Research and researchers in Bhutan

Published: Thursday 26th October 2023
Category: Blog

Mr. Sonam Wangdi is a researcher and serves as the Chief Librarian at the Centre for Bhutan and Gross National Happiness (GNH) Studies. With a deep commitment to advancing knowledge, Mr. Wangdi is a big advocate for the work Research4Life does. He is also an expert on the history of research in Bhutan. His research contributions include, “Bibliometric analysis of research publications on Bhutan, 1978-2021”, where he has assessed the overall research landscape in the country. We were thrilled that he was able to take the time to chat with us, to share his knowledge and experience as a researcher and librarian.

Because we have a Country Connector in Bhutan, we thought our readers might be interested in hearing more about research and researchers in this country. It is worth noting that prior to 1907, monasteries were the only learning centers in the country. The education landscape transformed in 1966 when Bhutan established its first university, Sherubtse college. Currently Bhutan has over 600 schools, ten colleges under the Royal University of Bhutan and two affiliated private colleges. The state provides free education to all children and also offers various scholarships to pursue higher education from overseas countries.

Evolution of Research in Bhutan

Research has evolved a great deal since the first ever journal Bhutan Journal of Animal Husbandry, was published in 1978. Today, Bhutan holds about sixteen active journals managed by different government-based institutes and centers, and one journal which is operated by a non-governmental organization.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the experience of being a researcher in Bhutan? 

Sonam Wangdi: “To be a researcher in Bhutan is to have a distinctive and enriching experience due to the country’s unique cultural, natural environmental, and socio-political context. The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is known for its rich cultural heritage, which is deeply rooted in Buddhism. As a researcher, I have the opportunity to immerse myself in this vibrant culture, participating in festivals, visiting monasteries, and engaging with local communities.”

“Bhutan has been recognized as a biodiversity hotspot and we consistently claim it as a carbon negative country. This has given me the opportunity to explore various fields like environmental conservation, ecology, and climate change.

“Lastly, Bhutan famously prioritizes Gross National Happiness over Gross Domestic Product, emphasizing holistic well-being, cultural preservation, environmental sustainability, and spiritual development. This philosophy provides yet another important academic research arena for us to embark on.”

Utilizing Research4Life

Do you use research provided by Research4Life?

Sonam Wangdi: “Yes, we rely heavily on open-access journals and Research4Life databases. Research4Life has proven to be an invaluable resource for accessing high-quality scholarly literature, benefiting not only researchers but also students, faculty, and policy-makers alike.”

 “This access is crucial, because apart from a few commercial databases like EBSCO, JSTOR, and Web of Science, which are subscribed to by the Royal University of Bhutan, we do not have access to other scholarly journals.”

“In my role at the Centre for Bhutan and GNH Studies, I not only conduct training sessions to instruct my colleague researchers on how to effectively navigate and utilize the Research4Life databases but also promote with other researchers across the nation. Personally, I make it a practice to access and download at least 1-2 relevant articles daily from Research4Life.”

“I firmly believe that more publishers should extend their support and provide access to their publications through Research4Life, as it holds tremendous potential in facilitating access to quality information for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) like Bhutan. This, in turn, will significantly contribute to the advancement of societies worldwide, fostering balanced development irrespective of a country’s size, wealth, and power. Access to knowledge and information is a powerful weapon to fight poverty and promote sustainable development for global citizens particularly for LMICs.”

The Future of Research in Bhutan

We are so happy that R4L has been able to contribute to the advancement of research for you and your colleagues in Bhutan. Thank you also, for all of the work you are doing to help spread the word about R4L! Can you tell our readers what you think the future holds for research and researchers in Bhutan?

Sonam Wangdi: “Despite all these new fields of opportunities for researchers, we still face many challenges as researchers. Funding for research is limited, and researchers often seek external grants or collaborate with international partners to conduct research.”

“Bhutan is a developing country, and the government prioritizes budgets to health, education and other developmental activities; thus, we do not have adequate funding to procure commercial based scholarly literatures (For more details, please refer to my publication attached. I have also argued Why Bhutan should use and promote Research4life in my publication).”

Bhutan does not have proper records of information either raw research data or administrative data which can be used for research purposes. Different agencies and institutions conduct research and own their data, and do not have a central communal data repository public as well as for the future use. And accessing data from another agency is a hurdle, as we do not have a clear research data ownership policy in the country.”

“Lastly, Dzongkha is the official language, but English is widely used in academic and professional settings. Researchers need to be proficient in English, as we depend on our research fundings from developed western countries, and collaborate with international partners and also need English for peer-review publication in international journals.”

“Bhutan is increasingly recognizing the importance of areas like technology, renewable energy, healthcare and human flourishing. These sectors are expected to see growth in research activities in the coming years.”

“Presently, Bhutan is in the midst of a radical transformation, encompassing changes in the civil service structure to the formulation of a new National Tourism Policy. In line with these developments, the Royal Government of Bhutan has undertaken a significant initiative to revamp the research sector. This endeavor involved the recruitment of 108 researchers from diverse agencies, departments, and ministries, each possessing a range of multidisciplinary expertise. Among them is myself, even though I am a librarian by profession.”