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Nadia Singh is originally from India. She joined the Oxford Brookes Business School in 2014. The title of her thesis is 'Political Economy of bioenergy in developing economies: A case study of bioenergy projects in Punjab, India.'
I first heard about Oxford Brookes, when I met Professor Pritam Singh in New Delhi. He was on a lecturing tour to India. At that time I was an MPhil student in Delhi. I was greatly impressed by his radical perspective on ecology as well as his research on the federal structure of Punjab, India. I searched the university’s website and was highly impressed by the business school’s development and environmental cluster. I talked to Professor Singh about the possibility of applying for a PhD Degree at the Business school and he encouraged me to apply.
I was highly impressed by the Business School’s research cluster on Environmental and Development Economics, headed by Professor Pritam Singh. The research projects in this cluster seemed really interesting and out of box. I was also very excited about the opportunity of working with Professor Pritam Singh, who is a celebrated academic in India. I had read his book Federalism, Nationalism and Development: India and the Punjab Economy, which is a seminal work on federal modes of governance and the development process. The second factor, which attracted me to Oxford Brookes, was the Business School studentship. The studentship gives generous funding to students and covers for the university fees and living expenses.
Prior to joining PhD at Oxford Brookes, I worked as a Research Associate at the Institute of Development and Communication, India where in I was a part of an extensive cross-country study to examine migration of health care professionals from across seven developing countries to Canada. I have done BA (Hons) and MA in Economics in India. I also finished an MPhil degree in development Economics in India. I produced a dissertation on the evaluation of food safety nets in the Indian subcontinent.
I found it very easy to settle in the research environment at Brookes. I got extensive support from the supervisory team as well as the administration when I first came here from India. The networking and the induction events, as well as the library guide tours at the university were very useful in helping me to get an idea of the requirements of the PhD programme. I find that the PhD programme at the business school is very well structured and all the steps involved in finishing the degree from registration and ethics to transfer and the final submission are systematically outlined and communicated to the students. The university offers excellent resources for students and a number of opportunities to present our research at seminars as well as university level conferences in a supportive environment.
My research project looks at the political economy of bioenergy in developing countries through the case study approach. In the last few years, the global economy has been facing a multi-pronged crisis in the energy sector in the form of “peak” oil crisis and declining oil reserves, high ecological damage associated with extensive use of fossil fuels as well as widespread energy poverty and lack of energy access across many developing countries of Asia and Africa. These concerns have led to a global shift towards development of alternative bioenergy sources. Many scholars believe that bioenergy has the potential to replace fossil fuels on a commercial basis due to its many desirable properties. However in recent years some adverse impacts of commercial production of biofuels have come to the forefront. These include limited sustainability and low energy returns, direct and indirect land use change and competition with food crops leading to food insecurity and triggering food riots across many developing countries. There is little empirical evidence on how far bioenergy policies will provide a sustainable solution to energy challenges in developing countries. There is a strong need for research that explores this. This study intends to fulfil this gap in literature by exploring the opportunities and limitations of bioenergy initiatives, as a sustainable energy initiative in a practical setting. In this study I have developed a alternative conceptual framework rooted in the eco-socialist paradigm and guided by international sustainability assessment frameworks to evaluate the sustainability of bioenergy imperatives across developing countries. Eco-socialism advocates that ecological reforms should not be implemented as an isolated project; rather green reforms should be formulated by addressing key questions of equality, social justice and equitable access to natural resources. Eco-socialists subscribe to the “strong sustainability” paradigm where in nature is protected based on the recognition of the dialectical link between nature and humans. Green policies should be implemented by recognising the socio-economic impacts of these imperatives as well as recognition of the concerns of the various local stakeholders involved in these imperatives. This is in contrast to the “weak sustainability” paradigm, currently in place, where in green reforms are being implemented merely to keep the growth process intact. The only value of the natural environment is its use as an input in the production process.
The present study will comprise of an in-depth exploration of bioenergy projects in Punjab in India. This region has been chosen because it is being promoted for a leading role in the bioenergy sector in India and is being touted as a “green power” economy by the state and the national governments. A number of bioenergy initiatives have been promoted in the state in recent years. However there has been little research on the sustainability of these initiatives and there impact on the lives of the people involved.
This project is based on participatory field based research in Punjab using a mixed methods case study. The main quantitative research instruments employed in the study were analysis of official government data related to bioenergy, while the qualitative instruments consisted of analysis of key policy documents related to the bioenergy sector in the state, semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in the bioenergy sector. These interviews were centred on the interviewee’s perception of the achievements and challenges of bioenergy policies, being pursued by the state government and the future direction of these policies. In order to get the perspectives of local rural residents as users of bioenergy-three focus group meetings were conducted with beneficiaries of bioenergy programmes of the government in three different geographical regions of the state.
The present research will provide a people centric participatory research framework to study bioenergy initiatives in regions of the developing world. By highlighting the achievement as well as inadequacies of the present bioenergy initiatives, we will be able to provide a direction for future research to make bioenergy a sustainable energy alternative among people, considering the needs and the perspectives of the various stakeholders, as well as the local populations involved in this process.
I enjoy being a research student because it offers one the opportunity of exploring and discovering new knowledge and also contributing to an area that needs academic input. The most insightful part of my research has been going to the field, interacting with people and observing their life. I had been involved in quantitative research, prior to my PhD. But my current research involves extensive qualitative analysis. It was an enlightening experience, which has made me appreciate the importance of qualitative research, especially in the social science. I have come to realise that interacting with participants, observing their lives and hearing their stories opens one’s eyes and gives one a new perspective on social realities. This helps to enrich the research and make it more insightful and meaningful.
One challenging aspect of research is that it is a long process. One has to constantly maintain discipline and constantly motivate myself. It has not been very hard for me so far. But I do take short breaks in between to rejuvenate myself. Also, I involve my friends and family in my research journey. It helps me to get an outsider’s perspective on my research and often gives me new ideas and research leads, which I had not thought to uncover before.
I feel that the research training at Oxford Brookes is very competitive and helpful in preparing one for a career in academia. The University offers a range of training opportunities. I have benefitted immensely from the software training in programmes like Nvivo and SPSS. The research methods summer school training by the business school enabled me to understand and learn about research paradigms, a range of research methods, their application and analysis. The Associate Teachers Course gave me an insight on various teaching techniques, developing a curriculum, accommodating for diversity in the classroom and alternative teaching pedagogies. I was able to apply many of these techniques in my own teaching practice. I have also benefitted from the University’s career and well being workshops, media training and the seminars on time management, maintaining good relations with supervisors, getting research published etc.
After completing the PhD degree I hope to pursue a career in academia.