More on the UGC regulations

If the provisos are vague it is bound to have an adverse effect on higher education institutions across India
Representational Pic
Representational Pic

Journal Impact Factors

Another faux pas of the UGC Regulations hasbeen the introduction of Impact Factors as means of evaluation of researchactivities of teachers. Impact factors were basically designed to assess thequality of a scientific journal by calculating the number of times the articlespublished in that particular journal were referenced or cited by others. Overthe years it has been misused instead to assess the quality of the academicians.The impact factor is a flawed quantitative parameter as it is dependent on thenumber of times a paper is cited. A highly cited paper will push up the impactfactor of a journal. No wonder journals that exclusively publish reviewarticles rather than original research papers have much higher impact factorsthan other journals simply because they attract more number of citations. ManyNobel Laureates like Joseph Goldstein (1985), Peter Doherty (1996), Paul Nurse(2001) and Bruce Beutler (2011) have contested that impact factor is not theright measure to assess the quality of research of scientists since it is theresearch that counts, not the journal. They have urged that the research mustgo back to where it belongs i.e., the peers and experts in the field. Qualityof research can best be judged by them alone.

There is another side to it. Take forinstance a researcher who is working in a resource poor, under-developedsetting where scientific, industrial, technological, economical or developmentalconcepts, processes and procedures that are outdated and sometimes evenobsolete to the rest of the developed world, are still as good as innovationsgiven their backwardness and slow pace of development. If such a researcherintroduces such concepts at such a place with an aim of harnessing development,streamlining policies and procedures and organizing management activities, indifferent spheres, his work will hardly ever get published in a high impactinternational journal given the redundancy and lack of novelty of his conceptsin rest of the developed world even though his research and extension workmight bring radical changes locally much to the benefit and respite of millionsof people inhabiting there.

Further, the number of citations a researchpaper will get is dependent upon its life span that increases with an increasein the number of years after its publication. Thus, a far more reliable way toappropriately evaluate a research paper is through peer review by well-knownexperts in the field who can assess its standards. Let the research assessmentgo back to where it originally belongs, that is in the hands of peers andexperts in that field. Further the API and Research Score, Impact Factor andother Journal Metrics have reinforced the policy of publish or perishreiterating the notion that only good research is publishable research whereasfact of the matter is that research quality has essentially to be judged by thequality of new knowledge that it generates and not by journal metrics or thelike. Today perceived publishing value of the research topic and the extent towhich results of the study will be cited around the world is subduing andovertaking the fundamental role and responsibilities of a researcher which isto raise pertinent questions, arrive at reliable answers, generate new andinnovative ideas, solutions, perspectives that significantly enhance theprevailing knowledge base and lead to the creation of new knowledge.

The backlash against the journal impactfactors is not restricted to India alone. It has led to the Declaration onResearch Assessment (DORA) which was signed by members of the scientificcommunity during the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology onMay 16, 2013. Specifically, the signatories have recommended that the journalimpact factor should not be used as a measure of scientific success in funding,appointment and promotion consideration. Instead they recommend that theresearch should be evaluated on its own merits. Therefore there is need topromote independent, balanced, and objective approach to the research problemswith transparency and use of appropriate methodology rather than worrying toomuch about journal metrics like citation index.

UGC Journal Lists

In the year 2016 UGC came out with its ownlist of almost 50,000 journals that were to be considered for awarding APIscore to research publications of the faculty members. Initially the listcontained only journals included in Scopus, Web of Science and Indian CitationIndex. The list was later expanded to include recommendations from the academiccommunity and the universities were allowed to upload their recommendations,based on specified filtering criteria, on the UGC portal twice in 2017. TheUGC-approved List of Journals is considered for recruitment, promotion andcareer advancement not only in universities and colleges but also otherinstitutions of higher education in India. As such, it is the responsibility ofUGC to curate its list of approved journals and to ensure that it contains onlyhigh-quality journals. However a study published in Current Science reportedthat over 88 percent of the journals listed by UGC in its approved list werethemselves dubious. Ever since API scores were made mandatory, there has been amushroom growth of hitherto unknown journals that are always on a prowl topersuade academicians to publish substandard research on payment basis to fetchthem the required API scores. As per Patwardhan et al, more than 8,000 predatoryjournals churn out more than 400,000 items a year, and India contributes morethan one-third of the articles in such predatory publications. These predatoryjournals turned to be a big challenge for the UGC which eventually revised thelist removing more than 4000 journals and framing a CARE (Consortium forAcademic and Research Ethics) Reference List of Quality Journals.

