Academic publishing requires rigorous efforts and is highly competitive; even some good ideas get rejected for many reasons. Moreover, the peer review process sometimes takes too long, while there are a number of genuine researchers working to create original knowledge; many of academics in Pakistan learned the art of managing the research. Recently, some commentaries are published in some segments of media on the issue of sub-standard research mainly highlighting the malpractices especially by the senior faculty on administrative positions to favour themselves. In academia, it’s a global practice to get published a lot to compete for positions, promotions and related incentives and to build an impressive academic curriculum vitae (CV). However, research aligned with incentives has also promoted a culture of malpractices mostly in developing countries like Pakistan

For instance, the CV of the Rector of a newly chartered public sector university mentions his research output increased exponentially once assigned the responsibility of dean. Twenty one publications in sixteen years before his appointment as dean in 2008, he managed to co-author approximately the same number of impact factor publications in next two years and even more afterwards, while having additional duties as dean and then as Rector.

Out of various challenges including derisory funding, lack of academic freedom, the political interference, nepotism and non-transparent appointments especially at academic administrative positions, the substandard and faked research by the faculty and its sham recognition by the authorities for granting incentives including promotions may be considered as unpleasantly important factor responsible for the abysmal state of research in Pakistan.

While agreeing to the commentaries mainly highlighting the publishing of sub-standard research through hook or crook, it would be worth mentioning here that the case is somewhat more complex and situation is extremely miserable. The research being conducted in Pakistani varsities may have discipline wise two main categories the social sciences and natural/applied sciences. The social science research is mostly published in local journals recognised by Higher Education Commission (HEC), while the science discipline research is being published in both local HEC recognized and international impact factor journals. The manipulation of research in both categories is not limited to the fake results and cooperation between different authors and editors to favour the publishing and creation of citation ring rather with the due support or ignorance of the people at the helm of affairs; the scrap published in predatory journals is being bogusly validated as recognised by HEC and international accreditation companies.

The miserable situation of higher standards can be seen by going through some complaints submitted to higher-ups of varsities and HEC, mentioning the fake credentials including the experience and publications and are still unattended; rather fakers are being assigned the administrative positions. For a quick glance of the miseries, let’s consider some examples. A senior faculty member in a university situated right in the capital was appointed as Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering department with unprecedented seventeen [17] increments, the Quality Enhancement Cell of the same varsity and Quality Assurance Department of HEC; however, formally informed the administration that perks were granted to him despite the fact he was not even eligible for the post of Associate Professor. It was well clarified that despite long list of fake and non-HEC recognised papers claimed in his application dossier for the post of Associate Professor, only four [4] research papers got published in HEC recognized journals - a clear violation of the minimum requirement of ten [10] HEC recognised papers. The relevant experience claimed by the same also contained a letter showing that he worked as sales manager in an auto workshop. Unfortunately, the said sales experience was equated as teaching/research experience at postgraduate level. Moreover, he is being given third tenure as chairman of the same department, while depriving other Associate Professors and in violation of the rotation policy. Similarly, in the same varsity an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering was directly alleviated to Professor, despite having only five [5] HEC recognised papers instead of the minimum requirement of fifteen [15] publications. The Professor was working as Director QEC at the time of his alleviation to Professor and he validated his own publications as recognised. Contritely, in the same varsity and in the same department, a number of junior faculty members with genuine research credentials [quality wise as well as quantity wise] complain lack of motivation mainly due to irregular appointments/promotions, still the varsity is not willing to correct the blunders and formed a fact-finding committee consisting of juniors and of those responsible for the blunders, whereas HEC is hiding behind the university autonomy. These are not the isolated cases rather it’s a pattern seen in many other appointments. Such fakers typically keep their credentials secret and finding their curriculum vitae becomes a herculean task. The fact can be verified by searching the credentials of a number of Professors and other big-wigs of Higher Education which are secret as publicising may also expose the hidden hoax in their credentials.

The incentive policy of HEC aligned with the research without proper monitoring has encouraged a culture of “Fake it, if you cannot make it”. While the policy should be evolved with time and feedback, the implementation of the existing policy requires exuberant efforts. In the absence of the policy, the fakers would have benefited by the same incentives depriving the genuine researchers. A large number of academic administrators are either fakers or have no research experience and do not care about the standards rather they consider the genuine researchers as their contenders, which results the deprivation of genuine research and researchers. The good part is that now the hoax and predatory journals are being criticised worldwide and a debate regarding research standards has initiated in Pakistan as well.

Recently, the syndicate of Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan (AWKUM) has sacked more than 440 illegally appointed employees and decided to initiate proceedings against the officials involved in the recruitment process. In a different way but for the same cause, the syndicate of Arid Agriculture University reverted the decision taken by its former Vice Chancellor and directed the university administration to de-notify all illegal decisions and to re-examine all the cases and take necessary decisions to uphold merit and transparency in the varsity. International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) has also decided to recover an amount in millions paid earlier to the faculty members for publishing in unrecognised journals; however, IIUI is not willing to enquire and demote the faculty members promoted on fake credentials. AWKUM has set a pathway for the whole Higher Education sector to curb the nepotism and non-transparent appointments, which should be followed strictly by the public sector varsities as well by the HEC. The termination of employees with fake credentials and initiation of criminal proceedings against those responsible for such illegal appoints may avoid slacken the deterioration speed of research and may help to uplift the sector from the abysmal state. The quality however, comes with quantity which require an appreciation whether in financial or in social terms. Therefore, the research culture should be encouraged and in the meantime the malpractices should be discouraged and punished.

The Prime Minister of Naya Pakistan rightly pointed out at several occasions that nations make progress through education instead of mega projects, in addition to transparent utilisation of resources. The nation is now looking towards Prime Minister Imran Khan for raising Naya Pakistan free of corruption, nepotism, non-transparent appointments especially at top positions in higher Education and to strengthen institutes rather individuals.

 

The writer is a PhD in computer sciences and has recently received Research Productivity Award from Pakistan Council for Science and Technology.

ashraf.shehzad.ch@gmail.com