D. P. Dash

गहना कर्मणो गतिः (gahanā karmaṇo gatiḥ) | କର୍ମର ଗତି ବଡ଼ ଗହନ ଅଟେ | complex are the ways of action (Gītā, chap. 4, ver. 17)

Professor D. P. Dash
research educator, academic editor, slow professor ...
professor.dpdash[at]gmail.com

ORCID | Journal of Research Practice | Research World | SDRC

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Research Education

Published in the inaugural issue of Discover (Oct 2012), the research bulletin from Swinburne Sarawak. A shorter version titled, "Preparing Tomorrow’s Research Workforce" was published in The Borneo Post, 13 Nov 2013.

Considering the changing roles and responsibilities of researchers in society, there is a need to review the mechanisms by which researchers are produced. The knowledge, behaviours, and attributes expected of researchers today reflect the economic and social realities of the twentyfirst century. Universities need to respond to the demands of industry and government by embedding an educational process that is capable of grooming the kinds of knowledge worker and innovation leaders required in the future.

1. Spotlight on Research Education

The term research education refers to a relatively new area of focus in education, in comparison to the more established areas of focus such as mathematics education, nursing education, or science education (Earley, 2007). Still, the need to educate people as researchers is being felt widely both in industry and government. Earlier this year, speaking at the Second Annual Research Workforce Forum, Mr Bill Scales, President of the Business/Higher Education Round Table, a unique Australian initiative to bridge between business and higher education sectors (who also happens to be the Chancellor of Swinburne University of Technology), said:

As President of the Business/Higher Education Round Table, I recognise how very important research and research skills are to Australian business. . . . [p. 3]
The Australian Government’s research workforce projections indicate that demand for research-qualified people is set to grow at a faster rate than overall employment demand. . . . [p. 7]
In a very practical sense, what we are seeing in our better performing organisations is that employees today are also researchers in some form. . . . [p. 10]
Business enterprises in innovative countries seem to be employing high proportions of researchers because of their capacity to solve problems creatively. [p. 18]
(Scales, 2013)

With the tide of global business turning in favour of the emerging markets, industries everywhere have to reinvent their strategies and business models, and develop new and durable sources of competitive advantage. All this requires knowledge work and knowledge workers. These circumstances point to the relevance of research education for industry.

Naturally, governments wish to facilitate the sort of human capital planning and development that would support their economies in the changing global context. Each country seems inclined to support and build a higher-education sector that is capable of producing the skills and orientations required in the new economic environment. Research education has acquired significance here. For example, Malaysia has put in place a well-funded scholarship scheme (MyBrain15) to attract more students into doctoral programs. In fact, the Malaysian Government has nominated the scheme as a “Critical Agenda Project,” to support ambitious targets on PhD completions:

The objective of MyBrain15 is to produce sufficient number of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) holders and its equivalent to lead innovations that will drive the nations’ competitive economy. . . . In achieving its undertaking, the Government is aiming for 60,000 Malaysians to have a PhD qualification or its equivalent by the year 2023 . . . The latest statistics obtained before PSPTN [National Higher Education Strategic Plan] was initiated in 2008 showed that Malaysia had only 9,153 PhD qualified citizens (not including those serving in the private sector). (Ministry of Higher Education, 2012, p. 83)

Similar policy focus on growing the number of qualified researchers can be found in other countries too. Thus, both industry and government seem to recognise the relevance of research education, to develop the specialist research workforce required in the emerging economic scenario in the twentyfirst century.

In the contemporary landscape of research, whether in industry, government, or academia, it is not sufficient for a research student to develop the traditional scientific skills of observation, modelling, prediction, verification, and so forth. Researchers require a wider range of skills and competencies today due to the new ways research is being funded and delivered. Among these are project and team management skills, language skills, business awareness, understanding of the impact of research on environment and society, ability to work in an interdisciplinary environment, and ability develop a collaborative network.

