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Year : 2017  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 399-400  

Medical research in India: Spirit is unwilling and the flesh is weak

Department of Community Medicine, Dr. DY Patil Medical College, Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. DY Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication14-Nov-2017

Correspondence Address:
Amitav Banerjee
Department of Community Medicine, Dr. DY Patil Medical College, Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. DY Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


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How to cite this article:
Banerjee A. Medical research in India: Spirit is unwilling and the flesh is weak. Med J DY Patil Univ 2017;10:399-400

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Banerjee A. Medical research in India: Spirit is unwilling and the flesh is weak. Med J DY Patil Univ [serial online] 2017 [cited 2022 Oct 3];10:399-400. Available from:

Few institutions from India make it to the global rankings in spite of the fact that we have the largest number of universities in the world. The emphasis is on quantity not quality. Those who seek admission are usually interested in acquiring degrees rather than mastering the chosen discipline. It follows therefore that the main activity in these universities is teaching while research takes a backseat.

Everyone is born with the qualities required of a researcher, i.e., the curiosity to explore the world and ask questions. However, the outmoded education system in our country with emphasis on rote learning at the cost of critical thinking soon kills this spirit of inquiry and research. In Western universities, students are expected to challenge their professors and to enter into debates with them.[1] This practice stimulates the spirit for research. On the other hand, in Indian universities, the teacher aptly called the “guide” is supposedly an expert on all matters and the student dare not challenge the mentor. This top-down approach in academics does not promote creative thinking and kills the spirit for research.

What about the flesh? Besides the spirit for research, the flesh is provided by an enabling environment, resources, and funds for good research. Unfortunately, these are lacking in Indian universities. Renowned scientist Jayant Narlikar says, “…we hardly find academicians … who fight for knowledge without expecting any returns, who appreciate excellence …Not a single university in the country is free of politics. Beyond universities, the several national research institutes in the country are plagued by bureaucracy, red tape, complacent attitude and lethargy. It is natural that even students take inspiration from these teachers and follow the same lessons.”[2]

This dismal academic environment does not attract the best minds. It is difficult to set up research units which require the kind of funds and resources Indian institutions cannot dream of.[3] Western educational institutions have the autonomy to raise funds beyond what the state allocates them. They have the option of raising funds from agencies which sponsor research, from international students and their alumni. Researchers get tenure based on their ability to engage with the recognized systems and attract research grants. Best faculty is recruited from worldwide based on merit. On the other hand, Indian universities cannot control who works for them as faculty and what sort of students they take in. Indian universities do not have the freedom to manage their own research finances nor can they raise money independently. Their alumni prefer to donate money to Western universities as donating to Indian universities involves red tape as easy mechanisms to accept such donation does not exist.[3]

The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi is the premier medical institution in the country and can serve as a benchmark for other medical colleges in India. Other colleges are way down particularly in research activities. Alamdari et al.[4] explored the barriers to research among faculty at AIIMS, New Delhi and compared them with University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) New Delhi, another premier medical institution in the capital. The common barriers noted in both these institutions were – shortage of time, busy clinical and laboratory work, shortage of equipment, lack of familiarity with research and statistical methods, limited training and experience in data analysis, poor internal and external financial support, limited access to workshops on writing research grant applications, teaching responsibilities, and difficulty in maintaining equipment. UCMS had 6.6 times more barriers to health research than those at AIIMS.

If this is the state of affairs in two institutions in the capital, one can imagine the state of medical research in other medical colleges in the country. Time, resources, and expertise are much less in other medical colleges both government and private. Besides, medical teachers are overworked due to clinical duties and teaching commitments leaving hardly any time for research. A recent report states that 57% of the 579 medical colleges in India did not publish any research in the past 10 years.[5] States with the most private medical colleges fared the worst.

Recently, the Medical Council of India has included research publications in their assessment schedule. Without first removing the barriers to research that plague most medical colleges this short-sighted approach may result in publication of a large number of poor quality papers in predatory journals.[6] This may meet the minimum criteria for promotion and tenure of medical faculty. However, this is putting the cart before the horse. This will not improve the ranking of Indian academic institutions at the global level.

There is need to strengthen research capacity in developing countries to redress the “10/90” gap – that only 10% of all global health research funding is being allocated to 90% of the world's burden of preventable mortality.[7] Despite enormous disease burden in developing countries, research is often viewed as an expenditure rather than an investment. Whatever research funding is available is expended mainly toward training, salaries, and infrastructure. In such a scenario research is mainly driven by external donors.[7] Public-private partnership are becoming more frequent, mostly between the pharmaceutical industry, and related research institutes in India – this should be encouraged to develop drugs for neglected disease, not only generic drugs.[7] Concerns regarding conflicts of interest in such partnerships should be adequately addressed.

To promote good research faculty should be granted academic liberty, professional incentives, adequate funding, and well-planned career pathways. Well-trained staff with expertise in statistical, analytic, and managerial skills with the ability to formulate research proposals and oversee complex research projects is also an essential requirement to promote an enabling environment for good research.

  References Top

Vlassoff C. Preface. Gender Equality and Inequality in Rural India. New York: Palgrave Macmillan; 2007. p. xix.  Back to cited text no. 1
Times News Network. Red Tape Stumbling Block for Research, Says Narlikar. Times of India, Pune; Saturday, 01 July, 2017. p. 9. Available from: [Last accessed on 2017 Jul 05].  Back to cited text no. 2
Mahawar KK. The public sector. In: The Ethical Doctor. Noida: Harper Collins Publishers India; 2016. p. 183-200.  Back to cited text no. 3
Alamdari A, Venkatesh S, Roozbehi A, Kannan A. Health research barriers in the faculties of two medical institutions in India. J Multidiscip Healthc 2012;5:187-94.  Back to cited text no. 4
Bagcchi S. Nearly six in 10 medical colleges in India did not publish any research in past 10 years. BMJ 2016;353:i2352.  Back to cited text no. 5
Seethapathy GS, Santhosh Kumar JU, Hareesha AS. India's scientific publications in predatory journals: Need for regulating quality of Indian science and education. Curr Sci 2016;111:1759-64.  Back to cited text no. 6
Sadana R, D'Souza C, Hyder AA, Chowdhury AM. Importance of health research in South Asia. BMJ 2004;328:826-30.  Back to cited text no. 7


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