4. Research at a modern college of agriculture

Research, by definition, is creative work undertaken in a systematic way to increase the stock of scientific and technological knowledge and to use the stock of knowledge to devise new applications. This is what makes an institution of higher learning a university. It is indispensable if teaching is to remain alive and inspiring. Only the possibility of conducting research will attract high-level professors, and research gives the university international recognition and reputation.

A fundamental question for the modern college of agriculture is: what kind of research should be carried out and who determines the goals of research activities? Internationally there is a tradition of academic freedom which includes the freedom of research. The researcher defines the topics of his research work and tends to resist intervention from superiors or colleagues. He wants to select a topic which satisfies his curiosity and which he believes to be important, scientifically rewarding, and, thus, would promote his careers. Undeniable, most original research results came out of this system, and many urgent problems have been solved because a certain researcher took it up and spent years of efforts finding a solution:

Today, however, certain factors all over the world cause doubt in this system of almost unlimited freedom in research:

  • the spiraling costs of research make a laissez-faire policy towards research question able;
  • today we have in most countries not one or two universities with a limited number of professors, but an expanded system of academic learning with a large scientific staff,
  • in view of the complexity of today's problems the extreme diversity of university research usually has little impact,
  • national development plans bring along a certain order of priority in research topics which may not correspond with individual research interests.

The larger the research funds involved, the larger the manpower engaged in research, and the more urgent the development needs, the more important is a research policy with sound formulation of objectives, means to define priorities and reliable methods of evaluation. The prime consideration of such a research policy is research for the benefit of the public, not for the benefit of the researcher. In a modern college of agriculture, research activities have to be re-oriented to meet the development needs.

This will not take place without causing friction. First, there may be a conflict between research goals, determined by development requirements, and interests in promoting scientific knowledge. Second, both the university and the researcher are involved in international competition for their reputation. If they are interested in gaining international recognition, they should turn to Harvard and Oxford for examples of research programmes and goals. The more they do so, the less they will probably contribute to the development of their country because the relevant issues are different. Universities have to find their way out of the difficulties arising from their two-fold membership. On the one hand, they are part of the national community which support them, on the other hand, they are part of the international scientific community which not only influences intellectual life, but makes it at all possible.

There are three aspects of research at the modern college of agriculture which require some discussion.