After going through a document entitled ‘Final Report–Guidelines for Research Publications’ May 5, 2015, drafted by a Committee appointed by Hon Vice Chancellor, Savitribai Phule Pune University for Guidelines for Research Publications under the chairmanship of Prof. Bhushan Patwardhan, it is noticed that a galaxy of intellectuals, senior and esteemed academicians of various institutions took a serious note and had started brain-storming on quality of research and education. They felt that the number of faculty members and students who are falling prey to dubious/ spurious/bogus/predatory publishers, journals, and other periodicals is increasing day by day.
The background of this report also highlighted the roles of various assessment, accreditation and ranking agencies worldwide who gave substantial weightage to the quality and quantity of research undertaken by faculty and students of the University. Further, substantial weightage is also given to the research publication for faculty selection, promotions, increment and academic performance indicators (API) as per the guidelines of the University Grants Commission (UGC), New Delhi, issued from to time. Most universities have mandatory provisions for a certain number of publications before submitting PhD thesis and getting recognition as a PhD guide.
The report also emphasized to note that the UGC notification in the Gazette of India dated September 18, 2010, Part III Sec. 4, page 7950 clearly states in the note that “It is incumbent on the Coordination Committee proposed in these regulations and the University to prepare and publicize within six months subject-wise lists of Journals, periodicals and publishers under categories III A and B.”
Being the faculty at Chaudhary Devi Lal University, Sirsa, Haryana and a Member of PhD. Ordinance Committee of this University, it is pertinent to note here that Clause 21.1 and sub-clause (a) of PhD. Ordinance 2020-2021 at page 13 states that “The scholar shall be allowed to his/her thesis only after he/she has published at least one research papers from his/her research work in UGC listed Research Journals…” (now titled as ‘UGC-CARE Reference List of Quality Journals’). Therefore, it becomes the need of the hour to clarify what should be considered an ethical publication and the broad criteria of a good journal. Taking a note of academic integrity and plagiarism, UGC, in its 509th meeting held on September 15, 2015, an agenda item regarding University Grants Commission (Promotion of Academic Integrity and Prevention of Plagiarism in Higher Education Institutions) Regulations, 2015 was considered and approved.
Noticeably, on September 1, 2017 [No. F. 1-18/2010 (CPP-II)], UGC issued a public notice that a Committee of experts has been constituted to look into issues of Plagiarism and recommend some institutional mechanism to eliminate the scope of this menace in the higher education system in the country to promote academic research and deterrence from plagiarism by developing systems to detect plagiarism.
For this purpose, observations and suggestions from stakeholders on the draft of UGC (Promotion of Academic Integrity and Prevention of Plagiarism in Higher Education Institutions) Regulations, 2017, prepared by the Committee, were sought. Consequently, UGC issued a notification in the Gazette of India: Extraordinary [PART III – Sec. 4] dated July 23, 2018, entitled “(Promotion of Academic Integrity and Prevention of Plagiarism in Higher Educational Institutions), Regulations, 2018”. The preamble of this notification clarifies that the assessment of academic and research work done leading to the partial fulfilment for the award of degrees at Masters and Research level, by a student or a faculty or a researcher or a staff, in the form of a thesis, dissertation and publication of research papers, chapters in books, full-fledged books and any other similar work, reflects the extent to which elements of academic
integrity and originality are observed in various relevant processes adopted by Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) to determine the standards of higher education. Further, this notification in its note on page 10 clearly states that “The research work carried out by the student, faculty, researcher and staff shall be based on original ideas, which shall include abstract, summary, hypothesis, observations, results, conclusions and recommendations only and shall not have many similarities. It shall exclude a common knowledge or coincidental terms, up to fourteen (14) consecutive words.” However, the similarity checks for plagiarism shall exclude (i) all quoted work reproduced with all necessary permission and/or attribution, (ii) all references, bibliography, table of content, preface and acknowledgements, and all generic terms, laws, standard symbols and standards equations. Moreover, to enhance the academic integrity and to prevent plagiarism, the plagiarism was quantified in four levels in ascending order of severity for the definition of Plagiarism such as (i) Level 0: Similarities up to 10 per cent – Minor similarities, no penalty, (ii) Level 1: Similarities above 10 per cent to 40 per cent, (iii) Level 2: Similarities above 40 per cent to 60 per cent, and (iv) Level 3: Similarities above 60 per cent. A clear-cut direction was also given by UGC to all stakeholders through this notification to detect, report and handle the issues of plagiarism by saying that “if any member of the academic community suspects with appropriate proof that a case of plagiarism has happened in any document, he or she shall report it to the Departmental Academic Integrity Panel (DAIP). Upon receipt of such a complaint or allegation, the DAIP shall investigate the matter and submit its recommendations to the Institutional Academic Integrity Panel (IAIP) of the Higher Educational Institution (HEI). The authorities of HEI can also take Suo Motu notice of an act of plagiarism and initiate proceedings under these regulations.
