Research first: On the UGC move on research papers by Ph.D. scholars

The compulsion to publish has led to poorer quality of research

November 12, 2022 12:10 am | Updated 12:16 pm IST

The University Grants Commission’s decision to remove the mandatory requirement of getting research papers published in peer-reviewed journals before submitting a PhD thesis is a bid to stem the unhealthy practice of many scholars paying substandard, predatory journals to publish their papers without sufficient review, which has weakened the quality of India’s doctoral education. Seen from this angle, the UGC’s move is indeed the right one. Studies have shown that a majority of doctoral students publish in such journals, rather than go through the more time-consuming process of submitting their drafts to reputed journals, awaiting review and revising. Given the insufficiency of scholarships and stipends, many students are also in a hurry to complete their doctoral degrees rather than taking the time needed for quality research. The removal of a compulsory requirement is also in line with global regulatory standards. However, while paper publication is not mandated in most countries, it is certainly considered essential for any top researcher, with many theses consisting in their entirety of published papers. The UGC has also emphasised that it would be advisable for scholars to publish papers in high-quality journals for their own sake, as it would add value to their PhD for any post-doctoral opportunities. The regulator hopes that by removing the mandatory requirement, it can help create a more conducive atmosphere for self-motivated research by students and universities, as is found in the IITs which do not have such a requirement.

The removal of the mandatory requirement is also an acknowledgement of the diversity in academic disciplines; in some branches of the humanities, the publication of a monograph is a more accepted method of communicating with academic peers than journal papers, while top computer science researchers may value conference presentations over journal publications. Patents obtained are also seen as a better indication of the quality of research in some disciplines. Removing the mandatory requirement will thus allow for more innovation. There is, however, some concern that the removal of mandatory requirements will result in a further dilution of quality, as the worth of a researcher and a university is judged on the basis of papers published and cited, with funding also dependent on such benchmarks. To encourage students to publish in reputed journals even without a mandatory requirement from now puts the onus on university research advisory councils and doctoral supervisors to up their game. Given that a reason students rush to publish is the need to quickly complete their PhDs due to financial constraints, higher levels of funding are urgently needed to ensure that the UGC’s move does not backfire.

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