Predatory journals: UGC’s greyish white list is a curse to science


The UGC is singularly responsible for the mushrooming of predatory journals in India and the  patronage by researchers based in the country.

The Academic Performance Indicators (API) system introduced by the UGC is singularly responsible for the sharp growth of predatory journals in India. The white list it introduced to stem the rot has not helped with the inclusion of predatory journals. The vague and loose criteria for inclusion of a journal in the list has only made things worse.

In the last decade, predatory journals, which publish papers for a fee with little or no peer review, have become a curse to science. Despite the unethical business practices adopted by publishers of such journals, the number of researchers who publish in them has been increasing at an alarming rate. From about 53,000 in 2010, the number of papers published in these journals increased to 420,000 in 2014, noted a 2015 paper published in BMC Medicine.

India is the epicentre of predatory journal publishing. According to the BMC Medicine paper, around 35% of authors in such journals were from India, and 27% of predatory journal publishers were also based here, thus making India the number one country in both categories. A September 2017 paper in Nature found that authors from India accounted for 27% of the 1,907 papers published in predatory journals.

From initially being duped into publishing papers in these journals, researchers in India, particularly those from State universities, are now actively seeking out such journals. The University Grants Commission (UGC) is singularly responsible for this.

Never mind the almost non-existent research infrastructure in most colleges and State universities, the Academic Performance Indicators (API) system introduced by the UGC has mandated that every PhD scholar publish at least two papers prior to thesis submission. A similar condition exists for teachers in colleges and universities at the time of recruitment and assessment for promotion. The myopic policy of the UGC has unwittingly led to a sudden and huge demand for journals that willingly publish substandard papers for a small fee.

The greyish white list

Bowing to pressure, in January 2017 the UGC introduced a white list of journals where researchers could publish to meet the API conditions. If the introduction of the API was done without any application of mind, the white list prepared without the scientific community’s involvement has led to the inclusion of at least 200 predatory journals (here and here). Worse, universities may suggest new journal titles for inclusion in the list, and the criteria for inclusion are not only vague but also loose.

Criteria for inclusion

Predatory journals are known to give themselves a fake impact factor, which indicates the standard of the journal, and claim to peer review papers before accepting, though they rarely practice it. They also include scientists as editors and board members even without their consent, include instructions and ethics policies that have been plagiarised and rarely followed, and claim to be indexing in respectable sites.

Unfortunately, there are just a few factors for judging a journal for inclusion. It would therefore not be surprising to find most, if not all, of the journals recommended by universities as being predatory. Owing to the UGC’s incompetence, at least 200 predatory journals have been legitimised. It’s time it abandons the list altogether and follows standard white lists prepared by competent organisations, which, even if not perfect, are far better than this one.

Published in The Hindu on March 11, 2018


6 thoughts on “Predatory journals: UGC’s greyish white list is a curse to science

  1. DOAJ has this week sent a recommendation to UGC to include the OA journals indexed in DOAJ into the UGC Approved List. We hope they will take up this suggestion. We have a dedicated team of editors working at DOAJ who are trained to identify questionable journals. We hope UGC will engage with us going forward.

  2. The statement that UGC doesn’t fund research is wrong. There are many scholarships and fellowships available for research students. The problem is that people choose ‘shorcut’ Methods to publish. You can get a PhD from a few universities in South thru distance education for just Rs 10 – 20 thousand without doing anything? What the UGC is doing? UGC is blind to such blatant violation of rules because it doesn’t have powers to stop. It publishes fake universities list every year but does nothing to stop them. Just because students don’t have money and publishing takes long time, predatory journal publishers cannot justify their business. They are doing a great damage to the scholarly communication system. Today API has gone; tomorrow NIRF will also vanish. UGC is defunct and it should be scrapped.

  3. Fully agree with the views. The basic question is why do we need preparing a list if there is already very legitimate list is available by Web of Science – A gold standard in the publication world.

  4. I appreciate your intention in writing this brilliant article. Some points I need to make it clear ( I am a so called ‘predatory journal editor and please don’t consider it while reading rest of the statement )
    Have you once thought why Indian authors publish in predatory journals? You may say fast publishing without peer reviewing . Yes , it may be one of the reasons. UGC has research centers in colleges , universities etc where 100 of students are persueing their PhD .Do you know how much money they are spending for their work? Very little. UGC can open research centers with no funding and universities can give research guides without projects or funding guide ships, then they can only accept predatory journal list given by this professors. If they indent to publish in Indian journals , you need to know niscair journals have just published 2014 received paper now.So much delay. Only solution I can suggest UGC should open journals which follow fast peer review and publish valuable small researches without perishing.

    • Fully agree with you about the lack of funding for researchers in colleges and State universities. And yes, there should be more number of respectable Indian journals which publish good quality papers within a reasonable time. Both these are not going to happen in the near future. That is one more reason why the API system should be scrapped.

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