HEC recognised journals

Author: Naimat Ullah Khan

After the restructuring of the University Grant Commission in November 2002, we now have the Higher Education Commission for regulating higher education in Pakistan. The HEC is one of the few organizations which have significantly contributed to the increase in the number of universities, enrollment in universities, producing PhD faculty and number of publications.

For faculty promotions and awards of other financial and non-financial rewards, HEC has a list of ‘recognized journals’ for publishing research papers. The list is divided into international journals and local journals. Among all international journals, only those journals are recognized by the HEC that have an impact factor and are included in the ISI Master list of Thomas Reuters. Generally, it is relatively easy to publish papers in these journals when it comes to natural sciences as they have had well established and mature journals over the centuries. However, it is relatively very difficult to publish impact factor journals in other disciplines such as social sciences; especially in a large quantity to meet the requirements of HEC. For example, in order for a promotion from an assistant to associate professor, the HEC requires a publication of at least 10 papers in aforementioned international journals over the span of five years. Publishing in these journals is not only competitive but equally time consuming due to rigorous peer review processes and high chances of rejection.

The submission and publication fees, for many international journals creates further problems for Pakistani scholars; these fees are mostly equivalent to the one month salary of a Pakistani lecturer, which is mostly paid from their own pocket. In addition, publishing papers based on Pakistani data is really difficult in these journals as Pakistani universities do not have access to international databases such as World Scope, Compustat and DataStream etc. Time and again, faculty members from all over Pakistan have raised concerns over the HEC policy that recognizes the indexation of only a single agency – the ISI Master list of Thomas Reuters.

For wider coverage and overcoming biases arising from a single evaluation agency, the HEC should include other rankings crafted by other publishers. For example, universities in the United Kingdom are following the ABS rankings, Australian Universities are following the ABDC rankings, and many other universities around the world follow the Scopus index journals to promote their faculty. This move will broaden the horizons of Pakistani faculty in regard to international publications.

The situation of local journals is grim and pathetic. Instead of boosting the research culture, these journals are discouraging and polluting the research output of Pakistani academia

Alternatively, in order to boost the research culture of Pakistan, the HEC has a list of ‘locally recognized’ journals with 4 categories (i.e., W, X, Y, and Z) where W-category is the highest ranked journal. Since the HEC has very tough criteria for the recognition of international journals, many researchers in the social sciences domain virtually have only one option: to publish in local journals. And the irony of fate is that publishing in any elite international journals is equal to the HEC recognized local journals. The situation of local journals is grim and pathetic. Instead of boosting the research culture, these journals are discouraging and polluting the research output of Pakistani academia.

The purpose of this article is not to malign someone or to discourage local journals instead the aim is to improve the Pakistani local publication system. Therefore, I am putting some suggestions in this regard. First, there should be a reasonable time period (for example, two months) for the peer review process. It is very common to hear complaints from researchers in Pakistan such as the journal not replying to simple queries, or that they submitted their articles a year ago and still there is no acknowledgment of receipt; and that the article was sent back to them after a significant time with a single lined email about the article not falling within the scope of the journal; and the list goes on. Many local journals take a minimum of one year to get accepted or rejected.

The HEC could employ other monitoring mechanisms. For example, they could force journals to report statistics such as submission dates, review dates, acceptance and rejection dates, etc. Secondly, many local journals accept papers based on self-produced review reports. The HEC can assure the authenticity of the reviewer reports during the annual journal recognition and up gradation committee. One way of doing so is to accept the reviewer’ reports which are produced from official emails or official letterheads. Thirdly, there should be specific criteria for becoming an editor perhaps a faculty member with decent publication history. Many faculty members are editors by virtue of their designation without actually giving time to the editorial process. Fourthly, there should be some weightage criteria between publishing in local and international journals such as two local journal papers are equal to one impact factor journal. How is it that a local journal’s paper is equivalent to that of an elite international journal?

Also a significant number of papers get acceptance due to their personal references and connections. Sometimes, papers get accepted after putting the name of any member of the editorial board or ‘influential’ faculty belonging to the institution where the journal is based. Some influential faculty members explicitly and implicitly advise others to put their names on the research without making any contributions, so that the actual researcher can get accepted.

Moreover, there is a white collar trend of fraud in publications where faculties put their names without contributing to a single word in the paper. Here a famous sentence is used “Mera naam bhi daal dein”(write my name as co-author). It can be rectified while limiting the number of authors of a paper to two or three, especially in the social sciences. Furthermore, some faculty has made unofficial alliances to publish papers all the while exploiting their position of being editors, editorial members or influential faculty members. They have hijacked the whole of academia. The HEC needs to keep an eye on them to avoid white collar corruption in publications.

If HEC is really serious about genuine research within Pakistan, it needs to conduct a quality audit of the local journals. The HEC can establish an author-complaint box via their website. Ask journal editors to join the blog and reply to those complaints in a publicly visibly forum.

Naimat Ullah Khan is a PhD and can be contacted via: naimat@uop.edu.pk

Published in Daily Times, September 1st 2018.

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