Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

What is the Prime Role of a University?

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There is an apocryphal story about St Luke, which recounts how the venerable apostle, after he died, was asked to identify himself when he arrived at the gates of heaven.

“My name is Luke” he replied, “and in Antioch where I lived, I was a physician who was very well reputed by my patients. I also used to teach at the renowned Antioch medical school, where I was considered by my pupils and colleagues to be an excellent teacher.”

“Sorry” he was told, “but that does not qualify you to enter heaven because we have no records of those attributes in our books.”

St Luke was taken aback by this response, but after a bit of thought, he ventured “Well….I did once write a book that was published .It was titled the Gospel according to St Luke.”

“Oh!” exclaimed the guardian of the gates of heaven “that is an entirely different matter. You have produced a publication! Please come in – we have a place reserved for you.”

St Luke was surprised – and was heard to mutter to himself as he made his way in “But all I did was write the book. Most of the hard work was done by other people.”

Having had several research papers published in reputed international medical peer-reviewed journals over the years, I am now tempted to reflect on what exactly are the benefits of getting one’s research published.

Why did we undertake the various research projects which resulted in these publications? Would this work have any effect on the way our colleagues will practice in the future – or am I being presumptuous in even speculating that it might?

I can certainly empathise with St Luke. I have realized that the greater powers-that-be do not recognize our worth as doctors by the good we do for our patients, the information and health education we pass on to our communities or even the beneficial influence we have on our students. When it comes to assessing the quality of a medical school, the efficacy of an individual department in that school or even the worth of an individual, what seems to matter is the quantity of research papers produced.

And when it comes to governments allocating higher education funds to universities, and universities dividing these funds up between individual departments, and faculties deciding which teachers of these departments get promotions and salary increases, what seems to matter is not how good the universities and departments and teachers are at Teaching (which should be the prime function of a university), but how many research papers they managed to get published in peer reviewed journals!

I recall reading a thought-provoking editorial in the British Medical Journal some years ago – which stated, inter alia, ‘As the system encourages poor research it is the system thatshould be changed. We need less research, better research, andresearch done for the right reasons. Abandoning using the numberof publications as a measure of ability would be a start’.

Read more at Suite 101:The Prime Role of a University.

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This entry was posted on January 15, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , .
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