Policy News

Research integrity offices to check academic malpractice: UGC

K. S. Jayaraman

doi:10.1038/nindia.2020.159 Published online 12 October 2020

To improve the standard of research and curb academic malpractice, India's higher education funder University Grants Commission (UGC) has recommended that all universities and institutions in the country set up research integrity offices.

This is the key recommendation in the commission's 55-page guidance document on good academic research practices (GARP)  released recently1. The guidelines provide a broad framework for enhancing research integrity by focusing on good practice at each stage in the research cycle from planning of experiments till publication of the paper. An Office of Research Integrity (ORI) should be responsible for the implementation of these guidelines at each institution, the guidance suggests.

"The document  will  guide scientists  towards quality and ethical research and help enhance the reputation of individuals, institutions, and the country," says  UGC Chairman Dhirendra Pal Singh.

UGC Vice Chairman Bhushan Patwardhan, one of the authors of the recent guidelines, had earlier expressed concern that India accounts for almost 30% of all publications in predatory journals. "We hope this guidance will be useful not only for Indian academia but also globally to promote academic ethics and research integrity," Patwardhan told Nature India.

Created in partnership with Philadelphia-based Clarivate Analytics, the guidelines recommend that ORI's set up processes to swiftly and fairly deals with research misconduct — including fakery, collusion, fabrication, falsification, plagiarism. An important role of the ORI would be in training and mentoring students to sustain a culture of research integrity.

"The document will be a valuable advisory for students starting in research," says Narayanasami Sathyamurthy, a former director of the Indian Institute of Science Engineering and Research in Mohali, Punjab.

Though the new guidelines deal with the broader aspects of research integrity, UGC already had several regulations in place since 2018 to deal only with plagiarism."The UGC has actually been enforcing very little through the earlier regulations," says Nandula Raghuram, professor of biotechnology at GGS Indraprastha University in New Delhi.

UGC's policy push is timely, says biologist Lingadahalli Shashidhara, a professor at Ashoka University in Sonepat, Haryana. "There is blatant violation of research and publication ethics and the situation is alarming," he says."It is unfortunate that academic research, a self-correcting enterprise, needs not only guidelines on research ethics and conduct, but also a governance system to monitor and prevent violations." 

Shashidhara says UGC must ensure that the proposed ORIs function as facilitators and do not end up becoming a roadblock to good research.