Saturday, 7 June 2014

Private universities beat IITs in number of research papers

CHENNAI: Barring Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and a few IITs, most universities and colleges in the country are partial to teaching.

Now, some self-financing institutions are making an effort to look towards the premier league of research. Abstracting and indexing database Scopus shows that VIT University, for instance, has 495 publications till the end of May, with more publications to its name than IIT-Madras, IIT-Roorkee and IIT-Kanpur.

As in earlier years, IISc tops the list of Indian universities with 765 publications, followed by IIT-Kharagpur, IIT-Bombay and IIT-Delhi. Private universities like Sastra, Thapar, SRM, Amity and Manipal also find place among the top institutions, some with more publications than some IITs and most NITs.

"Encouragement from the management in the form of seed money and stipend for research scholars has boosted the research output rate," said associate dean of research at VIT University S Babu. VIT's management has supported research scholars by instituting research awards up to 20,000, buying lab equipment and offering further funds to expand the scope of research whenever a candidate submits a research paper. Last year, the university's count was 1,538, a 260% increase compared to its research output four years ago.

Scientists appreciate the trend, calling it 'positive'. Kavita Mehra, chief scientist at Delhi-based National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, which undertakes a ranking of Indian universities based on research, said, "Public funded research needs to be supplemented by research through private resources, be it an educational institution or industry. In fact, it started late in India. The only thing is that the quality of research and priority of research needs focus."

Academics also countered the argument that emphasis on research will take away the focus from teaching. "Good teaching is a natural byproduct of good research and the benefit should flow to undergraduate students, who should be actively involved in research," said S Vaidhyasubramaniam, dean of planning and development, Sastra University.

Mehra said the quality of teaching improves when faculty members are engaged in research as they will be abreast of the latest developments and help students understand the relationship between theory and application. "Such faculty will prepare the knowledge force to take up research as a career than just look for lucrative packages. It creates a conducive environment for the future workforce of India," she added.

Private universities have been upping their research output in the hope that it will help them get recognised at the global level and draw foreign students. Most global rankings give importance to research output and paper citations. It also attracts funding in the form of grants. Vaidhyasubramaniam said that it is time funding agencies promote performance-based funding for research. "They should discard the practice of discriminating between institutions based on whether they are public or private," he added.

Private institutions have introduced project-based learning at the undergraduate level.

They have also made research-based learning at the master's level mandatory. VIT has made it mandatory for all MTech and MSc students to publish papers at the end of every semester.

But, private institutions lag behind in the H-index, a parameter to assess performance of researchers based on the number of times a published paper is cited by peers or other researchers. For instance, if VIT University's H-index is 39, it means that 39 of its 4,846 publications have been cited 39 times by peers or research scholars. This is a good indication of the quality of published papers.


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