Escaping the lure of predatory journals by raising the standard of research articles. A BSU story of change from KNUST
Senior Lecturer Owusu Amponsah is on the far right of the photo by Walusimbi Emmanuel, E-pictures.
RESUME: The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology was dogged by poor publication rates because researchers were lured by “quick fix” predatory journals. By tackling this head on, the university has been successful in significantly raising both the quality and quantity of their academic publications. This is thanks to a dedicated investment in activities such as an academic writing programme for doctoral students and academic staff. The university has seen a remarkable turn-around that is mirrored in the publication statistics. The number of outputs has increased from an annual average of 245 manuscripts before 2013 to 1,603 for the year 2022 in Scopus journals alone. Furthermore, the publications have been cited by 131,521 scholars across the globe. What is perhaps even more impressive, Times Higher Education ranks the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology as the top university globally (No. 1) in terms of quality education for 2023! Nevertheless, faculties are still encouraged to warn students and staff not to be tempted to publish in predatory journals. This is crucial if the positive development of KNUST’s reputation as a serious player in the world of science and technology is to continue.
By Owusu Amponsah (PhD) Senior Lecturer, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) is the leading science and technology university in Ghana. It is located approximately 16 km south of the central business district of Kumasi City, Ghana. The university has become a multi-cultural community and is an important hub for training scientists and technologists. KNUST aims to be one of the top ten universities in Africa.
Unfortunately, until not so very long ago, the university had a rather low research publication rate. Staff, management and doctoral students were perhaps overly eager to hike the figures for articles published in journals and were easily lured by phishing emails into sending articles to predatory journals. Predatory journals are moneymaking operations often with titles very similar to those of highly regarded existing journals. They take advantage of unsuspecting authors by offering to publish their articles for a small fee and they publish the articles without peer review, the gold standard of good practice. This undermines the scientific value of the article and can damage the reputation of the researcher and the institution, not to speak of the economic consequences for those involved. Some of the scientists at KNUST live with regrets for having fallen foul of such scams.
“I regret publishing my initial manuscript with these predatory journals. I guess it will forever be an indelible stain on my reputation as a researcher. Young ones can learn from my turbulent experiences”. KNUST scientist
“How could I have published in those journals? From what I know now, I do not know what enticed me to those publishers. Maybe, the craze about publish or perish is to blame for young academics falling prey to those journals”. An associate professor at KNUST
It was obvious that something had to be done to tackle this issue. The Vice Chancellor, the Dean of the International Programmes Office and the Provost of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources decided to take action. They took advantage of the opportunities the Building Stronger University (BSU) programme offered. KNUST and the Danish partners agreed to use the BSU programme as a pathway not only to increase the staff publication ratio but also to enhance the quality and impact of their scientific articles. This was consistent with the discourse at the time as referenced in the two statements below:
“I wish to see KNUST researchers publishing their scholarly works in high-quality journals.” KNUST librarian
“My dream is to have KNUST counted among the institutions with very high citations and grants.” KNUST management member
Prof. Torsten Rødel Berg, from Aarhus University, and Prof. R. C. Abaidoo, the KNUST BSU anchor, organised a series of academic writing workshops, writeshops and conferences for academic staff and doctoral students. I participated in these events both as a resource person and as a learner. These activities tapped into Danish and Ghanaian resources to improve academic writing. They offered KNUST staff, including myself, important skills in academic and popular science writing. They have been a remarkable success.
The Directors of the Office of Grant and Research (OGR), and the School of Graduate Studies had this to say:
“I am happy that our interventions have helped to improve the quantity and quality of our publications. We will continue to organise these workshops, especially for the young and middle-career researchers.” Director of Office of Grant and Research
“I am excited by doctoral students’ desire to publish their works in highly rated journals and to see these publications displayed on their screens during their viva voce.” Director of School of Graduate Studies
The directors’ satisfaction stems from a marked increase in university publication outputs. The number of outputs has increased from an annual average of 245 manuscripts before 2013 to 1,603 for the year 2022 in Scopus journals alone. This translates into a staff publication ratio of 0.3 articles per person before 2013 and 1.8 articles per person in 2022. The publications have been cited by 131,521 scholars across the globe. The university has also appeared in notable university rankings including Times Higher Education (1000 – 1200) and QS World University Rankings (#1401+), where the quality of research (volume, income and reputation), and citations (research influence) are considered in the assessment. Furthermore, Times Higher Education ranks KNUST as the top university globally (No. 1) in terms of quality education for 2023! **
Before the BSU programme started, members were unsure about its potential for success. Some participants assumed that like many others, the activities would ‘come and go’ with little impact in the long term. Their fears turned out to be unfounded once the programme got underway and they experienced the mutual respect that was to characterise the entire process. It made the young academics proud to see KNUST staff actively engaged in the activities:
“I thought the resource persons would only come from Denmark. I was excited to see our professors taking part and exhibiting excellence. This is inspiring.” A young KNUST scientist
The BSU journey started and ended by targeting institutional policies and guidelines. These included developing the Graduate School Handbook, PhD students’ Supervision Handbook and Publication Policy. The programme also helped introduce mandatory courses to give graduate students soft skills in research enterprises. Faculties are still encouraged to warn students and staff not to let themselves be tempted by phishing emails and messages to publish in predatory journals. This is crucial if the positive development of KNUST’s reputation as a serious player in the world of science and technology is to continue.
** The Social Development Goal 4 – “quality education” – measures universities’ contribution to early years and lifelong learning, their pedagogy research and their commitment to inclusive education.
Edited by Kate GirvanGo back to all stories