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Engaged scholarship needed for Ja's growth and development

Gaunette Sinclair-Maragh

Wednesday, July 30, 2014    

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IS there lack of relevance or is there real contribution to the growth and development of Jamaica by the tertiary institutions?

In general, one can argue from the standpoint that some of the studies conducted by tertiary institutions are of a scholarly background and tend to be in silos. They are based probably on the researchers' personal ego and bias, and, therefore, have no relevance to the real issues facing society. Another possible discourse is that faculty members may be influenced by the expectations of these institutions in terms of the mandate for them to "publish or perish", due to promotion and tenure regulations, rather than being realistic and solution-oriented in their research endeavours. This has consequently impacted the meaningfulness of their research as the focus is not on the actual needs of the society, but on recognition and reward at the workplace.

It can also be argued that there is the issue of mimicry which creates isomorphism in higher education and this stems from the personal ideology of instructors and research advisors, and the impact they have on their students. Scholars/students tend to abide by the expectations of their research/academic supervisors. These stipulations, therefore, create a situation where they are forced to conduct research based on theory and not necessarily on what is happening in the general environment and the wider society, and so this creates a cycle in how research is done.

Yet another contention is that scholars tend to conduct their studies based on existing literature rather than engaging the stakeholders in their particular discipline in a meaningful way to ascertain the real issues and problems in society. The counter-argument is that, even when relevant research is conducted, the stakeholders do not access their findings due to several variables such as the lack of time, little interest, and their lack of involvement in the research idea formulation and process. This portrays the field of academia as a separate entity from the rest of society and widens the gap between theory and practice, making their research contribution highly theoretical. Hence, this leads to the question of the role of scholars/tertiary institutions in solving business and societal problems.

The time has come for the tertiary institutions in Jamaica to move away totally from the enclave research culture which causes them to be disconnected from the Jamaican society and the real issues. Engaged scholarship presents an opportunity to involve all the stakeholders in relevant research so as to significantly contribute to Jamaica's growth and development. The advantage is that the related stakeholders, be it the government, business entities, or community groups can define the problems as faced by them and the researcher, who is more predisposed to the underlying theories and procedures, can fit them with the problem. This synergistic approach is very important as it sets the stage or premise for collaborative research. The researcher can then share the outcome of the research study or project, which can lead to the implementation of the best possible solution for Jamaica's growth and development. Being involved in the research process would make the stakeholders more interested, persuaded and motivated for future collaboration. Thus, engaged scholarship provides a holistic way of conducting research, involving stakeholders and providing benefits to the general society.

The caveat, however, is that one has to be mindful that such scholarly engagement with the society at large can probably lead to biased result and conflict of interest. For example, the researcher may engage the business entities or government in the research process to obtain funding for the research. These donors may want to dictate the specificity of what is to be studied in their own 'self, political or business interest' and so the researcher cannot express the intellectual freedom needed to conduct meaningful research and present the finding, resulting in what is, effectively, academic capitalism. These are simply very important forewarning for researchers considering engaged scholarship.

Gaunette Sinclair-Maragh, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, who specialises in tourism sociology, hospitality management and marketing, international business management, citizenry welfare and socio-economic development issues. Comments: gaunsmar@yahoo.com.

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