However this never-ending process ofupdating the UGC list lead to another set of distressing problems for theteachers. The fact that a journal listed in the UGC Approved list at one pointof time could be removed from the list anytime led to confusion anduncertainty. People who got themselves published in journals figuring in thelist at one point of time suddenly found themselves at loggerheads once thejournal was removed from the list thus making the list hardly reliable. Insteadof investing so much time, money, manpower and energy in preparing and updatingthese ever-changing and lengthy lists it would have been a whole lot easier andwiser for the UGC to simply notify the databases like Scopus, Sciencedirect,Pubmed, Medline, Web of Science, Science Citation Index etc instead of listingthe journals. Any changes in the databases made by their publishers would havegot automatically incorporated in the journals too. This is what MedicalCouncil of India followed for considering research papers of the medicalfraternity in their promotions. Further the procedure followed by UGC was notdevoid of any prospects of getting commercialized and sabotaged by thepublishing houses. One wonders why this simply idea did not struck the high andmighty sitting in the offices of UGC.

Service length for promotion of College andUniversity teachers

There is huge disparity and discrepancy inthe service length as well as the salary packages as a teacher moves fromAssistant Professor cadre to Associate Professor and then to Professor cadre.Lot of injustice is meted out to the junior cadre with a hike of just 1000rupees from stage 1 to 2 and from stage 2 to 3 followed by a quantum leap ofaround 50 to 100% hike in the salary from stage 3 to 4 depending upon theservice length of the aspirant. Till stage 3 salary gap is too narrow andbeyond that it is too wide. Opposite of this is true in case of service length.Career advancement scheme that is presently in vogue encompasses 12+3 formulaas per which it takes around 12 to 16 years to move from Assistant Professor tothe designation of an Associate Professor but only three years thereafter tobecome a Professor, which is totally inequitable, irrational and unjust. Thereis need to end this discriminative scheme and switch over to the more rational9+6 formula or even better 9+3 scheme. This will bring some uniformity andremove discrimination and disparity in the scheme. Zeal, enthusiasm andmotivation of an Assistant Professor gets dimmed by this unreasonable promotionsystem and it not only breeds inertia but corruption too.

Anomaly and Revisit Committees

By incorporating API score based assessmentand its capping, entire brunt was borne by the Assistant Professor for whom itbecame even more difficult even after 14 years to dream of becoming anAssociate Professor since the parameters were very stringent that were onlymade worse by their misinterpretation. University Grants Commission itselfrealized various flaws in their regulations after it received a flood ofrepresentations and complaints from teachers, researchers, colleges,universities, associations from across India since a very large number ofteachers were getting adversely affected by them and their promotions weregetting stuck for years together. Many times UGC had to frame anomalycommittees and revisit committees to examine the anomalies brought into itsnotice and revise the regulations.

After a lot of reluctance UGC brought out anew set of Regulations in the year 2018 that are much more flexible and prudentthan the earlier regulations even though the research scores allotted to manyresearch activities are comparatively lesser than provided in the earlierregulations. After allowing lot of damages to the research quality by way ofAPI score based assessment finally UGC has scrapped this flawed system andreplaced it by a Research Score based criteria which is expected to bring some reliefto the teachers working in higher education institutions though it cannot beexpected to undo the damages that it has done to the quality standards ofteaching and research in the country over the past decade.

Further it needs to be clarified that nosane person can ever be against incorporation of quantitative or qualitativemeasures for assessing the performance of teachers but they need to beflexible, rational and just rather than stringent, impracticable, irrationaland unjust. Standards that not only demoralize the teaching community but leadto unhealthy competition, infighting, dissuasion and dissidence among themcannot be termed as just and reasonable. In this manner desired objectives ofthe UGC regulations cannot be achieved and these regulations will prove to becounter-productive.

(Ideas expressed are his own and not of theinstitution that he works for)

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