Thursday, December 2, 2021

Varsities’ ranking race akin to Macau scams, says academic

Professor Ahmad Murad Merican also hits out at KPIs set for lecturers which pressure them to publish multiple articles per year.

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A lecturer has hit out at the culture of pressuring academics to produce articles for publication in international databases such as Scopus or the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) as a measure of success, comparing it to Macau scams.

Ahmad Murad Merican, a professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), also urged the higher education ministry to have the courage to overhaul the publishing system for academic works, in particular for public universities.

He said the move by public universities to boost their rankings in the international arena through the mass publication of journals in Scopus and ISI was akin to Macau scam activities which have seen Malaysians swindled out of millions of ringgit.

“Macau scams cheat people out of money, but this involves the spread of knowledge that will be used by generations to come,” he told MalaysiaNow.

“Every lecturer is forced to meet a key performance index (KPI) in preparing journal articles. If they fail, they will be punished including through the receipt of poor evaluations by the university management.”

MalaysiaNow earlier reported the findings of two economists from the Czech Republic placing 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.

“Macau scams cheat people out of money, but this involves the spread of knowledge that will be used by generations to come.”

A total of 324 such journals published from across the world were found to have infiltrated Scopus, a Netherlands-based global citation database used as a benchmark by global university ranking agencies in evaluating universities worldwide.

Prominent former academic Chandra Muzaffar later said the deterioration of Malaysia’s higher education standards was attributed in part to an obsession with world rankings as well as the absence of efforts to eradicate academic fraud.

Universities not corporate companies

Murad, who teaches social and intellectual history at IIUM’s International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, said lecturers already have a duty to educate, and that unversities need to realise the difference between fulfilling KPIs in the academic versus coroporate world.

“This system should be discarded as it is not suitable for academics,” he added.

“A study takes several years to complete, but universities ask lecturers to prepare four or five within a year, which is unreasonable.”

“Lecturers are not factories to churn out journals according to the quotas set by universities.”

He also voiced dissatisfaction with universities which reject submissions by lecturers who are not verified or indexed by Scopus.

He said the obsession with publishing journals could be seen as a type of corruption as each publication costs anywhere between RM1,000 and RM5,000.

“Lecturers are not factories to churn out journals according to the quotas set by universities,” he said.

“It’s impossible to finish four or five journals a year as one study alone can take years to finish in detail.”

If journals are published only for the sake of status and promotions, he said, lecturers would not be sincere in their task.

“They will think that the study is only to achieve their personal goals when the original purpose is to impact society and bring about change.”

He questioned the credibility and integrity of universities which mandate the publication of journals with the funding and support of the higher education ministry.

“I don’t know where the brains of vice-chancellors and professors are,” he said. “I don’t know how they think.

“In truth, they are the ones who are destroying the country’s universities.”

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