Conceit and Counterfeit: Degrading Higher Education in Kashmir

Flooded Amar Singh College, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. Emblematic of the state academic culture of higher educational institutes in Kashmir

By Muhammad Tahir

HIGHER education in Kashmir is in dire straits, and the academic leadership is doing nothing to fix the system. Acute problems exist across the domains: there is a lack of ‘strategic plan’ at the administrative level, research output is substandard, pedagogical approach is outmoded, teacher evaluation process and student feedback and surveys hardly exist, and a highly bureaucratized culture prevails, perpetuating a rule by mediocrities. Lack of accountability and exaggerated reputation has further compounded the problem.

Take the case of the University of Kashmir (KU), one of the oldest educational institutions of higher learning in Kashmir. KU’s vision statement reads: “To be a world class University committed to create and disseminate knowledge for human development and welfare.” It is a nice ideal, but a cursory glance at the research output of the senior faculty shows that this vision statement is just rhetoric, a sheer formality. What is being flaunted as research is mostly a showpiece of shoddy scholarship. Nearly two-third of articles written by the university faculty have appeared in predatory and fake/cloned journals. Predatory journals and publishers are defined as “entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.”

Both, the faculty and the university is at fault, though the larger share of blame lies with the university which has failed to integrate its professed values into the university’s eco-system to encourage work ethics, induce professionalism and rigor required to produce knowledge. There is no real incentive for the permanent faculty to publish (They can get promotions through other, mostly administrative, activities). Otherwise what can explain the case that some senior professors in the School of Social Sciences haven’t published any research article since last eight years? So, it is easy to say that your university is “committed to create knowledge” than actually operationalizing that vision in everyday processes of the university.

Whatever little research the senior faculty of KU has published is substandard. Because they have chosen to publish in predatory and fake/cloned journals. Except for a couple of young Assistant Professors, who have recently published their research through reputed international academic publishers like Routledge and Oxford University Press, there is hardly anything to show by the senior faculty in terms of solid piece of scholarship that could be cited by international scholars/researchers interested in the Kashmir studies. Either for convenience or lack of confidence, senior faculty often opt for self-publishing, if they have a manuscript. Many faculty members go for local Srinagar-based publishers who are infamous for their poor editorial processes and do not follow standard academic publishing practices, such as peer-review, which is an essential component of knowledge production in academia.

It should be a cause of great embarrassment that a senior professor of the Department of History has listed two fake journals in his “Published Research Papers” column. One of the journals is even highlighted as having an impact factor of 4.6. A simple search on Scimago or JCR website would have made it clear that the journal is not even indexed on credible databases. An investigative blogpost about this journal is open access on the internet and for everyone to read. But university officials seem not to fact-check before posting information on their official website. Or, they simply do not have a mechanism to address this issue.

Information shared by the Department of Economics is equally scandalous. In the Publications column on their website, they have listed 38 Published Papers. All of these by just three senior faculty members. But what is interesting is that four out of these 38 papers have appeared in a little-known journal called European Academic Research and that too in the same year: 2013. This journal is neither listed on Scimago nor on Web of Science or any other credible academic database. The journal charges a processing fee of $US30 (approx. 2000 Rupees) and this money must be transferred to the account name: Kogaion Publishing Centre SRL which is based in Bucharest Romania. Dig a little deeper and you will find that Kogaion Publishing Centre SRL features in the List of Predatory Journals. Is this a case of casual approach in profession, a professor not exercising due diligence?  May be or maybe not.

But, what would you say about the case that one faculty member has published a staggering nine articles in a single year. And some of these articles have appeared in journals that are published by the same organization called International Journals of Multidisciplinary Research Academy (IJMRA). On its website, IJMRA has listed at least six different journals, which charge publication fee of 1800 rupees for a single author and 2500 rupees for three authors.  Of course, if your faculty chose such paid-for journals you can have as many articles as your pockets allow.

No wonder then that the most cited articles and books on the Kashmir conflict are from non-local authors. According to Google Scholar, Sumantra Bose’s Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace (2003) has been cited by 606, while Victoria Schofield’s Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War (1996) has been cited by 585. Similarly, Sumit Ganguly’s The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes of Peace (1997) has been cited by 446 and his article Explaining the Kashmir Insurgency: Political Mobilization and Institutional Decay (1996) has been cited by 218. Why is that none of the professors from KU or any other university within J&K is as widely cited despite their local knowledge and expertise on the Kashmir issue? Reasons have been already highlighted above. There could be other reasons also, about which they can tell. But it is time for the senior faculty at KU – because they hold important positions and wield power at an institutional level – to introspect and work towards improving research done at their institution. Wallowing in false glory and exaggerated reputation isn’t going to serve society. Public money that goes into fat salaries of professors must go for the public good, not for self-promotion and creation of false impressions.

UGC Care List will, no doubt, address the issue of shoddy scholarship to some extent, but even then human resource at the universities in J&K must be properly trained to understand the different categories. I know a case of a young scholar whose article published in Q1 international journal was not considered because the examining persons did not find the journal in the UGC Care List. They didn’t care to check the relevant website for instructions.

If the KU wants to salvage its reputation, and is serious about its vision statement, it must fix the problems enumerated above. It must not encourage shoddy scholarship and unethical practices, and the first step it can take towards necessary reformation of the system is to immediately remove the names of the predatory and fake journals from its website. Their presence on the website, which is accessible worldwide, reflects badly on the institution.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • Muhammad Tahir is an independent researcher

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