the starting point fails to address the problems faced by communities then the outcome of the research won’t address any of those challenges,” says Prof Cotton.

 

Prof Cotton points out that majority of scholars are interested in completing research studies just to receive academic awards and for long that has been the goal of many.

 

“Over the years some research or studies have been done simply to attain a higher degree,’’ he adds.

However, Paul Swagga, a tutor at Akillah Institute for Women in Kibagabaga puts the blame on research supervisors for misleading students.

“Research professors are not providing supervision effectively. You realise that most of the methodologies require students going back and forth to their supervisors, but because of the huge work load, many lecturers turn away from their obligations,” says Swagga

Swagga warns that without proper guidance students instead resort to malpractices such as plagiarism to finish their research projects.

“There is pressure to finish the research studies before graduating and for that matter students remain less passionate. At the end of the day they seek assistance from people outside their institutions just to fulfill the academic requirements of the university,” he explains.

Most people, therefore, relate research fellows to being mere theorists, who contribute nothing to society besides feeding libraries with publications.

But Prof Eugene Ndabaga, a specialist in education management, policy and planning at the University of Rwanda, argues that research work does not end at the concept level.

“Every research has an objective and before that is achieved, the work cannot be complete. The relevance to the communities depends on the connotation of the subject, the identified problems and the findings. So saying that researchers are theorists is just an assumption,’’ explains Prof Ndabaga.

Instead, he puts the blame on institutions that issue limited funds to students for restricting their potential into digging deep into the challenges.

“More so, undergraduate researchers are limited by funds all over the world. Just a handful who pursue technological courses like architecture or engineering can come up with innovations relevant to society using limited finances. However, social research students would need more money for relevant creativity in their field,’’ he adds.

But William Wasswa, the dean of students at ESSA Nyarugunga, notes that some researchers simply submit applications for projects just to ‘eat’ the stipend, an act that compromises the quality of the research.

“These days it’s common for research fellows to file applications just to get hold of the money. Once they receive this money, they will spend the least on the research itself then the rest would go into unknown expenditures. In that case they may not even be able to provide accountability,’’ says Waswa.

Research ‘dying’ in books

Ronald Wandira, a history teacher at Riviera High School, believes that research committees are doing less of follow-ups on completed works.

“People always want to use research just to proceed to other levels. The findings will be there but if there is no enforcement from the research committees, such works won’t be applicable anywhere. It is a challenge allover and that is why people say research dies in books,” he adds.

Wandira’s suggestions are not different from those of a recent narrative review of research impact assessment models and methods published last year in the Journal of Biomedicine which concluded that multidimensional research impact assessment methods must be widely used in practice by research funders and academic institutions to create the right balance between comprehensiveness and feasibility.

In fact, Richard Rutayisire, a manager at LG Consult Ltd, an independent research firm in Kigali, explains that sometimes institutions that commission the research projects do so just for presentation purposes.

“When institutions hire you to conduct a research, it is up to them to use the findings for the right purpose. It may be that after presentation, that will be the end of the project; that is the problem with institutions and there would be no value for money,” says Rutayisire.

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Students doing research at Kigali Public Library. Researchers ought to explore areas that directly affect communities. (File photo)

He also adds that changes in administrative bodies within certain institutions limit continuity of research projects.

“If there was need for certain research in an institution for purposes of implementing something, the new person occupying the office maynot want or even have the ability to follow up the initiative,” he adds.

Not too late

While most people believe that improving research from academic-oriented objectives to community-based ones would be like convincing scientists that the moon is made out of green cheese, most experts believe that the current gaps in implementing findings can be plugged to suit communities.

Prof Cotton believes that articulating studies in light with a community’s challenges is key in improving applicability of research.

“If we are addressing the problems faced by communities, we can help them articulate the things that affect them. Now we need to refine ways to measure the impact of the research at masters and PhD levels,” Cotton emphasises.

