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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Too much money to fund useless research

A professor calls for academic papers that directly benefit society.
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PETALING JAYA: A university professor has criticised current research efforts as being “totally detached from the needs of the society”.
Speaking to FMT, Tajuddin Rasdi of UCSI University said a lot of the research papers that had been produced gave no benefit to society and those that had the potential to do so were not followed through.
He said this was a waste of public funds.
“Grants should be given only to professors whose research efforts are connected to the needs of the public, like health, safety, social harmony and crime,” he said.
“Another problem is so much money is spent on research and grants, but no one really knows what happens to these research works.”
He gave the example of a researcher who was given a grant 20 years ago to study solar energy.
“What happened to that research? No one knows how it has benefited the people. If the cost was high, why didn’t the professor do research on cheaper materials for solar panels? We could be benefiting now if the research was done well.”
Tajuddin recalled a time when he was on the jury for research on social work. He said he was shocked that none of the 10 professors involved could answer questions on the reasons for doing the research.
“They just couldn’t see the bigger picture of how it could contribute to society. It just shows that the academicians failed to envision life in the future.
“Our research work is mostly trying to plug holes on whatever issues. It has become more like academic tourism, with paper after paper being produced that has no impact on the public.”
He gave the following examples of areas that need to be studied:
Air pollution: “We blame Indonesia for the seasonal haze, but I have not come across research work on how pollutants from cars affect urban areas.”
Dengue: There has been no good research directed at the genetic engineering of mosquitoes and neither has there been a serious study on the problems faced by municipalities in cleaning dengue-prone areas.
Drug abuse: Not many people are doing research on the methods used to buy and sell drugs.
Crime and public safety: “There should be research on building better and more secure homes to prevent break-ins. Academics should also do research on children’s safety as the number of children being knocked down by cars or falling from buildings is increasing. If proper research is done, builders could build better homes.”
Social harmony: “I have not seen any research on social harmony between non-Malays and Malays. At the moment, the comments we hear are just assumptions.”
Tajuddin proposed the establishment of a multi-disciplinary think tank in every university to look at research grants before they are approved. He said these think tanks should have, on their panels, NGO representatives and members of the legislative houses.
He also said the Higher Education Ministry should make it mandatory for professors to write books on their research efforts and to produce YouTube videos that explain these works to laymen.
He said professors getting research grants of RM1 million and above should hold public forums on their works.
He proposed that the Higher Education Ministry tell public universities to work with secondary school pupils to expose them to research work and to excite among them an interest in it.

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