WITH a mushroom growth of private universities in Pakistan, notwithstanding the fact that many so-called universities are established in six-room houses in posh neighbourhoods, the standard of research has nosedived and with it that of academic writing.

In recent years, the standard of research in Urdu has suffered a dramatic and visible lapse. To prove the claim, one can cite numerous research papers published in HEC-approved research journals that do not fall in the category of research and are simply pieces of boringly predictable critical views. Some others are hurriedly jotted down, ill-written essays on some vague topic without any analysis or valid conclusions, albeit with a long list of works cited, mostly irrelevant, purporting to be a research paper.

HEC has unwittingly contributed to the destruction of research in Urdu. Academics were lured into getting published just 15 so-called research papers and get promoted to the post of professor, Grade 21. Hence, HEC unknowingly started off a rat-race with a total disregard for standards. The move was intended to enhance the research activities but it has proved to be counterproductive as the quantity of research increased manifold but the quality hit the rock-bottom.

What has accentuated the situation is that HEC now does not fund the research journals published by our universities and many universities, too, already reeling from the effects of cuts in grants, shy away from funding these journals. Instead, HEC asks these journals to charge those researchers a sum of money who want to get their research papers published, which, in some cases, may be as high as Rs 40,000 a paper. So if you have about half-a-million rupees in your bank account, you can easily become a professor, enjoying the perks that come with Grade 21. These research journals are published by universities and are held in awe as they are the supposed gatekeepers of research standards, though some of them are often not published regularly and their new issues take years to print. The question is: what editor can refuse to publish a paper that is sent in with a cheque for Rs 40,000 attached? HEC must start funding the research journals as it did in the past and ask them to follow stringent guidelines before publishing a research paper.

But there are some exceptions, of course, and Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) is one of them. LUMS’ Gurmani Centre for Languages and Literatures (GCLL) publishes an Urdu research journal, named Bunyad, and it has over the years earned the reputation of being a cut above the rest. Now GCLL has established a publication department and has come up with a manual for research students. In fact it is GCLL’s first-ever book.

Titled Ilmi Nasr: Usool-o-Rasmiyaat [Academic Writing: Principles and Methodology] and edited jointly by Nasir Abbas Nayyar and Shaista Hasan, the manual intends to guide research students on how to carry out research and editing. In Urdu, there are some good works on research and editing, which cover some aspects of academic writing, say the editors, but with the passage of time they have become stale as they are not revised and are behind the time. Students of research have to consult several books at the same time and while in English several works guide student on academic writing, Urdu totally lacks in such works. So LUMS has prepared this first-ever Urdu manual of academic writing and it covers every aspect of academic writing, such as, topic of research, synopsis, research methodology, excerpts, plagiarism, abstract writing, punctuation, citations, bibliography, footnotes, proofreading, indexing and editing, add the editors. They hope that the manual would prove to be helpful to the students of BS to PhD classes as well as general writers interested in academic writing.

The inclusion of papers in this manual by some senior scholars and researchers, for instance, Najeeb Jamal, Najeeba Arif, Nasir Abbas Nayyar, Abid Siyal, Fakhira Naureen and some others, with research work under their belt, is indeed a sign that the task was taken seriously since a manual is a book that gives practical instructions on a technical subject. It is, therefore, the experts in their domain that are supposed to write manuals with all their practical experience, acumen and insight. Ideally, it would have been much better if all the papers included in this manual were penned by the seniors who have proved their mettle. Furthermore, more than one paper contributed by the same scholar, and that too by one quite new to the field, is not an enviable choice.

However, an index at the back of the book is quite useful and shows that the editors at least have tried to practise what they preach. The publication of the manual is a welcome move as it fills a gap in the field.

drraufparekh@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2024

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