Research output is one of the major factors that reputed international agencies take into consideration while assessing universities...
Academicians have always been aware of the tired cliché ‘publish or perish’, but it is only in recent years that scholars in India are seen to have awaken to the significance of research outcomes in their individual progress. There is a noticeable change in the way they now perceive research, partly due to the fact that the universities have started putting increasing emphasis on them for appointment and career progression of the faculty members. For universities, publications are an important indicator of their research output, and world-over, performance of universities are evaluated majorly on this parameter.
Importance of research
The importance being put on research output for universities is nothing new. Even in the 19th century, the German Humboldtian ideal of the university argued that universities have a research role. But of late, there is a mad rush for publications in universities, not only in India but from world-over. According to Boston College’s Philip G Altbach and Hans de Wit, “Related is the sociological idea of isomorphism – that most academic institutions want to resemble the universities at the top of the academic pecking order – and thus seek to become research-intensive.”
With the Indian government striving to improve the quality of higher education in the country, the regulatory bodies are putting increasing emphasis on publications in refereed journals as indexed in Elsevier’s Scopus and Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. Accreditation bodies such as National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) as well as ranking initiatives such as the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) give high weightage to publications. Publications alone account for nearly 10 percent of the total marks allocated in these ratings and rankings. With the regulators making it clear that participation in such rating and ranking exercises will no longer remain optional for institutions, universities are urging their faculty members, even incentivizing them, to publish in the identified journals.
The world-wide interest in research publications has led to a proliferation of journals, including many with questionable credentials. While it is hard to provide an absolute number, some estimates suggest that there are upward of 30,000 scientific journals, where around two million articles are published every year.
Though the numbers of publications from India have increased, it has still not kept pace with countries such as China that have shown remarkable increase in its publications in recent years. For instance, in 2018, it came to light that China surpassed the US to become the leading country for scientific publications. With 426,000 scientific papers published in 2016, China accounted for about 19 percent of the international total ahead of the US’s 409,000 papers. This is no mean feat even though China still lagged behind in terms of citation indices.
Where does India figure?
At a time when globally reputed Harvard University publishes around 25,000 papers every year, and other world class universities publish 8,000 to 10,000 papers each, the combined output of the top 100 universities in India in journals indexed in Scopus and Web of Science for five years (2012 to 2016) was just 107,500. Nevertheless, in February 2019, Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science &Technology (DST), said that India is currently in the fifth position in the world in terms of number of scientific publications and it was growing at a rate of 14 percent compared to the world average of 4 percent. By 2026, India is expected to reach the third spot by surpassing Germany and the UK.
While India has some strength in fundamental research, it is in the area of applied research that the country can really hope for considerable gains. In the area of Humanities, there are growing concerns over the quality of research being published and their relevance and impact. For instance, in the Humanities, published papers that fail to receive even a single citation is as high as 90 percent.
Pressure to publish and over emphasis on publications
There are also concerns that the over emphasis on publications on prestigious, high impact factor journals is actually slowing down the dissemination and advancement of scientific knowledge, while on the other hand it was promoting research just for the sake of research, and publication in predatory journals. According to Altbach and de Wit, “These fundamental problems are artefacts of several developments in global higher education in the past half-century – especially massification and the rise of global and national rankings of universities.” The high pressure to publish has led to a proliferation of predatory and dubious journals offering ‘pay and publish’ services to gullible authors. Last year, the University Grant Commission disqualified 4,305 journals from the UGC list of approved journals owing to their dubious nature.
Need for university leadership to frame their own policies
While there is an urgent need for weeding out predatory journals, university leadership should also pay attention to the need for research that is relevant and should contribute to society rather than just being of academic interest. Going forward, it is important for the university leadership to frame their own policies regarding what type of research would be encouraged in the university. However, for fostering an ideal research ecosystem for the country, universities have to engage with the policy makers to address bigger issues such as lack of funding, infrastructure, data and quality benchmarks, as also arrive at answers to pertinent questions such as: is there too much emphasis being put on publications, and whether all Indian universities should primarily focus on research or some can just focus on teaching excellence.
Dr. Debapratim Purkayastha,
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