Doctoral level research and training capacity in the social determinants of health at universities and higher education institutions in India, China, Oman and Vietnam: a survey of needs
Ali F, Shet A, Yan W, Al-Maniri A, Atkins and Lucas H (2017) Doctoral level research and training capacity in the social determinants of health at universities and higher education institutions in India, China, Oman and Vietnam: a survey of needs, Health Research Policy and Systems, 15:76, DOI: 10.1186/s12961-017-0225-5
Background: Research capacity is scarce in low- and middle-income country (LMIC) settings. Social determinants of health research (SDH) is an area in which research capacity is lacking, particularly in Asian countries. SDH research can support health decision-makers, inform policy and thereby improve the overall health and wellbeing of the population. In order to continue building this capacity, we need to know to what extent training exists and how challenges could be addressed from the perspective of students and staff. This paper aims to describe the challenges involved in training scholars to undertake research on the SDH in four Asian countries – China, India, Oman and Vietnam.
Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with research scholars, research supervisors and principal investigators (n = 13) at ARCADE partner institutions, which included eight universities and research institutes. In addition, structured questionnaires (n = 70) were used to collect quantitative data relating to the courses available, teaching and supervisory capacity, and related issues for students being trained in research on SDH. Simple descriptive statistics were calculated from the quantitative data and thematic analysis applied to the qualitative data.
Results: We identified a general lack of training courses focusing on SDH. Added to this, PhD students studying related areas reported inadequate supervision, with limited time allocated to meetings and poor interpersonal communication. Supervisors cited interpersonal communication problems and student lack of skills to perform high quality research as challenges to research training. Further challenges reported included a lack of research funding to include SDH-related topics. Finally, it was suggested that there was a need for institutions to define clear and appropriate standards regarding admission and supervision of students to higher education programs awarding doctoral degrees.
Conclusions: There are gaps in training for research on the SDH at the surveyed universities and research institutes, which are likely to also be present in other Asian countries and their higher education institutions. Some of the barriers to high quality research and research training can be addressed by improved training for supervisors, clearly defined standards of supervision, finances for student stipends, and increased use of information and communication technology to increase access to teaching materials. Increased opportunities for online learning could be provided.