UGC removes many journals from approved list, including EPW online

UGC recently published names of 4,305 journals on its website that have been removed from the list of UGC-approved journals. The decision was taken by a Standing Committee on Notification of Journals

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Photo courtesy: Twitter
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Anirban Bandyopadhyay

UGC, or University Grants Commission, the government agency that funds and approves Universities in India and the credentials of academic professionals employed there and in affiliated undergraduate colleges, recently published a list of 4,305 journals on its website.

The preface to the list states that they have been removed from the list of UGC approved journals. The decision has been made by a Standing Committee on Notification of Journals. The job has been carried out with such meticulous inefficiency that it is hard to take the list seriously. The point may be established with a simple exercise, easy enough to be carried out by any internet literate individual. But it is useful, at the outset, to see what the list wishes to accomplish. Let the technique of how to interrogate it appear in due course.

The Committee had to reassess every journal recommended by the universities and also those listed in Indian Citation Index, following complaints by faculty, researchers and other members of the academic community, along with the press and media representatives. The complaint, as well as the ground for cancelling their approval, was broadly that these journals were of poor quality, or that they supplied incorrect or insufficient information or made false claims.

It is helpful to be clear about what the criteria for selection as a UGC approved journal are. There are two ways in which a journal may be included. The first appears to be a default entry route. If a journal is already part of a credible citation index, or belongs to an elite database of journals accredited or indexed by a credible regime of indexation, it may walk into this list. For instance, journals already indexed in, or with, Web of Science (Science Citation Index, Social Science Citation Index and Humanities Citation Index) or Scopus or Indian Citation Index probably finds a default entry, provided the claims to this effect are verified.

Journals recommended by UGC Standing Committee and Language Committee, along with those recommended by Universities too find a place, but with a rider. The total number of journals approved by UGC hovers around 32,000, or so claims the document explaining the methodology of selection.

There is enough data in the list to make a credible prima facie case for all of these charges. Finally, there is the bread and butter consideration for academics seeking appointment or promotion in higher education institutions in India. Publication in these journals brings rating points. Those rating points decide relative eligibility and seniority for appointment or promotion in Indian colleges or universities.

There is a second route of entry, which is distinct from, but not unrelated to, the first. It is that every journal must score at least five out of a possible maximum score of nine, as provided in a rating scheme with eight listed criteria.

This additional requirement appears to apply to two classes of journals, those recommended by the UGC Standing Committee and Languages Committee, and those recommended by various universities. For journals which claim to be listed in an already approved database, such as SoW or Scopus, the responsibility of the UGC standing committee is limited to verifying that claim. Once those claims are successfully verified, the journals concerned appear to be entitled to a default entry.

It would seem also that the requirement of entry into those databases probably ensures that those eight criteria are complied with. It is hard to confirm this assumption without access to the basic reason why UGC has resolved to offer default entry to journals already listed to those approved databases. That is not available, as yet, to this commentator. It is similarly not clear why claims to inclusion in Indian Citation Database were chosen for reverification. Whatever it is, it does not reflect well on the overall reputation of ICI.

There are many ways the flaws behind the making of the list may be identified. One is to take up each criteria for separate analysis, or to take them all as a whole and question its basic rationality. Another is to cry that it is a conspiracy by right wing forces, which it may or may not be, for journals published by purportedly right wing institutions or centres too have been rejected in large enough numbers. It could be argued that highly respected journals have been rejected on obscure grounds, which too may or may not be valid. It could be submitted that the list removes important journals hosting research on Dalits, tribals and other marginalized communities. It could be said that science journals and humanities journals should not be held to the same criteria.

There is enough data in the list to make a credible prima facie case for all of these charges. Finally, there is the bread and butter consideration for academics seeking appointment or promotion in higher education institutions in India. Publication in these journals brings rating points. Those rating points decide relative eligibility and seniority for appointment or promotion in Indian colleges or universities. An academic having published or scheduled to publish or hoping to publish in any of these journals now arguably runs the risk of losing or not gaining those potential rating points. The list of legitimate grievances could be, and will be, made larger and more diverse in days to come, as more angles emerge.

Every single one of the substantive concerns above, and the ones to emerge later, is serious and merits detailed treatment. But that must involve according this list a particular degree of credibility or seriousness that such lists otherwise deserve. On the ground of bare fact alone, this list does not seem to hold up. It is useful to ask why a given journal has been unfairly rejected only after it has been ascertained that the list is talking about real journals. There is a list of journals removed from the list because they have ceased publication. They merit no consideration at all. But several, if not many, journals mentioned in this list among those rejected on grounds other than stoppage of publication simply does not exist, as they are listed.

The submission is easy enough to test. Every journal with a valid eight digit ISSN code can be tracked down in a matter of a few seconds. Let us take a random sample. The Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies (entry 2531 in the list) has the ISSN code 2047-1076. The code provided in the journal website and that in the ISSN database match perfectly. In our list, however, the code is 2049-1076. The ISSN database offers nothing for that number. Let’s move to the Proceedings of the Indian History Congress (entry 2543). Its ISSN code is 22491937, according to the ISSN database. This list calls the journal Indian History Congress Proceedings and says the ISSN number is 41097815. The latter number returns nothing from the ISSN database. Bengal Past and Present (entry 640) has the ISSN code 00058807, according to the ISSN database. The list finally gets it right, but rejects it on the ‘primary criteria’ that the journal must have a website with full postal and email address of the Chief Editor or other editors, and that at least some of these addresses are verifiable official addresses. That, in fact, is the non negotiable minimum criteria for any journal to even be considered for approval. Without it, no journal enters into the eight point criteria stage.

The misnomer flaw list goes on. The Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal (entry 65) comes with ISSN 18321936 in the list. The ISSN database has nothing for that number. Senior officials from The Asiatic Society, Kolkata, inform that the journal by that name ceased to exist by the early fifties. Their current journal is called The Journal of the Asiatic Society. It is duly uploaded on the parent body website. In fact, one is not clear which journal the list is talking about. Is it the current journal of the Asiatic Society, Kolkata, which does not have the ISSN listed in the list? Or is it the journal that had ceased publication seventy years ago, which the list actually names, and for which it shows a ISSN code which returns nothing from the ISSN database? How on earth a journal which ceased publication in the fifties managed to collect a ISSN code, is, of course, excellent material for wild fiction. ISO 3297 system, the legal basis for ISSN numbers, came into being in 2007, and later updated in 2017. Finally, the current Journal of Asiatic Society has been found in the approved Journals list

There was a scare that Economic and Political Weekly, the respected social science journal from Mumbai, too was rejected. Fortunately, it was soon enough found out that the ISSN code in the list (entry 3509) belongs to the online version of the journal. The ISSN database too confirms it. The print version, where thousands of landmark articles have been published over half a century, carries the ISSN code 0012-9976 and is safely listed in the CABABSTRACTS, GLOBALHEALTH and SCOPUS databases.

How does one carry out a ISSN database search for close to 3,500 journals and then match them with the list, within a day of having discovered the scandal it is? Was not the grandiosely named Standing Committee entrusted with that very job? Or is it lacking in expertise to carry out a ISSN database search? The UGC must now brace itself for a thundering diversity of dismissal from across many quarters. There is plenty of turmoil ahead.

The writer is Junior Research Officer at Educational Multimedia Research Centre, St. Xavier's College, Kolkata. The opinion is exclusively his own.

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Published: 04 May 2018, 6:02 PM
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