First Monday

The UGC-CARE initiative: Indian academia's quest for research and publishing integrity by Bhushan Patwardhan and Shubhada Nagarkar



Abstract
This paper discusses the reasons for emergence of predatory publications in India, engendered by mandates of higher educational institutions: that require stipulated number of research publications for employment and promotions. Predatory journals have eclipsed the merits of open access publishing, compromised ethical practices, and left the research community groping for benchmarks of research integrity and publication ethics. To fight back the menace of predatory publications, University Grants Commission, India has established “Consortium for Academic Research and Ethics” (UGC-CARE) in 2018 to promote and benchmark research integrity and publication ethics among the Indian academia. The present paper discusses the UGC-CARE initiative, its structure, objectives and specifically, “UGC-CARE Reference List of Quality Journals” (UGC-CARE list) and finally, the challenges it faces.

Contents

Introduction
Indian scenario
The battle against predatory publishing
Current status
Journals in regional languages
UGC-CARE Web site
Feedback portal at UGC-CARE Web site
Impact of the UGC-CARE list
Challenges
Recommendations
Conclusion

 


 

Introduction

Scholarly academic journals are vehicles of sincere and genuine research outcomes. There has been a tradition, dating back a number of centuries to publish such journals in print, maintained through subscriptions by individuals and institutions. These journals were highly respected because of standard publishing practices, and notably, their critical peer review system (Weiner, 2001). However, the last two decades have witnessed unrelenting pressure on researchers to publish; some publishers have seized on this situation as an opportunity to maximize profits through an escalation of unethical practices. This phenomenon has been labeled as “predatory publishing” by Beall, in which publishers follow the “pay and publish” model with total disregard for the quality of content, research integrity and peer reviews (Beall, 2012; van Vlokhoven, 2019). Though the original open access movement was started with good intentions, it was critically exploited by predatory publishers. The complete circumvention of the peer review process by predatory publishers led to a multiplicity of problems, resulting in millions of worthless articles that have corrupted disciplines, through plagiarism, image and data manipulation, duplicate submissions, salami slicing and authorship problems (Beall, 2013). It simultaneously precipitated a crisis of integrity, creating a challenge for researchers to differentiate between credible and predatory journals. In addition, there lurked the very real danger of inadvertently citing references from predatory journals especially in their review of literature. Therefore predatory journals have fostered a contamination of citations in total contradiction of the original aims of open access movement (https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/10/05/turning-critical-eye-reference-lists/).

 

++++++++++

Indian scenario

The major reason for the increased number of predatory publishers in India is the mandatory research publications for appointments and promotions of faculty members in Indian higher education institutions by the University Grants Commission (UGC) under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), India (https://mhrd.gov.in/overview). The UGC is a statutory organization established by an Act of Parliament of India in 1956 for the coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education and is a major funding agency (http://ugc.ac.in). It functions from New Delhi and has six regional offices in India at Bangalore, Bhopal, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Pune (https://www.ugc.ac.in/page/Mandate.aspx). At present, India has 1,043 universities that include 48 central, 386 state, 80 “deemed to be universities”, 327 private universities. Accreditation for higher learning is overseen by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (http://www.naac.gov.in/) along with other discipline-speciļ¬c professional councils (https://www.education.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/statistics-new/aishe_eng.pdf).

In 2010, the University Grants Commission (UGC), India, set up an Academic Performance Indicator (API), which required documentation of research activity in order to benefit from the Career Advancement Scheme (CAS). Subsequently, publications became compulsory, with specific points assigned for each publication; thus 15 points were earmarked for publication in refereed journals, and additional points could be accrued from the journal Impact Factor (IF). The API has been criticized by many researchers across disciplines and institutions (https://thewire.in/education/strides-ahead-in-sizing-up-academic-performance-skip-faculty-performance, Lakhotia, 2017). The turning point is often attributed to publications being also mandated for doctoral researchers in 2013. Consequently, the “pay and publish” model of research publications was widely accepted by both authors and funding agencies. This, according to commentators, resulted in the mushrooming of predatory/dubious/sub-standard journals in alarming proportions in India (Priyadarshini, 2017).