2. Curriculum Framework

A number of global studies conducted in the new millennium appear to converge on the kinds of skills and competencies required of researchers in the emerging research landscape. One such study was conducted jointly by two major consulting companies—APEC (Association Pour l’Emploi des Cadres) and Deloitte Consulting (APEC/Deloitte, 2010). The study covered eight countries, namely Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA. Among other things, the study indicated a set of 12 skills/competencies which are expected by research organisations, both in the private and public sectors, when appointing a young researcher:

According to the APEC/Deloitte study, in addition to these 12 competencies, research organisations expect the following additional eight competencies from experienced researchers: (i) ability to learn and adapt, (ii) ability to work in an interdisciplinary environment, (iii) ability to incorporate existing knowledge, (iv) ability to develop a network, (v) ability to assess, (vi) ability management skills, (vii) ability to manage and steer teams, and (viii) ability to self-assess.

The implication of these findings for designing a curriculum for research education is two-fold: (a) the curriculum should help research students develop the 12 competencies listed in Table 1, and (b) the curriculum should also provide a foundation for the students to develop the additional eight competencies in their future research careers.

Table 1. Competencies Required of Young Researchers

Scientific Competencies
1.        Scientific knowledge
2.        Ability to formulate a research issue
3.        Capacity for analysis and grasp of sophisticated IT tools

Project and Team Management Skills
4.        Ability to work in a team
5.        Communication skills
6.        Language skills
7.        Business culture and management skills
8.        Awareness of the pertinence of the research and its impact on the environment

Personal Aptitudes and Interpersonal Skills
9.        Creativity
10.     Open-minded approach
11.     Motivation/involvement
12.     Adaptability

Source. APEC/Deloitte, 2010, p. 4.

In the recent years, such curriculum frameworks have been introduced in some of the academically more advanced countries, such as the USA and the UK. Some of the European countries (e.g., Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands) have also made considerable progress and are gradually introducing research education curriculums in response to the changing research landscape. A good example is the Researcher Development Framework (RDF), introduced in the UK by Vitae, an organisation championing researcher competencies.

Vitae is a national organisation championing the personal, professional and career development of doctoral researchers and research staff in higher education institutions and research institutes. (“About Vitae,” 2013)

The RDF sets out the expected competencies of researchers at different stages of their development. It identifies the principal domains of competency development relevant for research students. These include the knowledge, intellectual abilities, techniques, and professional standards to do research, as well as the personal qualities, knowledge, and skills to work with others and ensure wider impact of research. Within each of the domains are subdomains and further details, which describe different dimensions of researcher development. The Vitae website provides various useful materials on this framework (“Vitae Researcher Development Framework,” 2013).

The four domains of RDF (listed in Table 2) offer a reasonably comprehensive structure for developing research education in a young university such as Swinburne Sarawak.

Table 2. Domains of Researcher Development

Domain A: Knowledge and intellectual abilities. This domain relates to the knowledge and intellectual abilities needed to be able to carry out excellent research.

Domain B: Personal effectiveness. This domain contains the personal qualities, career, and self-management skills required to take ownership of, and engage in, professional development.

Domain C: Research governance and organisation. This domain relates to the knowledge of the standards, requirements, and professional conduct that are needed for the effective management of research.

Domain D: Engagement, influence, and impact. This domain relates to the knowledge, understanding, and skills needed to engage with, influence, and impact on the academic, social, cultural, economic, and broader contexts.

Source. “Vitae Researcher Development Framework,” 2013.

Applying the Framework in the Asian Context. While translating educational approaches from one context to another, especially from a Western context to a non-Western one, care needs to be taken to adapt the approach to the ground realities obtained in the target context (Crossley, 2012; for a report on a recent seminar by Crossley on this theme, see Dash, 2013a).

Experiences of designing and leading research education in Asian countries indicate that specific conditions need to be created to bring forth a suitable “developmental niche” for helping research students acquire research skills and develop a researcher identity (Dash, 2013b). Foremost among these conditions is an appropriate social infrastructure, which is likely to have a digital (Web-based) dimension, linking students with research thinkers, practitioners, and educators around the world.

3. Swinburne Sarawak Initiatives

Intent upon building a profile of research excellence, Swinburne Sarawak has nominated postgraduate research as a priority area, allocating funds to build up a vibrant community of research students. Besides scholarships, fee waivers, and various other support schemes, funds have been allocated to launch a well-designed research education program.

