Solutions for low quality of Pakistani research

If you didn’t write it, cite it: The McGill Tribune

There have been several articles debating Pakistan research culture in the last couple of years in Dawn, and all of them raised important points. Ineffective HEC policies (Hoodbhoy P, July 01, 2017; Khawaja I, July 07, 2017), the incompetence of researchers (Agha N, Nov 10, 2015; Hoodbhoy P, Nov 21, 2015; Zardari S, Nov 02, 2014), the low quality of publications (Hoodbhoy P, Nov 21, 2015; Zardari S, Nov 02, 2014) and the unethical, unstandardized and favoritism-based trend of research (Khushikh AG, Aug 24, 2017; Khawaja I, July 07, 2017; Agha N, Nov 10, 2015; Hoodbhoy P, Nov 21, 2015), are all vital problems but how to solve them should be a focus of debate going forward. In a recently published article in Journal of International Higher Education, I presented three relevant suggestions for Pakistani researchers, academic institutions, and HEC which can help raise the quality of Pakistani research.

Plagiarism laws

Plagiarism is a major cause for low quality academic research in Pakistan. Hoodbhoy P (Nov 21, 2015) in Dawn said that most of these research papers have no real research behind them. In fact, the authors plagiarize ideas by exploring the easily available literature and then skillfully reduce the plagiarism by manipulating the idea. Hoodbhoy P (Nov 21, 2015) stated in that article that Pakistani students are learning the art of publishing papers in easily publishable journals and are arranging the ways to increase the citation of their papers. I agree with this assessment but I do not fully blame students for doing this. The lack of understanding of research ethics and lack of plagiarism laws have allowed this problem to take root.
It is enormously difficult to publish a plagiarized paper in high-impact factor journals. If these students are hardworking enough to spend extensive amounts of time plagiarizing papers and smart enough to pass intense review procedures and not only publish their plagiarized papers but also have them cited globally, then why are they not willing to use this time and effort in the right direction? What is motivating them to cheat is our inability to practice and educate students on real ethics of science at an early stage of their academic life.

As Abbasi K (March 25, 2015) in Dawn pointed out, no adequate actions under the plagiarism policy is taken against plagiarizing scholars in Pakistan. In fact, all of them continue to hold positions in universities. Due to the rampant corruption, it is almost impossible to even consider plagiarism unethical in Pakistani research culture. There should be a portion of R&D funds budgeted for the enforcement of anti-plagiarism laws. Infrastructure with a team of specialized experts is needed to enforce these laws. Guilty parties should have their research and teaching rights revoked to set an example for others.

Faculty selection

Most faculty members hired as assistant professors in Pakistan have no postdoctoral (postdoc) experience. Conversely, in other developed countries, at least 2-5 years as a postdoc is required before landing a faculty position. Postdoc positions provide additional research training in a specialized field, allowing for the acquisition of necessary skills before starting a faculty position. We need to revise the faculty selection procedure. Selection standards and transparency in hiring faculty is the only way to save academia in Pakistan. Then, after faculty selection and later in their career, tenure and further progress should only be awarded based on research novelty and creativity instead of simply the publication number.

Foreign qualified researchers

One of the mandatory requirements of HEC scholarships is that students must return after completing their PhD. Most policy makers do not understand the concept of post-PhD research. In addition, the duration of these scholarships is not enough for students to be fully trained. Some students are ambitious and want to continue their research as a postdoc to gain more skills in research. The HEC needs to give them time if they want to stay longer for research.
The HEC should find ways to somehow involve them in activities which could indirectly support Pakistani research. If ever they decide to return, they should be welcomed. These researchers can easily help Pakistani universities as adjunct faculty members or by distantly supervising Pakistani students and/or by serving as co-principal investigators in HEC projects with the local principal investigator in Pakistan in exchange for providing advanced expertise. Pakistan should not ignore the fact that wherever they are in the world at whichever institute, they are serving humanity by keeping themselves in research and indirectly working on Pakistan’s behalf. Here, I would like to give the example of Dr. Abdus Salam, who was working for several decades away from Pakistan in different foreign institutes but was lauded as a Pakistani Nobel Laureate.

For additional information

The writer is available at [email protected]


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