UGC makes it mandatory for PhD students to learn about research ethics, plagiarism

UGC says quality of research in India is low, wants students to learn about how to avoid data manipulation and the menace of fake journals.
UGC building in New Delhi | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

New Delhi: Students enrolling for PhD in India will now have to compulsorily study the ethics and misconduct of publication.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) Thursday sent a circular to all higher education institutions affiliated to it, saying it has approved a two-credit course on ethics and misconduct of publication. Titled Research and Publication Ethics (RPE), the 30-hour course needs to be made mandatory for all PhD students for pre-registration course work in the universities.

The idea is to improve the quality of research papers by teaching students how to go about it at the beginning of their PhD — from teaching them the ways to research a topic, the best practices to adopt and how to avoid plagiarism.

“The quality of research papers produced in India is not good, and we are aware about that. There are complaints of plagiarism as well, which is why we now want to teach students ethics of publication so that such complaints can be avoided,” said UGC secretary Rajnish Jain.

The problem

This is one of the many ways in which the government wants to improve the quality of PhDs in India. In July, a UGC committee had suggested a number of ways in which research quality can be improved. It also came up with a list of recognised journals, called the CARE list, and suggested that only those research papers that are in the CARE list of journals should be used for academic purposes.

The report also said that Indians have contributed 35 per cent of all articles published in fake journals.

The report added that data manipulation and plagiarism are issues of great concern.

The syllabus

The syllabus will include philosophy and ethics, and scientific conduct, which will teach students about intellectual honesty, falsification, fabrication and plagiarism.

A module on open access publishing will teach them ways to utilise open resources like data and how to interpret it in the correct way.

To teach about misconduct, students will be given examples of fraud complaints from India and abroad, and made aware about copyright issues. Use of plagiarism tools like Turnitin will also be taught.

Students’ response

Deeksha Bhatheja, who has enrolled for a PhD at Panjab University in Chandigarh, called it “a good move”.

“As part of UGC regulations, all students are required to do pre-PhD course work. If we are taught ethics of publication as part of the course, it’s a good move. Most students don’t know what source to use for their research and how to avoid plagiarism and keep other checks and balances. A basic knowledge of all this is necessary.”

Mamta Tripathy, who is in the final year of her PhD at Delhi University, concurred.

“When I started pursuing my PhD, I had to go to the guide for everything, even the basics like sourcing and indexing. But if students are taught the basics in advance, the research process will be smooth,” she said.

Bikramaditya Kumar Choudhary, who teaches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Social Sciences and has PhD scholars working under him, also viewed this as a positive step.

“Plagiarism and unethical practices in India are so rampant that even top academicians are not untouched by them. In such a scenario, if UGC is bringing a policy-level change to teach students about ethics, it’s a welcome step,” Choudhary said.


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