The University Grants Commission (UGC), through a notification issued on 2 May 2018, dropped more than 4,000 magazines from its list of approved journals. Among them there are many unknown and little-known journals, which were found to be publishing suspect research papers in return for undue favours. However, on this pretext, many prestigious magazines that have maintained a high standard and are known for resisting the dominant intellectual discourse, have also been dropped.
The magazines that have been ousted from the list include Forward Press, the online edition of Economic and Political Weekly, Samyantar, Hans, Vagarth, Jan Media and Gandhi Marg. It might be pertinent to mention here that there is hardly any research work on humanities that does not quote from any of these journals. That is not all. The UGC has also delisted a host of magazines that present Buddhist and SC, ST discourses. What this notification essentially means is that the researchers whose papers are published in these magazines would not benefit from the additional points the UGC has set aside for publishing research.
The UGC said that the some professors, scholars, academicians and many “unnamed persons”, besides the media, had complained about the poor quality of these magazines, so a committee was constituted and the magazines were dropped from the list.
The following article is part of a series that apprises our readers with the seriousness of the issue and its repercussions. – Managing Editor
The talk of peer review
– Kamal Chandravanshi
At a time when many prestigious magazines and journals have been questioning the government about University Grants Commission’s move to drop them from its list of approved journals, the government is trying to create confusion by claiming that it has done nothing to destroy their credibility and that research scholars remain unaffected.
According to the official information received from the UGC, there has been no change in the situation since May 2018. That is, none of the 4,305 magazines that were delisted has been reinstated in its list of approved journals. Among them are many that enjoy great respect among the general public as well as in the academia. Forward Press is also one of them. Meanwhile, on 12 September 2018, The Hindu carried a story saying that the UGC had decided to treat all peer-reviewed journals on a par with its own list of approved journals and university and college teachers would earn points if their papers were published in such journals.
• Ashish Nandy: UGC cannot police the intellectual class of the country
• No change in attitude of UGC despite criticism
• UGC spreading anarchy on the pretext of new rules
The confusion created by the news story
The article in The Hindu says that the UGC has taken this decision to make it easier for university and college teachers to earn points to enhance their research score for recruitment and promotion. Furthermore, the report quotes from the recently-notified UGC regulations for minimum qualifications and says, “The methodology for calculating academic/research score offers points for ‘research papers in peer reviewed or UGC listed journals’.”
The fact is that in its notifications published on its website, the UGC has not used “ya” (Hindi), “and” (English) or the oblique (/) sign anywhere. It has clearly mentioned that the amended list of approved journals cleared by the standing committee would be supreme.
Even if, for argument’s sake, the news item published in The Hindu is considered accurate, it goes on to say that: “For each such paper in science, engineering, medical, agriculture and veterinary sciences, a college or university teacher will earn eight points. For each paper in languages, humanities, arts, social sciences, library, education, physical education, commerce, management and other related disciplines, the teacher will earn 10 points. The regulations say: ‘Assessment must be based on evidence produced by the teacher such as copy of publications …’”
Going by the story, it seems as if the UGC has taken a very progressive step and the furore in the academic circle on the issue is meaningless.
However, the question is whether the list of approved and blacklisted journals has been altered or whether the “methodology” for granting approvals has been amended. Nothing of the sort has happened. Of late, questions were being raised on the basic character of the present government and it is being said that it wants to create political confusion and use it to its advantage. It is doing the same with respect to higher education – a sector that has long-term implications for the nation and society. And it is using a respected newspaper as its tool.
What is peer review?
Peer review involves an expert or experts in the field vetting a paper before its publication. Peer review constitutes a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. However, peer review in India is open to manipulation and can be understood like this: If any research paper says that Satyanarayan Katha is the truth and 80 of 100 Brahmins attest to it, the paper will be considered peer-reviewed.
It may mentioned here that journals published by the National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCAIR), located in New Delhi, have, of late, started describing themselves as peer-reviewed on their websites. More than 10 journals are published by NISCAIR. Its website says, “In these peer-reviewed research journals, research papers, reviews, book reviews and reports of conferences are published in Hindi.” It introduces the head of this institution as the same gentleman who mooted the proposal of the Kisan (farmer’s) TV channel.
The government’s intentions are clear. It is not ready to budge from the stand it took on 2 May 2018. Meanwhile, it is releasing one trial balloon after another just as it has done by starting a meaningless debate on One-Country-One-Election to keep the media and the Election Commission preoccupied.
Reactions continue to pour in
Here is a sampling of the criticisms of the UGC’s high-handedness:
• Kaushik Bhaumik, professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics in JNU, says: “I do not support the decision of the UGC on approved journals. I am with those who are opposing the decision on ideological grounds. UGC’s decision is unjust and against the interests of the academia, besides being impractical.” Kaushik is well known for his research in the field of cinema and society. He has done in-depth studies on Land Art and on the concepts of Zen and Bonsai. He is also known for his study of the impact of industrialization on art and society.
• Gaurang Pradhan, manager, Economic and Political Weekly, told this writer, “We are surprised by what is happening at UGC. The kind of atmosphere being built in the country is there for everyone to see. The kind of charges that are being levelled against the journals need to be deeply probed. EPW’s online edition has been dropped although it is the exact digital copy of the print edition. We are corresponding with the UGC and will hold a meeting with them soon.” He said that a decision on how to proceed on the matter would be taken after discussion with the editorial colleagues.
• Dr Narasimha Reddy, an economist who retired as professor at Hyderabad University, said: “By ousting prestigious magazines from the list, the UGC has generated anger and anguish. It is very natural for votaries of academic freedom to feel agitated by the development. The UGC is creating anarchy. Scholars earned name and prestige by getting published in these journals. The UGC’s action would only attract more readers to these magazines and journals. It smacks of intolerance. I am completely with those who are resisting this move.”
• Sociologist Dr N.K. Nandan said: “Never since Independence has power been used so brazenly by the governments. The way the UGC is working since 2014, it seems it cares two hoots for the interest of the students of universities. The UGC does not need someone with dictatorial mindset as its head. At the time when the government is out to destroy the intellectual capital of the country, the UGC’s action is inexcusable. It is our bounden duty as intellectuals to build pressure on the UGC to take a principled stand.”
• Well-known political scientist and critic Ashish Nandy has reacted sharply to the development. He wrote, “I oppose the indirect censorship being imposed by the UGC. The way Forward Press and other magazines were treated deserves outright condemnation. The UGC has no right to police the intellectual class of the country.”
• Upendra Pathik, a cultural activist and former national convenor of the cultural committee of Arjak Sangh, did not hide his anger, when he said: “These [blacklisted] magazines are not merely magazines, they also a mission, a movement. Forward Press is trying to bring the backward sections of society into the mainstream. It raises social concerns through its research-based articles. It was this magazine which discovered the myths and stories about Mahishasur by visiting forests and caves and that too with documented evidence. All this is very useful for researchers. It is playing a key role in combating social, cultural and religious evil practices and superstitions. The UGC is trying to block the way of those who are trying to make the people of the lowest strata of society aware. The UGC will have to rethink its decision.”
Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil
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