Similarly, proceedings can also be initiated by the HEI based on the findings of an examiner. All such cases will be investigated by the IAIP.” This notification in its note three on page 12 clearly states that “HEIs shall create a mechanism to ensure that each of the paper publication/thesis/dissertations by the student, faculty, researcher or staff of the HEI is checked for plagiarism at the time of forwarding/submission.”
In corollary, on November 28, 2019 [No. F. 1-2/2016 (PS/III Amendment], UGC issued a public notice and mentioned on page 3 of this notice that a suitable advisory will be issued to create awareness amongst the students, academia, and other stakeholders about the issue of predatory/sub-standard journals and academic fraternity should especially be advised not to be associated with predatory/sub-standard journals/publishers in any manner. Further, a suitable advisory will be issued to the universities/colleges and other academic institutions emphasizing the roles of valid and quality-driven criteria and the Selection/Expert Committees in the process of academic evaluations for various purposes. Evaluation of the Research Output of candidates/institutions has to be based on the quality of published work, rather than merely on the number of publications/impact factor/citations.
On June 14, 2019 [No. F. 1-1/2018 (Journals/CARE)], UGC issued a public notice on academic integrity to create awareness among all stakeholders in general and the Indian academic community in specific that UGC has set up a Consortium for Academic and Research Ethics (CARE) to identify, continuously monitor and maintain ‘UGC-CARE Reference List of Quality Journals’ across disciplines to prevent academic misconduct, including plagiarism in academic writing among students, faculty members, researchers and staff and to safeguard ethics and academic integrity. Interestingly, on August 2, 2019 [D.O. No. 75-1/32018 (e Gov./TAC)], UGC issued a notice to the Vice-Chancellor of all Universities in India to disseminate the information with regard to provide Plagiarism Detection Software (PDS) to universities/institutions, including private universities, free of cost.
On dated September 16, 2019 [No. F. 1-1/2018 (Journals/CARE)], UGC issued a public notice and reiterated that the Vice-Chancellor, Selection Committees, Screening Committees, research supervisors and all/any expert(s) involved in academic/performance evaluation and assessment are hereby advised to ensure that their decisions in case of selections, promotions, credit allotment, award of research degree, etc. must be based on the quality of published work rather than just numbers of a mere presence in peer-reviewed or in old UGC Approved List of Journals.
In December 2019 [No. F. 1-1/2018 (Journals/CARE))], UGC issued a notice to Vice-Chancellor of all Universities in India to undertake Two Credits’ Course entitled ‘Research and Publication Ethics’ as a compulsory paper for all PhD students for pre-registration course work from the forthcoming academic session to create awareness about research and publication ethics and publication misconducts.
Going beyond the above initiatives and in line with global standards of ethical publishing established by leading institutions and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), UGC drew the attention of the academic community again by issuing a public notice on Self-Plagiarism on dated April 20, 2020 [No. F.1-1/2020 (SECY)] by saying that Vice-Chancellor, Selection Committees, Screening Committees, IQACs and all/any expert (s) involved in academic/performance evaluation and assessment are hereby strongly advised that their decisions in case of promotions, selections, credit allotment, award of research degree must be based on an evaluation of the applicant’s published work to ensure that the work being submitted for promotion/selection is not self-plagiarised.
After going through the voyage of measures taken by UGC, hence it may be concluded that the UGC has been taking novel initiatives to curb unethical practices from its beginning, not only for research and publication ethics but also taken initiatives for the development of professional ethics to safeguard the interest of Indian academia, to promote Indian research among the nations and to ensure credibility and quality in higher education is the Quality Mandate of UGC. To achieve this, we all stakeholders have to follow and implement the instructions, guidelines and regulations issued by the UGC from time to time, in letter and spirit.
(The writer is a Professor and chairperson, Department of Commerce at Chaudhary Devi Lal University, Sirsa, Haryana)