Academic Continuity - Research

Research is one of the key activities of HEIs along with teaching and learning, and community engagement. Teaching, research, and administrative tasks form the core of faculty’s life within the institution. During the COVID-19 crisis, research work has been challenged due to the following constraints:

  • Constraint 1 – Research requiring access to the field (in case of Social Sciences) or laboratories and workshops (in Sciences) has faced severe
  • Constraint 2 – Those doing research using secondary data, especially those dependent upon large datasets have been impacted either by severed access to databases where access is limited to ‘campus only’ or on library terminals, or due to lack of computing power on personal laptops.
  • Constraint 3 – For many, homes may not provide a conducive environment to do focused reading and writing thus impeding research work.

Beyond the challenges, the current pandemic has also presented a new opportunity to conduct novel research on the impact of COVID-19 on various facets of life for researchers from diverse fields, and given institutions the opportunity to reinvent their research to build innovations which will not only support the world in getting through these times, but also allow for a more productive time post COVID-19. This includes medical, operations, policy reforms, and economic research which has allowed us to think out of the box to reinvent the way in which the world operates. Much of this research is ongoing or even published.

ONGOING AND NEW PROJECTS

Several institutions have placed a moratorium on funding for research projects. While the planned research projects are definitely impacted by such decisions, the ongoing projects may also face disruption due to reduced funding or a complete halt. In addition, 3-4 months have already been unproductive from research projects perspective if field or lab work was not yet finished, and this situation will continue since the disruption may go on with no certainty on timelines. Consequently, the faculty may find it difficult to meet project deadlines. The institutions and funding agencies (both public and private) need to identify a way forward for ongoing projects and redraft the timelines and expected outcomes after consultation with concerned faculty members.

Therefore, it is recommended that

  • Institutions identify their ongoing research projects and
  • Work with their partners to redefine the
  • Identify additional resources that can be organised remotely to enable progress in the research-work.
  • Create a central documentation of the above mentioned activities to track it on an ongoing basis.

Beyond the challenges, the current pandemic has also presented a new opportunity to conduct novel research on the impact of COVID-19.


INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARD (IRB)

Getting clearance for any project involving human participants is mandatory now and several institutions have already created IRB (also called Research Ethics Review Board-RERB) to manage all such research applications. Usually, IRBs meet at regular frequency, but the research landscape is evolving fast in the present situation. COVID-19 crisis has presented several research opportunities that may be available for a limited time. Consequently, IRBs need to move beyond routine meetings to ensure that all research proposals are scrutinised for ethical issues promptly and feedback gets communicated without any time lags. Once the IRB is satisfied with the safeguards put by researchers to protect any harm to research participants, the formal decision should be conveyed without any delay. Expeditious action on the part of IRBs will ensure that faculty members do not lose good research opportunities. IRB meetings can be conducted remotely to ensure compliance with timelines.

The institutions usually include ‘research output’ in the form of journal article or book/book chapter publications as a key metric in annual review. Due to factors cited above, several faculty members may find it difficult to meet the goals. Another factor that might delay research output could be non-availability of peer reviewers or delay from assigned reviewers owing to the impact of the pandemic in their countries which could result in delayed decisions on already submitted manuscripts. Given the uncertainty regarding the end of the current crisis and due to factors beyond control of individual faculty members, research output may suffer. Consequently, management needs to make decisions about possible changes in the research output parameters for the next one year. Necessary flexibility should be taken into consideration and goals should be revised for the period of the pandemic.

Expeditious action on the part of IRBs will ensure that faculty members do not lose good research opportunities.