‘It is an uphill task to successfully complete a research project using such a small fund, but we still have to’
The recent under-funding of university research is producing sub-standard results and will negatively impact the government’s visions for 2021, 2030 and 2041, leading university figures and experts have said.
They were reacting to the University Grants Commission (UGC) annual report of 2016, which painted a depressing picture of the research conditions across the country’s public and private universities.
“The sanctioned funds are very little in proportion to the demand,” a former UGC chairman, preferring anonymity, said.
UGC sources said the university regulatory body allocated only Tk6 crore to research activities in the 2015-16 fiscal year (FY). This was raised by 50% (Tk3) in the following fiscal before the UGC doubled the figure to Tk12 crore for the current fiscal year.
In contrast, the government allocation of Tk3 crore for university research purposes in FY 2015-16 saw only a Tk50,000 increase in the following fiscal and a modest rise this year to Tk4.5 crore.
“Though the grants for research saw a rise compared to the past, they are still insufficient,” The ex-chairman said. “While allocating funds, the UCG in most cases prioritises some favourable candidates among a good number of teachers.”
The ex-chairman said there had also been many cases in which some universities do not even properly utilise the funds granted by the UGC, raising eyebrows over the quality of their research work.
The UGC report revealed that from the 991 research projects funded by its academic grants under the science and vocational, and arts and social science categories in 2016, only 125 were completed while 411 were cancelled.
Under the arts and social science category, a mere 29 projects were completed successfully, whereas the figure for the science and vocational category stood at 96.
Of the remaining projects across both categories, 220 are ongoing and 235 are being processed.
The report additionally revealed that Tk3,333,420 was granted for the 29 projects completed under the arts and social science category at an average of a Tk115,000 for each. A total of Tk8,895,353 was allocated to the projects in the science and vocational category.
Dhaka University successfully completed 36 projects – over a quarter of the total. The next most successful university was Bangladesh Agriculture University, with 21 projects completed under the science and vocational category.
Associate Professor Dr Md Maniruzzaman of Jagannath University’s geography and environment department said JU was not receiving even half the amount needed to complete a research project by maintaining proper standards.
“Even many teachers do not show interest in research due to the inadequate grants,” he said.
Maniruzzaman also criticized the time-consuming process for receiving the grants, saying it takes up to two years to collect the allocated money.
“Other than the fund crunch issue, it creates frustration when an applicant is forced to spend so much time to receive his or her grant for research, causing the candidate to lose interest in study,” he claimed.
Dhaka University assistant professor of zoology, Dr Sharmin Musa, said funding was the main hurdle he faced while doing research last year.
“It is an uphill task to successfully complete a research project using such a small fund, but we still have to,” she said. “Even the little amount of chemical reagents I had used in my research was worth Tk 1 lakh.”
The current UGC Chairman, Professor Abdul Mannan, acknowledged the funding shortfall in his comments to the Bangla Tribune.
“Despite the allocation being increased, the amount is still not enough. So, it needs to enlarge the fund size,” he said.
In its 2016 report, the UGC suggested the government establish a world-class research university to create a skilled science and technology faculty in the country.
The university regulatory body also said research should be conducted centrally at a purpose-built laboratory for the country’s university teachers, as there is a shortage of necessary equipment and preserving it is expensive.
“Considering the situation, I feel the necessity of a central research laboratory for university teachers as it will help them become more skillful,” said Professor Abdul Mannan, who attested to the current inadequacy of necessary equipment and their costly preservation process.
“We have already applied to the government for establishing a central lab.”