Research, innovation neglected: Few patents; no departments for botany, engineering

Two years after anti-plagiarism initiative was planned, software still to be installed to scrutinise research papers

Written by Priyanka Sahoo | Mumbai | Published: June 1, 2017 1:31 am
University of Mumbai, University Chancellor C. Vidyasagar Rao, Scientist R A Mashelkar, Scientist R A Mashelkar, Jawaharlal Nehru University, A laboratory in the nano-technology department of the University of Mumbai. Photo courtesy: MU

ON SHODHGANGA, the University Grants Commission’s open source repository of research work across universities in the country, a search reveals only nine works uploaded for the University of Mumbai, though approximately 300 PhDs are awarded each year by the university. In comparison, Shodhganga lists 507 works from Delhi University and 4,693 from Jawaharlal Nehru University.

According to officials, Mumbai University’s numbers are low on Shodhganga because the varsity is still to upload the theses of its research scholars, over two years since it decided to do so under a two-stage anti-plagiarism policy.

In November 2014, the university had decided to address the problem of plagiarism in research work by installing an anti-plagiarism software. All research work — theses and dissertations — were to be scrutinised by the software following which the works would be uploaded on Shodhganga and made available to the world for reference.

Two years later, neither has the anti-plagiarism software been installed, nor have the works been uploaded. The reason: The university does not have the information of scholars and their works collated in a single repository. The varsity has also defaulted on a UGC guideline issued on March 10 this year to make details of all research scholars available online — this despite repeated reminders from the UGC.

According to a senior university official, a meeting was summoned by Maharashtra Governor and University Chancellor C. Vidyasagar Rao with Vice-Chancellor Sanjay Deshmukh to resolve the issue. While Deshmukh was unavailable for comment, Registrar M A Khan said that the delay had been on account of not having compiled the data. “All details will be uploaded online within two months of the start of the coming academic year,” said Khan.

For now, though it is recognised by the UGC as an institution with potential for excellence in research, the 160-year-old Mumbai University does not have a repository of research conducted by students or faculty members.

Meanwhile, senior faculty members and former administrators of the varsity rue that malpractices in research work continue to plague the university.

According to A D Sawant, former pro-VC of the varsity and a Chemistry scholar, theses and dissertations submitted by scholars and faculty members do not go through proper scrutiny. “Not only are they not checked for plagiarism, PhDs are awarded even without letting scholars defend their theses in the open defence system,” said Sawant. In 2015, Deshmukh had announced that open defence would be conducted for all research scholars.

An open defence or open door thesis interview is when experts or anybody from outside the university can attend the interview and pose questions to the aspirant. The system helps interviewers check the candidates’ proficiency in the subject of research. It was made mandatory for all research graduates of the university in 2005, but is yet to be operationalised.

The UGC, too, recommends open defence to keep a check on malpractices and ensure democracy in research.

Another senior faculty member, who did not wish to be named, told The Indian Express that plagiarism is rampant and the review mechanism slack, allowing leeway for malpractices.

Another challenge for the university, according to Sawant, is that hardly any path-breaking research work is undertaken by researchers or faculty members. “Hardly any patents are awarded to researchers of MU,” says Sawant. Scientist R A Mashelkar agrees. “Imparting education is not the only prerogative of an educational institution. Research and innovation are two pillars that make a university stronger,” he says.

According to the latest data available from the MHRD’s National Institutional Ranking Framework, zero patents were filed in the year 2015. In 2014, the varsity had filed 13 patents and 39 in 2013, none of which were published, granted or licensed. As a result, no income was earned from patents.

In the academic year 2015-16, scholars of Mumbai University only carried out one consultancy project for an external organisation, earning only Rs 2 lakh. Between 2011 and 2016, only 10 start-ups have flourished from the campuses of the university by either students, researchers or faculty.

One of the reasons is that the university doesn’t have departments in natural basic sciences such as botany, zoology or even geography. It also doesn’t have a department in engineering.

“There is a lot of scope for research in these departments. In a state like Maharashtra, there is ample scope for research in water management and conservation but there is no department that could spearhead such research,” says Sawant.

“Faculty members must pro-actively take up research work, not merely to fulfil their promotion criteria but to explore their academic fields,” says Rajan Welukar, who was the vice-chancellor of the university before Deshmukh.

“Too much time and weightage is assigned to colleges and their performance instead of professors. There is no rigorous scrutiny mechanism to gauge the works of the faculty recruited. Colleges employ several unapproved faculty members,” says Sawant, adding that the existing condition of research is a reflection of the vision of the academic leadership of the university.

Improper utilisation of grants and funds received from the UGC and the department of science and technology of the government of India.

While the latest figures were unavailable, a report released by UGC in 2015 showed that between 2012-2015, the varsity had not utilised Rs 13 crore it had received from the apex regulatory body. In 2015-16, the UGC has released Rs 659.53 lakh to MU under its General Plan for state and central universities. The varsity’s centres for African and Eurasian studies also received funds from the UGC.

“Over the past couple of years, the administration is trying to show a surplus budget, creating an impression that the university does not need aid from the government. Moreover, if the funds are left unutilised within the stipulated time frame, the university cannot any more access the funds,” said Sawant.

“The university is losing its academic sanctity as it lacks proper academic leadership. The leaders of universities must be chosen based on their strong academic backgrounds. Unfortunately, presently, the decisions are influenced by political influence,” says Sawant.

Tomorrow: Missing at the university:A vibrant space for student culture, sports, politics

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