Research is seen as a primary and vital function of institutions of higher education.
Colleges and universities are expected to conduct research to produce the needed knowledge that is required for the over-all development of human beings. Research and education reinforce each other. In college research supports education and education promotes research. Research makes learning interesting and thought-provoking and learning makes research feasible and possible.
At the end of every academic year almost all senior college students are expected to submit and present a senior paper in partial fulfilment of the requirements for bachelor’s degree. The students of the College of Business and Social Sciences (CBSS) submitted and presented their paper on Thursday, 6th of June 2019. Before the merger of the two colleges, the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) had a long and rich tradition of not only submission but also presentation of undergraduate research papers to the college community and invited guests.
During the day of the presentation fourth year students made the best possible impressions, dressed formally and professionally attracting the community on campus. The whole day the campus turned into an intellectual battle field between the presenters and the audience, including instructors and examiners. The presenters did what they can to defend their findings from the storm of questions, and I found the intellectual fight of students and mentors more interesting than any other stage performance.
Although it is primarily based on the efforts of the students, the success of the students’ research projects depends heavily on the assistance of the instructors. Instructors helped students in many ways including in the selection of the topic, collection of data and writing up the paper. They meet regularly with the students to discuss the development of the research. The students are encouraged to take responsibility for the successful completion of their research. In this way, the student-instructor relationship was enhanced. So, undergraduate research has multiple benefits both for the students and the instructors. It helps students build confidence and have guidance and assistance for future education and career development. As research advisors, instructors sustain intellectual connection with their students in the quest for knowledge. If they both work very seriously on that matter undergraduate students can make significant contribution to become co-authors of articles with their teachers.
For research to have any meaning or effect, it must be communicated to a wider audience, in general, and to the scientific community, in particular. Eritrean college students are producing hundreds of research papers every year. So, practical steps have to be taken to popularize their work. Undergraduate research should be envisioned as publishable in a peer-reviewed journal. Our colleges should creatively find ways to have an annual journal to publish the best papers of the year. Many presentations that I have attended in various departments of the social sciences had intellectual s u b s t a n c e comparable to published articles in well-known journals.
Research results in the generation of new knowledge aimed to advance human understanding of the natural and social science. Undergraduate research should culminate in a comprehensive written report and oral defence. The oral defence session has to be expanded and adopted by all departments. Oral presentation is an extremely useful way of building confidence and experience for students to undertake further research. Undergraduate experience should combine the creation and communication of knowledge. The purpose of the oral defence session is to give the audience a sense of what your work is, to make them want to read your paper and to get feedback on your work. Oral defence has the potential to offer students a sense of empowerment, confidence and intellectual growth.
Undergraduate research and its presentation is one means of enhancing student engagement in their study. Existing literature indicates that students involved with undergraduate research demonstrate a measurable improvement. They develop tolerance for obstacles, increase their ability to analyze data, weigh evidence, understand how knowledge is constructed, improve their communication skills, build confidence, develop their ability to connect theory with practice, and learn to work independently.
The performance of institutions of higher education elsewhere in the world is often measured in terms of their knowledge generation. Eritrean colleges, although they are in the infancy stage and have numerous challenges, are poised to become centers of learning, research and discovery. The number of research papers that were submitted and presented in written and oral form during the day of oral defence of CBSS can shed some light on the actual and potential power of our students and institutions. A total of 43 papers have been written and presented — five in history, nine in geography, four in political science and international relations, nine in sociology and anthropology, five in English literature and eleven in journalism and mass communication.