Research Education Program. This program is not conceived in the narrow sense of “research training,” which runs the risk of translating into a limited focus on building technical skills alone. The Swinburne Sarawak research education program is more aligned with the broader idea of creating a “developmental niche” suitable for researcher development. While this must be long-term work, certain elements are beginning to crystallise in this direction, as described below.

Borneo Research Education Conference. Swinburne Sarawak has joined hands with industry, government, and academic partners to launch a collaborative conference series on research education. The first edition of this series was held at Swinburne Sarawak, during August 2013, being co-organised by Swinburne Sarawak, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM, Sarawak Campus), and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS). The conference theme was “Developing as a Researcher Through the Culture of Sharing.” The objective of this conference series is to enhance research education and develop a vibrant context for research and innovation in the Asian context. The outcome of the first edition (BREC 2013) has been quite encouraging, with significant interest shown by universities, research students, supervisors, as well as industry and government, to develop this further to be a leading conference on research education in this region.

Journal of Research Practice. Swinburne Sarawak is the current institutional host for this peer-reviewed journal, published online by Athabasca University Press, Canada. The journal aims to develop our understanding of research as a type of practice, with a view to enhancing and extending the practice of research in various domains. Articles published in this journal explore why and how different activities, criteria, methods, and languages become part of research practice in any domain. The journal triggers interdisciplinary dialogue, facilitates research education, and promotes innovations in different fields. Through the journal, now Swinburne Sarawak has access to a global network of research-oriented individuals and institutions that have a mutual interest in research education.

Swinburne is a successful Australian example of how young universities can acquire a strong research profile. Replicating the same success at Swinburne Sarawak, a branch campus in Malaysia, involves different challenges and, arguably, requires different strategies. Investing intelligently in research education appears to be a promising avenue to explore and an exciting one too.

References

About Vitae. (2013). Careers Research and Advisory Centre, UK. Retrieved October 12, 2013, from http://www.vitae.ac.uk/researchers/1274/About-Vitae.html
APEC/Deloitte. (2010). Skills and competencies needed in the research field: Objectives 2020--Summary [Summary Report]. Paris, France: L’Association Pour l'Emploi des Cadres and Deloitte Consulting, November 2010, 8 pp. Retrieved October 11, 2013, from http://recruteurs.apec.fr/Recrutement/content/download/85877/500667/version/3/file/Synth%C3%A8se+Apec+et+Deloitte+9nov2010.pdf
Crossley, M. (2012). Comparative education and research capacity building: Reflections on international transfer and the significance of context. Journal of International and Comparative Education1(1), 4-12. Retrieved from http://crice.um.edu.my/downloads/crossley.pdf
Dash, D. P. (2013a). Importance of interpretive research in comparative education [Report on seminar led by M. Crossley]. Research World, 10, Article S10.2. Retrieved October 12, 2013, from http://www1.ximb.ac.in/RW.nsf/pages/S10.2
Dash, D. P. (2013b, September). Developmental niche for Asian research students. Paper presented at the 2nd Supervision Conference, 12-13 September, Melbourne, Australia.
Earley, M. A. (2007). Lessons learned from students’ research experiences.Journal of Research Practice, 3(1), Article E1. Retrieved from http://jrp.icaap.org/index.php/jrp/article/view/93/75
Ministry of Higher Education. (2012). National higher education action plan, Phase 2 (2011-2015). Malaysia: Author. Retrieved October 11, 2013, from http://www.mohe.gov.my/transformasi/fasa2/psptn2-eng.pdf
Scales, B. (2013, April). Engaging with employer groups and industry in order to map priority research skills within individual disciplines and industry sectors. Keynote address at the 2nd Annual Research Workforce Forum. Retrieved October 11, 2013, from http://www.bhert.com/_literature_145531/Keynote_address_by_Bill_Scales_AO_to_the_Research_Workforce_Forum_April_2013
Vitae Researcher Development Framework. (2013). Careers Research and Advisory Centre, UK. Retrieved October 12, 2013, from http://www.vitae.ac.uk/researchers/428241/Researcher-Development-Framework.html

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