Call to monitor all academic works

Dr Mohamad Kadim Suaidi

KUCHING: The absence of efforts to ensure that all published works are of reputable standards has stained Malaysian academic standards, said Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Kadim Suaidi.

While acknowledging that the issue of rapid publishing in predatory journals was nothing new, however, it was not as rampant in public universities in Sarawak as people perceived.

He said public universities like Unimas had taken strict measures to ensure all published works are of reputable standards.

“Academics are constantly reminded to produce research works that are impactful not only in terms of publication but also for the benefit of society both locally and globally,” he told New Sarawak Tribune when asked to respond to a recent finding that placed Malaysian academics at the top of a list of authors whose works were published in more than 300 predatory journals, or publications with questionable content and editorial standards which often accept articles for a fee.

Systematic verification management

To avoid the publication of unverified works, he said all academic works must be actively monitored through a systematic verification process.

“In Unimas, the academic works will have to go through a systematic verification process, which is done via its integrated research management system known as Iris.

“The publications are monitored by Research, Innovation and Enterprise Centre. All publications will be verified with the assistance of the university’s library tasked to review each paper across several international databases.”

Kadim also pointed out that universities should provide the updated list of predatory journals to the academics from time to time.

“Such verification process is also implemented in the promotion of academics to a higher grade, without compromising the criteria set.

“To equip our academics to be well-versed in publication, universities should conduct workshops and seminars, coaching and mentoring sessions to ensure they are aware of the proper publication procedures.

“Such training will enable academicians to be well-equipped with sound publication strategies so that the journals that they produced can achieve higher readerships and citation count.”

UiTM Sarawak rector Prof Datuk Dr Jamil Hamali echoed Prof Kadim’s sentiments.

He said the probability of UiTM involved in such fraud journal issue was very small due to strict measures.

He said all academic materials must be evaluated and certified by an expert in the field based on the set criteria before it could be published or presented in any conference.

“If their academic results reach the set level, their application will be processed and will have to go through an interview process before they are eligible to be promoted to Associate Professor or Professor.

“The lecturers are also required to send their manuscripts to publishers used as benchmark by academics, for example, publishers registered with the Malaysian Academic Publications Council (MAPIM) and well-known international publishers, such as Wiley and Springer,” he said on Friday.

The core value of integrity

Jamil said no doubt there were some academics who resorted to predatory journals.

While arguing that the predatory journals were certainly legitimate publication, he said they were usually driven by monetary incentives.

“It is certainly not fraudulent as most of these journals are indexed by Scopus, Thomson ISI, MyCite or WoS, thus have undergone due process of approval.

“The academic credentials are built upon publications in peer-review indexed internationals journals, as the process of acceptance for publication is seamless, and Scopus is constantly reviewing their relevancy.”

Asked whether university ranking system had fuelled the race for journals publication, Jamil said it was too easy to put the blame on rankings.

“At UiTM, we don’t believe in shortcuts as we have a long history of existence, and our academics duly acknowledge this.

“Rankings have indeed proven to significantly build institutional position and reputation.  That is why most universities pursue vigorously the elite status of global ranking.

“Upholding academic integrity with resolute determination is vital because the process of journal publications and conference proceedings is not cheap.

“Thus, I can safely attest that such generic allegation is inconsiderate and unfounded, at least among academics of UiTM Sarawak.”

Meanwhile, Kadim opined that the academicians should know themselves their own journals, whether it was published for the sake of higher grade and promotions.

“Realising the tendency of young academics and postgraduate students to be lured by some of the predatory journals, research ethics and integrity must be well-versed in publication, or else it can be aggressive in soliciting papers.

“All these measures clearly will reflect university’s core value of upholding integrity.”

According to the report, Malaysian academics formed a large chunk of those whose works were published in more than 300 “fraudulent journals” found to have infiltrated Scopus, a Netherlands-based global citation database used as a benchmark by global university ranking agencies in evaluating universities.

At least two major organisations, Times Higher Education and QS, were found relying heavily on data from Scopus in publishing the annual rankings of universities.

The study also ranks Malaysia fifth among 20 countries considered as the biggest offenders in terms of predatory journals and also appears in the top 20 lists for fraudulent work in three fields, including health sciences, physical sciences and social sciences.