Thursday, December 2, 2021

‘Clock-in’ academics cited among reasons for decline of public universities

Singapore-based academic Syed Farid Al-Attas says there is a corporate disease seeping into the work culture of the local academia.

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An infiltration of corporate culture in universities, which includes a rush to fulfil certain KPIs as well as unethical practices culminating from such work culture, has been cited as among reasons for the decline of public universities, a prominent critic of the Malaysian academic field says in the wake of a renewed debate on the quality of Malaysian tertiary education.

Syed Farid Al-Attas, a Malaysian sociologist attached to the National University of Singapore (NUS), gave some examples of such “corporate culture” which he regards as not suited to the world of academia.

They include the practice of clocking in for work, as happens at any government office.

“I think almost all universities have this culture of clocking in,” Farid told MalaysiaNow.

“When they will be on campus, from what time to what time, like office hours – this doesn’t happen at high-ranking universities abroad.”

He said it was more critical to show the results of their work.

Syed Farid Al-Attas. Photo: NUS

“How many books have they published, how many good articles and good publications. It is not a question of whether they work or write from their rooms, on campus or at a coffee shop.”

His comments are the latest in a series of reactions to recent findings on predatory journals listed in a well-respected global academic database, leading to a debate on the quest to rise in annual rankings of universities worldwide.

Last week, MalaysiaNow 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 found on academic database Scopus.

Predatory journals are publications with questionable content and editorial standards which often accept articles for a fee.

“There’s no point in publishing 10 papers if they’re only descriptive pieces with no new or original thoughts, analyses, theories or concepts.”

Social critic Chandra Muzaffar and academic Faisal Tehrani had spoken of local universities falling victim to a form of academic imperialism. They said in the rush to be listed on global rankings conceived in the West, many have placed importance on the number of research works churned out to be cited in international journals.

Farid agreed with critics who said there has been an overemphasis on the quantity of articles published in prestigious international journals.

He said this was also part of the corporate culture at some public universities.

“There’s no point in publishing 10 papers if they’re only descriptive pieces with no new or original thoughts, analyses, theories or concepts,” he said.

“Just two or three papers that contribute to theoretical questions and the production of new methodologies would be more useful than 10 articles that merely describe something.”

He said repetition in research when too many journal articles are published will not help academics improve or become known for their contributions to their field of study.

While a focus on total production numbers might be suited to the corporate sector, he said, education institutions should concentrate producing new knowledge.

Taking credit for students’ work

Farid also said there have been instances of unethical practices such as lecturers forcing postgraduate students to list them as co-authors in papers without contributing anything to the study.

“This is unethical and wrong. So there are lecturers who have many publications but we are unsure of how many they actually wrote and whether they wrote these papers themselves.

“This has also affected academic culture,” he said, adding that this had been the trend since several local universities began emphasising the production of journal articles as an indicator in KPIs.

He also criticised local universities for not understanding the culture of research in which academics are encouraged to submit articles in English to prestigious journals.

“There are lecturers who have many publications but we are unsure of how many they actually wrote and whether they wrote these papers themselves.”

He said this had caused local scholars to choose writing in English over writing in Malay to discuss ideas and theories in the course of producing their studies.

“Even though we must write in English, at the same time we must also write in Malay. We must use the national language to express ideas so that we can communicate with Malaysians and others in the region who do not speak English.”

Farid said if this trend continues, the production of articles and journals in Malay will eventually be seen as inferior.

“In fact it will become inferior because those who have more education will choose to write in English and to publish their articles in international journals.

“If we only write in Malay and do not publish our papers in high-ranking journals, we will not be promoted or be given awards. Usually this is the case,” he said.

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