Universities must give financial incentives to build a research culture
As the world steadily moves into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, countries have to strengthen their research output in order to survive in this knowledge-based economy.
No one doubts that we are living in an era where knowledge and technology have become the drivers of productivity and economic progress and development.
Since knowledge is the product of research, it is countries that have invested billions of dollars in research that are leading in technological advancement. It is in these countries where the standard of living of the citizens is very high.
The role universities play in the production of knowledge is of crucial importance. There is overwhelming evidence that countries with prestigious higher education institutions lead the pack in research output and top world university rankings. At the centre of the achievements of these universities is a rich research culture among the professors who are driven by the quest to produce knowledge, which is treated like a commodity.
In simple terms, the professors make it their duty to extend the boundaries of knowledge. The other anchor of the research culture of these professors is the availability of research funds and incentives for conducting research.
The availability of funding is the key factor to the promotion of a research culture in universities. When there is adequate funding for research, there is a great chance of availing incentives to professors and researchers in universities, so that they concentrate on what they know best – the production of knowledge.
In some of the well-established universities, senior professors are paid only to conduct research and produce new knowledge. The senior professors make patents from their research products.
In countries where there are incentives for research output for professors and researchers, knowledge is actually exported as a commodity to countries that do not incentivise research at university level.
Therefore, we have the divide between knowledge-exporting countries and knowledge-importing countries; the former being mostly developed countries of the West, and the latter comprising developing countries, mostly African countries. There lies the problem for developing countries; it is clear that they do not meaningfully incentivise research in their higher education institutions, if at all they attempt to do so.
Compounding the low research output for universities in knowledge-importing countries is that, in addition to few or no incentives for research, the professors and researchers receive low salaries, salaries that are so paltry that they discourage rather than encourage the professors and researchers to conduct meaningful research.
In most cases, the salaries for professors and researchers in these poor countries are not worth the cheques they are printed on. Governments in these countries, year after year, reduce budgets for state-funded higher education institutions. The result is that the professors and lecturers contend with the rising cost of living and the ever-worsening global economic crunch; this leaves them with no or little time and motivation to concentrate on the production of knowledge.
When this happens, research output in the universities does not grow, and such universities remain at the low end of the log standings of world rankings of universities.
To ameliorate the worsening situation of knowledge-importing countries or third world countries, huge sums of money must be pumped into the coffers of universities to kick-start meaningful research and production of knowledge in these countries.
While some may argue that there is not enough time to cope with the inexorable advancement of the fourth industrial revolution, I strongly feel that the tripartite relationship between university, government and industry should be strengthened in order to inject meaningful funds into the research operations of universities, especially in Africa.
Excellence in research can only be achieved when universities get adequate funding from government and industry. Equally, when there is an enabling environment that attracts the best professors and researchers at a university, that university’s research output increases.
In order to maximise research initiatives, universities in knowledge-importing countries strive to have very good working conditions for their academic staff. The universities must also offer attractive salaries for their academics. In addition to this, there must be incentives that reward excellence in knowledge production.
There must be a distinction between academics who perform the bare minimum that is required of them and those who go an extra mile to produce knowledge through their research activities.
A system that favours and rewards mediocrity kills the spirit of those academics who are leaders in the production of knowledge in their areas of specialisation. There must be a set of performance indicators that is used for the meritorious awards in order to promote excellence in research and knowledge production. A competitive research culture among academics must be cultivated in academics, as it is healthy for the institution; it results in an increased volume of research output and the creation of knowledge.
In conclusion, there is evidence that shows that the under-funding of universities spells disaster for nations. Also, it is true that universities that give financial incentives to their professors and researchers are those that are leading in the production of knowledge.
* Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his own accord. E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
New Era Reporter
2019-03-01 10:12:19 4 months ago