• June 6th, 2020

The role of research plans in higher education

The core activities of higher education institutions are teaching, research and community service or community engagement. While the three activities can be investigated separately, there are scholars who view them as inseparable in the higher learning and teaching process. 
There is no doubt that academic research informs teaching. What this means is that lecturers use the findings of their research in practice when they are teaching their students. Lecturers can also use information and experiences gained from their community engagement activities to enhance their teaching. 
In order to succeed in their research work and teaching, lecturers need to develop detailed and focused research plans to guide them. A research plan is a strategy or blueprint that a lecturer is going to follow in conducting impactful research as part of his/her duties in higher education.
 When drawing up a research plan or strategy, lecturers should clearly express the goals of the research plan. The research plan may have short-term and long-term objectives depending on what the one needs to achieve. Whether short- or long-term, the objectives of a research plan must be clear, focused and measureable. 
An academic might want to assess the government’s mechanisms of poverty reduction in rural areas in Namibia within a specified period. Another academic might want to investigate the effects of social media among university students. In both examples, it is clear what the researchers want to research on. When well-executed, the two researches planned here will yield results that will most likely be used in teaching, and by policy makers.  
As far as learning and teaching are concerned, there is a healthy nexus between research and the learning process. In this case, research definitely informs teaching. Both the researcher and students benefit from the research that is well planned and conducted. 
Academics in this category conduct their planned research in such a coordinated manner that they publish their results in high impact, peer-reviewed journals and in academic books. These are the academics who raise the profile of their universities; their research output contributes to the ranking of their universities on the world scale of universities.
In most cases, this category of academics involves students in their research plans. By taking part in some of their mentors’ research activities, students gain new knowledge better this way. Students also become trained in research at an early stage in their academic life. Students become confident young researchers at undergraduate level.
 Equally important is the research carried out at master’s and doctoral levels. There seems to be a high correlation between research plans and the number of postgraduate students academics produce each year. This suggests that it is neither accidental nor inadvertent that academics with focused research plans tend to have a high postgraduate output. 
In universities that rank their academics according to research output, academics described here fall into the A plus grade. These academics fully grasp and implement the research and development initiatives of their institutions. They even go beyond the call of duty and creatively design their research plans which guide them to excellence. These academics exude a high quality performance culture. They are a rare species that drives the cogs of research in a professional manner; in most cases they are unassuming and modest.
On the other hand, scholars in higher education management and leadership have provided evidence that proves that academics or lecturers who do not plan their research activities do not succeed in their teaching and promotion. They conduct little or no research at all, and their teaching is uninspiring to students because it is not based on practical experiences and examples. Their teaching is largely abstract and text-book based; it inhibits critical thinking. 
If students provide answers that are not in the academics’ lecture notes, and from text books, their answers are marked wrong. These academics are rigid, inflexible and blinkered. As a result, the teaching and learning process in this case becomes pedantic and mundane for students. 
This situation is against the fourth industrial revolution whose main thrust is on innovation and critical thinking. The 4IR goads universities to produce students with skills to face a new world where information technologies, innovation and critical thinking dictate all forms of life. The argument here is that academics without excellent research plans will make it difficult for their students to function properly in the new dispensation. They and their students may fall on the wayside as the world unstoppably advances towards the new era. According to research, this is the category of academics that always cries foul when their counterparts are promoted because of their excellent research outputs. 
The main message of this article is that higher education institutions must make it mandatory for all their academic staff members to draw up formal research plans which should form the research agendas of the institutions. Institutions must take cognizance of the fact that there are different categories of academics, not just the two types discussed here. The laggards in this case should not be shunned or scorned. There is need to train them in making clear research plans that yield results. Those academics who excel in this regard can be given incentives so that they train their colleagues in coming up with feasible research plans in their fields of specialisation. There is need to benchmark how other higher education institutions encourage their academics to use research output for teaching; and how they deal with academics who find it difficult to come up with their own research plans.
Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his accord. E-mail address: kjairos@gmail.com

Staff Reporter
2019-07-12 09:41:29 | 10 months ago

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