New guidelines set high publishing bar for academics

Kenya’s Commission for University Education has issued stringent new guidelines for the appointment and promotion of academic staff in a system that gives heavy emphasis to publication in reputable, peer-reviewed journals and discourages publication in so-called predatory journals. While the move is intended to raise academic standards, it has also raised concerns about the hurdles to publication facing many Kenyan academics.

According to Commission Chairman Professor Chacha Nyaigotti-Chacha, there are six categories of evaluation for those seeking appointment or promotion: qualification, work experience, research and publication, quality teaching, administration and community engagement.

Within the research and publication category, there are weighted points based on type of publication and scholarly output. Scoring the highest points (the maximum of 24) is publication of a university-level scholarly book, followed by a patented invention or innovation (16 points), while an article in a refereed journal earns eight points.

Questioned about where academic staff should publish, Chacha said articles published in “predatory” journals will not count. So-called predatory journals are often online, open access and may be driven by financial profit rather than academic considerations.

“No one in our universities will be allowed to chart a career path through predatory and fake academic publications,” said Chacha.

Academic integrity

Consequently, the commission has advised universities to keep abreast of information regarding fake publications and plagiarism and encouraged faculty and students to adhere to the highest standards of academic integrity.

Dr Lewis Ngesu, an associate dean at the School of Education at the University of Nairobi, said while the new guidelines will help to discourage publication by academics in predatory open access journals, there remain challenges to publication for African academics.

"Whereas the move might be in the right direction, a reduced number of peer-reviewed journals in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the lack of support from universities to attend conferences, are likely to pose challenges for lecturers in Kenya universities,” said Ngesu.

As Ngesu pointed out, the commission has raised the bar high for many wishing to join or to rise through the ranks in academia.

According to Dr Maureen Mweru, a senior lecturer at Kenyatta University, difficulties in obtaining recent and relevant books and journal articles, negative reviews of submissions to journals, as well as poor attitudes by lecturers are some of the factors that have led to limited numbers of publications from Kenyan academics.

In addition, they faced “overcrowded lecture halls and excessive numbers of examinations to grade that take extra time that lecturers could use to undertake research and write papers,” Mweru told University World News.

Publish or perish

Regardless of whether the challenges to publication are real or imagined, future academic appointments and promotions will in future hinge on a candidate’s publications in reputable journals with high impact.

Although academic staff can earn credit points from the publishing of books and book chapters, book editing, specialised learning modules, administration and community engagement, the new guidelines seem to hold publication in refereed journals in particularly high esteem.

Whereas in future all lecturers will be required to hold a PhD degree, or in special cases a masters degree and three years of experience, such persons will also be required to have a minimum of 24 points, 80% of which will be derived from refereed journal papers.

An associate professor will be expected to have 48 points, 32 of which should be derived from refereed scholarly journals.

In addition to other conditions that include the supervision of at least five PhD students, a full professor will be required to have 60 points, 48 of which should be derived from refereed journals in his or her areas of specialisation.

Multiple authors

In addition to discouraging predatory journal publications, the guidelines are expected to put an end to controversy prevailing in Kenyan universities about where a research supervisor’s name should appear in a journal citation, with the new guidelines clearly stipulating that in the case of postgraduate supervision of a PhD or a masters student, the name of the supervisor should come last in any journal publication’s listing order.

The commission has developed a weighted distribution formula in circumstances of multiple authors, cited research investigators and inventors. According to Chacha, in the case of multiple authorship, publication points are expected to reflect the level of contribution of each author, as determined by the position of the author’s name in the listing of authors.

“The order of authorship is assumed to be proportional to the contribution of each author,” said Chacha.

According to an interactive version of the guidelines recently issued by the University of Nairobi to all of its academic departments, if a student publishes a journal paper with a supervisor, the student will get 5.33 points, while the supervisor will be awarded 2.67 points.

However, if the publication had three authors, the lead author would get four points, the second listed author 2.67 points and the third author 1.33 points. In a paper with 10 listed authors, the lead author would be awarded 1.45 points while the remaining points would be awarded in a descending order with the 10th listed author getting just 0.15 of a point.

In order to encourage academic staff and postgraduate students to present papers at professional and academic conferences, the guidelines are offering four points for a reviewed conference paper and two points for a non-reviewed conference paper.

The robust publication criteria also award four points for a short communication in a peer-reviewed or highly-acclaimed scholarly journal.