5 February, 2023

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Futility Of Academic Business Research In ‘Real’ Business

By Vipula Wanigasekera –

Dr. Vipula Wanigasekera

A frog in the well, might have million things to study inside the well!! That is probably what is mostly happening with business research whether or not published in index journals that are treasured by factions of Academia which the new entrants to research sometimes call ‘Academic Mafia’. 

One Academic Research definition as per ‘Law Insider’ online publication is ‘any academic research, provided that such research (i) is capable of academic publication (ii) does not involve the production or manufacture of products for sale or the performance of consultancy services for a fee’. 

True to its definition, this seems the underlining notion in business research in faculties specially in Sri Lanka where the students get indulged in research work merely as pre requisites of their undergraduate and post graduate degrees. This goes to many studies done by their superiors too.

In contrast for instance, we see full house at conferences where medical research findings are presented for the first time. Naturally the medical practitioners are on the lookout for information to update themselves to practice new knowledge like the current protocol for treatment of dengue. Simply illustrated, a medical professor who conducts a lecture in the morning at the faculty will perform a surgery inside a theatre later in the day. 

Writer doesn’t suggest that the majority of academics in business faculties do not run even a small boutique but the reality appears to be so. The days where a university professor (known to the writer) specialized in cruise ship operation was a chief advisor to one of the 3 biggest cruise liners was cruising half of the year advising them on improving business with sustainability, are not seen anymore. 

This indicates the importance of Non-Empirical Research which focuses on comprehensive reviews on research methodologies while taking into account the time factor where businesses cannot wait to evaluate outcome of the research. Needless to mention that many successful business decisions have been made on gut feeling.  

Sadly, most students who carry out research as conditions for fulfilment of the academic work confess that the true purpose of the study has to be buried to please their supervisors. This will no doubt be at the cost of seeking new avenues for business through creativity and innovations that the circumstances may offer including Covid which may have changed the fate of business sphere for sprouting entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka. 

Non-empirical research is mostly conducted without data hence the controversy. However, if such a research could offer glimpse of a suggestion to grab an opportunity in the market place either reaching a market niche or creating a product that the market didn’t know before, the purpose is served. 

Hasty generalization is common among business research like the assumption ‘Incentives lead to High performance’, or ‘Motivators for more profitability’ etc. The supervisors get cold feet when the students come up with unorthodox proposals which may be worth pursuing. 

Most research papers are missing the points. A paper titled ‘The human desire – main cause of environmental degradation’ made the panel unhappy as the topic appears to be too spiritual!!! Probably the panel would have been looking for factors that cause the environmental damage such as Green Gas, Fuel Emissions, Pollution, Solid Waste, Deforestation etc. and not necessarily the root cause which underpins all these.

Post theories that have been documented in text books are of no use in business development except having to remember the theories for exams or giving citations for assignments. Students should be encouraged to challenge such correlations established through previous studies with real life examples through non-empirical research. 

Most business research findings carry weak analogy like for instance, the correlations between poor incentives and high employee turnover. A simple survey if carried out incognito, would probably reveal that it could well be attitude of the supervisors or poor living conditions in staff quarters.

At the same time, studies carried out on performance of Corporates by under or post graduate students are hardly used by the same company heads for two reasons. First, the research has ‘stated’ limitations for not taking the ‘bull by the horn’ and second, the findings of the research need to be further studied through future research!

Many of the Corporate leaders look for something in the future if not immediate. Yes, there are lessons to be learnt from the past but not to the extent of deploying fully fledged research. This is why the biographies or autobiographies are gathering dust in book shops because no one in today’s context are interested to know ‘What happened’. 

Majority of self-proclaimed research experts manipulate and forcibly divert the studies on the pretext of having to adhere to research norms in a ritualistic practice. As a result, no Bachelors and Masters research in Sri Lanka is futuristically focused, which the corporate world would otherwise be anxiously waiting to grab when the paper is out. 

It is time that each business faculty obtained research needs from the industry which the writer had initiated when joining the Academia, to ensure that the vast scale of business research being carried out by thousands of students and scholars each year is worth the time and money. And whether it is the number or quality that matters before the Business Research permanently gets restricted to isolated academic compartments and research conferences within the walls of Universities and Colleges.

*Dr Wanigasekera is currently an Academic, former Head of Tourism Authority and Convention Bureau as well as the Head of Sri Lankan diplomatic mission in Oslo

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