To help researchers select credible journals the UGC came up with an idea of having an approved list of journals in 2017. Each individual university was requested to suggest journals from local regions and languages based on certain criteria recommended by UGC. This unfortunately resulted in inclusion of predatory journals into the UGC approved list of journals. New and inexperienced researchers often fall prey to such publishers; subsequently, they are forced to defend their predatory publishers who have published their papers, often manuscripts rejected by the rigorous peer review of reputed publishers. The impact factor (IF) of journals and indexing databases are also used as metrics for career advancement (Lakhotia, 2017; Frandsen, 2017). Predatory publishers have exploited even this avenue with variety of fake IFs (Universal IF, COSMOS IF, etc.). In addition, several questionable indexing agencies like Index Copernicus, Open Academic Journal Index, Scientific indexing services ROOT Indexing, Academic Resource Index and others have been accused of providing false indicators for individual publications (http://esocialsciences.org/Articles/show_Article.aspx?acat=&aid=13154). Thus, predatory publishers attracted researchers to publish in their journals by variety gimmicks, such as imitating titles or Web sites of standard journals; providing false IFs; indexing databases; fabricated names of editors and place of publication; repeated invitations for manuscripts through e-mail messages; and, promised publications after a short editorial process in so called high impact factor journals. This has resulted in an explosion of dubious and questionable journals, publishing substandard research. Consequently, Indian research publications were condemned all over the world for their poor quality (Moher, et al., 2017; Patwardhan, et al., 2018).

 

++++++++++

The battle against predatory publishing

To fight the menace of predatory publications, under the quality mandate, UGC decided to take strong action and established “Consortium of Academic and Research Ethics” (CARE) (http://ugccare.unipune.ac.in) by issuing a public notice on 28 November 2018, with the main objective of promoting research integrity and publication ethics in Indian universities. The Overall objectives of the UGC-CARE are:

To fulfil these objectives, UGC constituted following two committees:

UGC-CARE developed its “UGC-CARE Reference List of Quality Journals” (UGC-CARE list) as a first step towards fulfilling its objectives. For creating and maintaining this list, the UGC established the “UGC-Cell for Journal Analysis” affiliated with the Centre for Publication Ethics (CPE) at the Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, Maharashtra, India (Patwardhan, 2019).

This center collects journal titles recommended by UGC-CARE members and UGC-CARE universities through an online portal and analyses them with stringent criteria designed by UGC-CARE members. The evaluation criteria are divided into three protocols:

Protocol I is designed to obtain necessary basic information of the journal like journal name, ISSN, publisher details, and editorial details. Protocols II and III are designed for internal analysis and assessment purposes, which are based on verification of journal information including its history, consistency, peer recognition, market reputation, academic credentials of the editors, peer review process, indexing, citations, charges/fees, and related financial matters. This information is examined directly from public domain sources (Web site, flyers, advertisements, hard copies of the journal in libraries). There is a provision that any journal can be disqualified at a later stage if it is found to issue false, misleading, incorrect, or insufficient information as well as unsubstantiated claims (http://ugccare.unipune.ac.in).

The most important feature of the UGC-CARE list is its dynamic nature. It is updated quarterly. Every qualified journal is rechecked in each quarter and, if found not to follow standard publishing practices, will be removed from the list immediately with the consent of members of the Empower Committee.

Initially, the UGC-CARE list was divided into four non-hierarchical groups for the convenience of its users, but to simplify the search process, the UGC-CARE list currently has only two groups.

There are several credible journals in India in regional languages, published over the last several decades which do not as yet have a place in international indexing databases. Therefore, special efforts have been taken for collecting Indian journals especially those published in the humanities, arts, social sciences and Indian knowledge systems. These journals are evaluated critically relative to the protocols.

To select credible journals for the inclusion in the UGC-CARE list, a standard submission process has been established for colleges, universities, individuals, and publishers. Journals are considered for evaluation and for inclusion only after recommendations by teaching faculty of any university or affiliated colleges. Each faculty member need to sign a declaration form assuring the quality of the journal along with the recommendation (Figure 1).

 

Process of journal selection for UGC-CARE list
 
Figure 1: Process of journal selection for UGC-CARE list.

 

This process routinely weeds out predatory journals at various levels.

 

++++++++++

Current status

A total of 6,803 journals under Group I have been scrutinized with the UGC-CARE protocols, from which 1,002 (15 percent) qualified (Figure 2).

 

Quarterly progress of UGC-CARE list
 
Figure 2: Quarterly progress of UGC-CARE list.

