Pakistan’s higher education system requires comprehensive structural reforms in order to ensure the production of genuine research for shaping public debates. However, Pakistani academics, particularly those who belong to social sciences, continue to face both procedural as well as substantive challenges with regard to conducting and publishing research. Dr. Ejaz Hussain, an Islamabad-based academic and political analyst, and Dr. Naimat Ullah Khan from University of Peshawar spoke to GVS and explained some challenges the young scholars are facing in Pakistan.
Dr. Khan believes that “after the restructuring of the University Grant Commission in November 2002, we now have the Higher Education Commission (HEC) for regulating higher education in Pakistan. The HEC is one of the few organizations which have significantly contributed to the increase in the number of universities, enrollment in universities, producing PhD faculty and number of publications”.
He notes that “for faculty promotions and awards of other financial and non-financial rewards, HEC has a list of ‘recognized journals’ for publishing research papers. The list is divided into international journals and local journals. Among all international journals, only those journals are recognized by the HEC that have an impact factor and are included in the Journal Citation Reports (JCR) of Clarivate Analytics, also called Web of Science Group”.
All social sciences and humanities researchers from Pakistan are requested to complaint, on Citizens Portal, against the discriminatory #HEC policy whereby per the latest notification the National journals are supposed to be indexed with Web of Science and Scopus 1/2
— Ejaz Hussain (@ejazbhatty) January 26, 2020
“Generally,” believes Dr. Khan, “it is relatively easy to publish papers in these journals when it comes to natural sciences as they have had well established and mature journals over the centuries. However, it is relatively very difficult to publish impact factor journals in other disciplines such as Social Sciences; especially in a large quantity to meet the requirements of HEC. For example, in order for a promotion from an assistant to associate professor, the HEC requires a publication of at least 10 papers in aforementioned international journals over the span of five years. Publishing in these journals is not only competitive but equally time consuming due to rigorous peer review processes and high chances of rejection”.
My first complaint on Pakistan Citizen Portal is against the #HEC’s discriminatory policy towards International Journals on Social Sciences and Humanities. Why ESCI is not acceptable for foreign journals while it is acceptable for national ones ? @HEC_Pakistan @BBCUrdu pic.twitter.com/rlMa9AwKRi
— Ejaz Hussain (@ejazbhatty) January 26, 2020
He explains that “the submission and publication fee, for many international journals creates further problems for Pakistani scholars; these fees are mostly equivalent to the one month salary of a Pakistani lecturer, which is mostly paid from their own pocket. In addition, publishing papers based on Pakistani data is really difficult in these journals as Pakistani universities do not have access to international databases such as World Scope, Compustat and DataStream etc. Time and again, faculty members from all over Pakistan have raised concerns over the HEC policy that recognizes the indexation of only a single agency – the ISI Master list of Thomas Reuters”.
‘Pathetic’ state of local journals
Dr. Ejaz Hussain believes that the state of local journals is grim and pathetic. He opines that “the HEC’s existing structure of national journals is classified as W (high), X (medium) and Y (low) category where the W category is believed to be very impactful academically and socially. Ironically, since the adoption of this scheme, none of the national journals from the social sciences could qualify as W category while X/Y etc., could not, overall, establish principles of objective scrutiny, rigorous peer-review, transparency, academic and social impact. Consequently, our national social sciences journals have not led to any meaningful debate on the most pressing issues at home, let alone engaging with (extra) regional challenges such as climate crisis”.
The submission and publication fee, for many international journals creates further problems for Pakistani scholars; these fees are mostly equivalent to the one month salary of a Pakistani lecturer, which is mostly paid from their own pocket
While commenting on Pakistani scholars’ inability to contribute to generate and develop debate at the international stage Dr. Hussain thinks that “owing to below average research produced by these journals, Pakistan, as a state, lost the strategic space to other nations particularly India when it comes to foreign policy debate on, for instance, Kashmir and/or Afghanistan. Comparatively, high-quality contents produced by a few Pakistani social scientists in internationally recognized social sciences journals have projected Pakistan globally”.
What should the HEC do?
Dr. Hussain proposed some reforms to the HEC. “In view of the foregoing,” he says, “the HEC is advised to ponder over the following suggestions in order to right the wrong. One, to put a permanent end to discrimination of International Journals of Social Sciences, the Commission must adopt the following three categories: one, SSCI journals (based on, but not limited to, Web of Science); two, ESCI and non-ESCI list that consists of indices and publishers based, for example, in Singapore , i.e. World Scientific, and/or China since the number of Pakistani scholars and students who are publishing in Chinese journals is increasing”.
Furthermore, Dr. Hussain suggest that “the Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index (CSSCI) can [also] be adopted. Our national journals must be pushed to get indexed accordingly. Such a policy, if implemented in letter and spirit, would put an end to proliferation of third-rate local journals with their poor content. It would also provide equal opportunities to researchers from across the disciplines. Lastly, articles published in impact factor journals (SSCI/SCI) be counted accordingly while making appointments/promotions. It is hoped that the HEC chairman, who has a social sciences background, not only feels our sentiments but also addresses the problem on a priority basis”.
The HEC is expected to look into suggestions being offered by the academics to ensure meritocracy, development and production of international standard research in the field of social science.