UGC rules blamed for helping promote fake journals in India

K. S. Jayaraman

doi:10.1038/nindia.2017.114 Published online 5 September 2017

India’s University Grants Commission (UGC), responsible for maintaining standards of higher education, has been blamed for the mushrooming of "predatory journals" in the country1.

The allegation comes from the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), the country's premier scientific society, in the form of a scathing editorial in its journal "Proceedings of INSA."

Predatory journals are fake open access journals which often claim high ‘impact factor’ but publish — for a substantial fee sub-standard non peer-reviewed manuscripts polluting scientific literature with trash. Forty two per cent of world's fake journal publishers are based in India2.

The editorial by Subash Lakhotia, the journal's chief editor and a zoology professor at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, says that one reason for the growth of fake publications in India is the Academic Performance Indicator (API) system introduced by the UGC. Under this system, a certain number of papers must have been published by a research scholar prior to submission of the doctoral thesis, and by the teachers in colleges and universities at the time of their recruitment and assessment for promotion.

To meet this UGC stipulation, research scholars and teachers have been publishing their work in mediocre journals, says Lakhotia. The major catalyst for the cancerous growth of predatory journals is "the demand created by increasing emphasis on the number of research publications as an important determinant of the academic performance of a faculty/scientist being considered for appointment or promotion."

According to the editorial, vested interests in the predatory journal industry have spread their tentacles in each university – many of them are actually being managed by faculty members themselves.

Lakhotia says that the UGC mandate for prospective and existing faculty members to ‘produce’ research papers was a misconceived idea as it ignored the fact that majority of colleges and universities in the country lack even the minimal infrastructure required for any kind of research.

The “gross mismatch” between the existing infrastructure and what is demanded of the applicants, proves to be an extremely fertile ground for the mushrooming of predatory journals, especially when all that mattered was the number of papers published by an individual with little consideration for quality, the editorial says.

One would not question the good intentions of the UGC while introducing these measures for maintaining minimal academic quality, it says. "However, in the absence of a minimally required infrastructure these measures have actually inflicted more damage than improving the quality of faculty or of the education being imparted. What the country needs is a very serious overhaul of the university and college system and its management."

Gopalakrishnan Seethapathy, a researcher in pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Oslo   who had recently conducted a surveyof predatory publications  from India, agrees. "Most guidelines (of UGC) are tailor-made in such away that the number of publications is the major criterion for appointments and tenure promotions, and not their quality," he told Nature India in an email.

"As a consequence, publication has become the mantra and motto for academics, resulting in the rise of predatory publishing."  Seethapathy says his survey found poor quality journals which are in fact owned by faculties and institutes and adds that UGC should consider alternative eligibility criteria for PhD candidates to defend their thesis instead of forcing them "to just publish something." There is also an urgent need to develop a mechanism both by institutes (and funding agencies) to identify the quality of  articles published by their  researchers.


1. S. C. Lakhotia. Mis-conceived and mis-implemented academic assessment rules underlie the scourge of predatory journals and conferences. Proc. Indian Natn. Sci. Acad. 83 (2017) doi: 10.16943/ptinsa/2017/49141

2. Shamseer, L. et al. Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison. BMC Medicine 15 (2017) doi: 10.1186/s12916-017-0785-9

3. Seethapathy, G. S. et al. India’s scientific publication in predatory journals:need for regulating quality of Indian science and education. Curr. Sci. (2016) doi: 10.18520/cs/v111/i11/1759-1764