Research in universities is normally carried out by graduate students. AFP PIC

WHY do academics need to publish their research, especially in high-impact journals?

Before that, let us remind ourselves of the role of a university. A university exists for two reasons:

PROVIDE higher education to students who will be gainfully employed; and

CARRY out cutting-edge research that not only benefits a country but also pushes the boundaries of human knowledge.

It is for the second reason that journal publications become mandatory. A research project begins with a problem statement whose solution will lead to a major contribution to knowledge.

Research in universities is normally carried out by graduate students who will earn a higher degree, such as MSc or PhD, if the research output is original.

Research findings and claims of originality are usually put under the scrutiny of peers in the same field who will review all claims critically. Only research of the highest quality is accepted for publication, usually after several rounds of corrections.

The reason why someone would choose an academic career over the myriad of other more lucrative vocations is likely due to passion for research. Seeing one’s hard work accepted for publication in a reputable journal provides an enormous sense of accomplishment that no monetary value can match.

Very few academics, I believe, would choose journals that inflate their impact factor artificially or would inflate their H-index artificially through self-citations. Many universities warn their academics against sending their work to dubious journals. Very few universities, I believe, would compel academics to publish solely to improve the university’s ranking.

There are many agencies and organisations that rank universities. Although some may do this sincerely to help potential students choose a university, others may do it to make a living. Their sincerity can be easily assessed by looking at whether they rank universities irrespective of their age, specialisation and geographic location in the same list. If a university that is less than 10 years old, offers only arts degrees and is located in a small town is ranked along a university that is more than 100 years old and offers science and engineering degrees and is located in a big city, then the ranking agency can be assumed to be in the ranking business just to make money.

Academics who publish in high-impact journals know the value of their research and the benefits it brings to the country. University ranking is often the last thing on their minds when they submit their cutting-edge work to a prestigious journal.

This could be because ranking agencies rarely meet academics to explain their methodology in detail or allow academics and universities to challenge it. Each ranking agency has its own way of ranking a university. One may give a weightage of more than 50 per cent to surveys while another may give a high weightage to citations taken from journals with doubtful impact or dubious journals.

R. MANI MARAN,

Nibong Tebal, Penang

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