Why UGC’s new relaxations on PhD can bring down research quality

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Published: June 3, 2019 6:34:02 AM

The publication requirement is one of the many reasons why the country has a thriving ecosystem of poor-quality and predatory journals that publish papers quickly for a fee (bypassing a rigorous peer-review), ghost reviewers and commission agents.

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A University Grants Commission (UGC) appointed committee has recommended that doctoral candidates shouldn’t be required to publish an article in a peer-reviewed journal for earning their PhDs. At present, to earn a PhD, apart from the research work, a candidate must have an article published in a peer-reviewed journal and must have presented at least two papers in seminars or conferences.

India is perhaps the only country that has a national publication requirement for PhD; in most jurisdictions around the world, institutions decide what they require from their doctoral candidates. In 2018, the UGC appointed a committee to examine this publication requirement, among many others.

The publication requirement is one of the many reasons why the country has a thriving ecosystem of poor-quality and predatory journals that publish papers quickly for a fee (bypassing a rigorous peer-review), ghost reviewers and commission agents. While the government has ordered a crackdown on predatory journals, the committee is of the view that the publication requirement be scrapped and a mid-way examination be undertaken of candidates.

The publication requirement has meant that there are serious delays in awarding of the doctorate degree in many cases. Given the length of time a PhD consumes, putting the students in limbo because prestigious, peer-reviewed journals take a long time to publish pieces is indefensible. The jam in science journals is just so severe that a candidate can be left hanging for well over a year.

However, many academics agree that doing away with the publication requirement means that there will be very little check on poor-quality research. A tailored review committee can pass a dubious thesis. In the politicised social sciences space, this means research that otherwise wouldn’t have otherwise withstood academic scrutiny will get classified as PhD-worthy research. Scientists have expressed concern that this will allow claims about things such as vimanas (interstellar spaceships) in ancient India to successful head transplants (again, in ancient India) to acquire the shade of credibility a PhD provides.

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