Similarly, Swagga advises that improving curricula for research studies is essential in ensuring relevancy to the communities.

“There is need to redesign the curriculum for research to challenge the students, but at the same time inspire them to do the work passionately. Once they become interested, solving societal problems becomes easy,” advises Swagga.

While there has been funding from non-governmental organisations for research such as The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Netherlands Universities Foundation for International Cooperation

(NUFIC), among others, with additional funding from government, researchers can do more.

Professor Nelson Ijumba, the deputy vice chancellor in charge of academic affairs and research at the University of Rwanda, explains that plans are in advanced stages to seek funding from government in order to improve research.

“Currently, there is a policy to have a national research and innovation fund. It is being facilitated by the National Commission for Science and Technology. The idea is that once that fund is established, areas of research will be defined and mechanisms of how people apply for funding will be stipulated,” says Prof Ijumba.

However, before the implementation of this arrangement, the proposal is that funding should be received on the basis of delivering.

“We get the money but we deliver in terms of PhD training and availing research and publications; but still this has not been implemented,” he adds.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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How to improve your research skills

To improve research skills, the writer needs four skills. These are the ability to analyze and disseminate, critical thinking and problem solving abilities. Critical thinking means not accepting anything at its face value. The researcher should be able to verify and validate the truth in whatever raw data they encounter. They should also be able to weigh different sides of an argument draw conclusions through reason and logic. Critical thinkers should be imaginative and creative, have the ability to reflect and use hindsight and have logical reasoning.

Research skills also involve problem solving abilities. People with problem solving abilities are able to identify, define the scope of problems and analyze them carefully. After the evaluation, they should then be able to provide the most useful solutions in the context of the problem.

Analytical skills involve the ability to look for and gather data that is relevant to the context f the study. They should then apply the right methods of synthesis, critical thinking and reduction of the data to produce useful information. They should be able to understand the connections and patterns between groups of data.

Dissemination is a crucial part of the research and writing skills development process. It is the ability to present the ideas and conclusions from the research. It requires the ability to explain the methods, aims and motives of the research. The researcher should also be able to provide the results and present the conclusions drawn.

There are also other background skills that one should develop if they are to improve their research skills.

Imaginativeness and creativity is one such skill that involves always looking for different approaches to solving a problem. A creative and imaginative person looks for alternative approaches to problem solving that are different from the conventional ones. A researcher should also be able to reason logically, which means understanding how logical arguments are structured. They should perfect the basic data collection skills, be able to collect accurate and relevant data and be able to design potent data collection tools.

Conceptual thinking helps in research because it enables the researcher to break the issue into smaller parts.

These parts are manageable and help the researcher identify the potential ideas relevant to the problem. This way they can make judgments about the relevance of the results to the study. Research also involves considering past similar projects and learning from them. It involves considering one’s own undertaking, and what they could have done better.

Agencies

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People have their say...

Diana Nawatti, headteacher, Mother Mary complex

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Diana Nawatti

First of all people should be trained on the implementation procedures right from the primary level. However, the main reason for failure to implement research findings is lack of resources to invest in the process.

Christian Bahati, a nurse

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Christian Bahati

I think sometimes researchers tend to try out multi-tasking in the process of researching. This, at the end of the day usually undermines the quality of their findings and implementation. Also, people should use opportunities given by the government to implement their research works.

Immaculate Gatesi, an accountant

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Immaculate Gatesi

The most important aspect to consider when coming up with a research topic is how the work will help other people. With that in mind, I believe everyone will be willing to do what it takes to implement what they have come up with during research.

Didace Ntambara, guild president, UR

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Didace Ntambara

Research should be encouraged early in education so that students grow to appreciate how it’s carried out and its importance. Also, the government should create more research centres to encourage more people to engage in research.

Collins Barminga, a teacher

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Collins Barminga

I believe the success in the implementation of any research is based on ones commitment to a single goal. Unfortunately, most research works have several objectives, which makes it hard for the findings to be implemented.

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