 

Discipline-wise distribution of the qualified journals indicates that 66 percent represent the arts, humanities, and social sciences (Table 1).

 

Table 1: Discipline distribution of journals in Group I.
DisciplineNumber of journals
Arts and humanities362
Multidisciplinary47
Science292
Social science301
Total1,002

 

The objective of the UGC-CARE to include journals from disciplines other than science is reflected in Group I.

 

++++++++++

Journals in regional languages

UGC-CARE strives to add credible Indian journals published in regional languages to the UGC-CARE list (Table 2).

 

Table 2: Journals published in Indian regional languages in Group I.
 LanguagesNumber of journals
1.Assamese9
2.Bengali21
3.Gujarati11
4.Hindi105
5.Kannada8
6.Maithili1
7.Malayalam10
8.Marathi33
9.Odia1
10.Pali1
11.Prakrit1
12.Punjabi11
13.Rajasthani1
14.Sanskrit30
15.Sindhi1
16.Tamil11
17.Telugu7
18.Urdu28
 Total290

 

 

++++++++++

UGC-CARE Web site

The Web site of UGC-CARE is available at http://ugccare.unipune.ac.in. Apart from the searchable UGC-CARE lists, the site provides information about the UGC-CARE initiative, latest notifications, standard procedure for submitting journals, information for inclusion in the UGC-CARE list, FAQs, Feedback, and grievances. The site also provides links to useful resources in research and publication ethics. Users need to register with the site to search the UGC-CARE list.

 

++++++++++

Feedback portal at UGC-CARE Web site

The UGC-CARE Web site has made a separate Feedback portal where anyone can send suggestions about data, such as changes in ISSN numbers, addresses of publishers, and journal titles. It also provides the means to submit grievances, if any, about any given publisher and journal.

 

++++++++++

Impact of the UGC-CARE list

The launch of the UGC-CARE list in June 2019 has made a huge impact on Indian academia and in publishing industry. The global community has appreciated this effort:

 

++++++++++

Challenges

The UGC-CARE list is still in its early stages. It will grow beyond its current nascent phase with active participation of all the stakeholders. The primary challenge of the CARE list is its continuous updating and monitoring of publishers, specifically regarding the inclusion and removal of the journals. Moreover, UGC-CARE members are facing several challenges:

 

++++++++++

Recommendations

To make the UGC-CARE list robust and error free, thorough searches of credible print and online journals in the social sciences, arts and humanities, and Indian knowledge systems are necessary. Moreover, UGC-CARE, through its Web interface to credible Indian print journals, can increase awareness on a global scale of Indian research.

Indian funding agencies are paying huge amounts for subscriptions to journals as well as APCs to publishers (https://thewire.in/the-sciences/plan-s-open-access-scientific-publishing-article-processing-charge-insa-k-vijayraghavan). To reduce these costs, UGC-CARE can encourage Indian universities and learned societies to publish high quality Indian journals in the near future. To achieve this UGC-CARE can come up with specialized training programs on standard publishing practices.

THe library and information science (LIS) community can certainly contribute to fulfill the objectives of UGC-CARE as librarians are well versed and familiar with bibliographic databases and bibliometric analyses (citation analysis, impact factors, H-index, and other metrics) and can extend their skills in identifying predatory publications.

A Two-credit course on “Research and Publication Ethics”

To achieve the quality mandate, UGC mandated a two-credit course to Ph.D. students to be completed in the first year of the registration. This course was designed by CPE, Savitribai Phule Pune University. CPE has successfully completed two batches of this course.

Workshops on “Research Integrity Awareness”

UGC conducted five awareness workshops at UGC-CARE universities in 2019 for various higher authorities of the universities and colleges from respective regions.

