Evaluating the contempt for academic research in national development

30Dec 2018
Ani Jozen
Dar es Salaam
Guardian On Sunday
Evaluating the contempt for academic research in national development

WAYS are being sought to enhance cooperation, or rather proximity, between academic institutions and ministerial departments and agencies so that academic research uplifts economic growth or national development as such, on the basis of recent remarks at upper government levels.

This concern, while specifically expressed by Agriculture Minister Japhet Hasunga, was also reflected in more auspicious remarks by National Assembly Speaker Job Ndugai, in the presence of President Dr John Magufuli at a state occasion.

He said that if all agro-experts were removed today, harvests would remain the same.

On his part, minister Hasunga declared that low proximity between academic institutions and government departments of agencies is what makes research activities of academic institutions fail to have an impact on national development, unlike what happens in other countries.

He therefore proposed or rather set out a plan to make a follow up on publications by higher learning institutions “so as to build the economy and national development as a whole.”

The issue is whether this kind of follow up makes a difference in what is being raised, whether it enhances interest in those publications, and that interest yields a contribution.

In both these remarks what is noticed is a difference in manner of expression of what comes to nearly the same thing, that academic research is more or less irrelevant for economic growth and development as a whole, which would be surprising if it were true.

The way in which this implicit suggestion is verified is the low level at which publications by the various universities are pointedly or positively used by the various departments and agencies in the government, implying also that this is the sphere that makes the research activity relevant. If that outlook is faulted, research activity and publishing are seen differently.

Disputing these remarks by well placed political leaders is helpful at least for those engaged in academic research, to the extent that they did not intend, in the first place, to write for the government or any of its departmental heads, etc.

The purpose of research is really that it is an end in itself rather than equipment in anyone’s hands, because research makes the one who goes through it a better person, capable of closer appreciation of what is involved in the facet of reality that is covered by that piece of investigation.

It is like listening to a sermon say on Christmas Day, if it helps with ‘production’ or with collective conduct.

Presenting a professorial inaugural lecture on the proximity between the socialist thinking of Dr Julius Nyerere and the Russian Narodniks of the pre-1860 period in that country, sociology professor Sam Maghimbi of the University of Dar es Salaam scorned a question as to what the lecture helps in national development.

His final line ought to have answered that query, ‘veritas libertas,’ which in the Gospel reads, “Seek ye first the truth, and the truth shall make ye free.”

There is nothing as wasteful as to pursue ‘development programs’ that aren’t founded in clear thinking as to ‘what works, what doesn’t and why.’

What the political leaders’ assessments amount to isn’t that academic research doesn’t ‘contribute’ to national development as it is being asserted but rather that it is rather distant to commonplace needs of ministerial departments and agencies, which is fair enough.

Research isn’t a pursuit of a magic wand but bringing into close relationships facets of activity and their motion in time - that is, on the ground locally and in the broader world.

Outside research this kind of reflection is at best surreal, patchy and contentious since no one knows what is happening next door without a survey being conducted for that purpose alone.

When for instance President Magufuli moved with his commission on gold sand exports, the idea was that he was keenly aware of textbook information on the composition of gold bearing rock (as that cuts across chemistry and geology, the former being his proper field).

From that point onwards it was just a matter of some curiosity to see if these parameters were being observed in how the sub-sector was being supervised and worked on an aspect of experience that gold sand is exported as waste, which he knew to be faulty.

Outside being aware of these research parameters, he wouldn’t have been that sure of what he was doing.

The point is that just as in preaching or even singing a song or poem, the whole idea is to bring out the truth as it is seen from the vantage point of research on whatever it is and in relation to whatever aspect of that subject, for research isn’t about everything.

Each reader of a research work is usually someone in a position to appreciate the questions being posed and the work that is being conducted in a scientific way (as this is crucial in qualifying it as research) to solve or set out clearly the terms of what is being looked at.

Reactions from readers are a different matter, but it makes them free, more knowledgeable and competent.

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