 

++++++++++

Conclusion

The image of Indian research that has been compromised by predatory publishing. The UGC-CARE initiative is a first step to curb this problem and to promote research integrity and publication ethics in the Indian academia. This dynamic list is expected to evolve to become a valuable resource and reference for the quality scientific publishing. The two-credit course on “Research and Publication Ethics” is being conducted by several universities across India. The research integrity campaign in India is also about increased academic accountability. Thus, the UGC-CARE initiative has started the battle against the unethical practices in research and publication. End of article

 

About the authors

Bhushan Patwardhan is Former Vice Chairman, University Grants Commission, National Research Professor — Ayush, Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Ganeshkhind, Pune 411007, Maharashtra, India.
E-mail: bhushan [at] unipune [dot] ac [dot] in

Shubhada Nagarkar is Associate Professor, Department of Library and Information Science and co-ordinator of the Centre for Publication Ethics at Savitribai Phule Pune University in Pune Maharashtra, India.
E-mail: shubha [at] unipune [dot] ac [dot] in

 

Acknowledgements

Authors acknowledges the support of authorities at University Grants Commission, all UGC-CARE Council members, UGC-CARE universities and the coordinators, authorities at Savitribai Phule Pune University and the staff members at Centre for Publication Ethic, SPPU. Special sincere thanks are due to Asha Umarani, Retd. LIS teacher, SPPU, for her inputs and critical comments in writing this paper.

 

References

Jeffrey Beall, 2013. “Predatory publishing is just one of the consequences of gold open access,” Learned Publishing, volume 26, number 2, pp. 79–84.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1087/20130203, accessed 28 September 2021.

Jeffrey Beall, 2012. “Predatory publishers are corrupting open access,” Nature, volume 489, number 7415 (12 September), p. 179.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/489179a, accessed on 13 November 2019.

Tov Faber Frandsen, 2017. “Are predatory journals undermining the credibility of science? A bibliometric analysis of citers,” Scientometrics, volume 113, number 3, pp. 1,513–1,528.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-017-2520-x, accessed 28 September 2021.

Subhash Chandra Lakhotia, 2017. “Mis-conceived and mis-implemented academic assessment rules underlie the scourge of predatory journals and conferences,” Proceedings of the Indian National Science Academy, volume 83, number 3, pp. 513–515.
doi: https://doi.org/10.16943/ptinsa/2017/49141, accessed 28 September 2021.

David Moher, Larissa Shamseer, Kelly D. Cobey, Manoj M. Lalu, James Galipeau, Marc T. Avey, Nadera Ahmadzai, Mostafa Alabousi, Pauline Barbeau, Andrew Beck, Raymond Daniel, Robert Frank, Mona Ghannad, Candyce Hamel, Mona Hersi, Brian Hutton, Inga Isupov, Trevor A. McGrath, Matthew D. F. McInnes, Matthew J. Page, Misty Pratt, Kusala Pussegoda, Beverley Shea, Anubhav Srivastava, Adrienne Stevens, Kednapa Thavorn, Sasha van Katwyk, Roxanne Ward, Dianna Wolfe, Fatemeh Yazdi, Ashley M. Yu, and Hedyeh Ziai 2017. “Stop this waste of people, animals and money,” Nature, volume 549, number 7670 (7 September), p. 23.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/549023a, accessed 28 September 2021.

Bhushan Patwardhan, 2019. “Why India is striking back against predatory journals,” Nature volume 571, number 7763 (4 July), p. 7.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-02023-7, accessed 28 September 2021.

Bhushan Patwardhan, Shubhada Nagarkar, Shridhar Gadre, Subhash Chandra Lakhotia, Vishwa Mohan Katoch, and David Moher, 2018. “A critical analysis of the ‘UGC-approved list of journals’,” Current Science, volume 114, number 6, p. 1,299.

Subhra Priyadarshini, 2017 “India tops submissions in predatory journals,” Nature India, volume 115 (6 September).
doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/nindia.2017.115, accessed 28 September 2021.

Has van Vlokhoven, 2019. “The effect of open access on research quality,” Journal of Informetrics, volume 13, number 2, pp. 751–756.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joi.2019.04.001, accessed 28 September 2021.

Gaby Weiner, 2001. “The academic journal: Has it a future?” Education Policy Analysis Archives, volume 9, number 9.
doi: https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.v9n9.2001, accessed 28 September 2021.

 


Editorial history

Received 16 November 2019; revised 17 March 2020; accepted 29 June 2020.


Copyright © 2021, Bhushan Patwardhan and Shubhada Nagarkar. All Rights Reserved.

The UGC-CARE initiative: Indian academia’s quest for research and publishing integrity
by Bhushan Patwardhan and Shubhada Nagarkar.
First Monday, Volume 26, Number 10 - 4 October 2021
https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/download/10349/10505
doi: https://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v26i10.10349