Sunday, November 21, 2010

Malaysian universities: where do the journal articles go?

This may be a little out of touch with your world, but I'm sure everyone will be interested about how our universities rank among others internationally, as published in league tables like . The result, while not entirely accurate, still gives us an idea of how well a university perform compared to others.

There are several factors that affect university rankings - publications, quality of teaching, employability, internationality and resources. I'm going to focus on publications ie. journal articles.

Photo credits: healingdream

University academics publish findings of their research in the form of journal articles. Journals can be roughly defined as academic magazines. Examples are and . These articles are lengthy, written in the language of their expertise hence not very readable by general readers like you - but don't worry, journalists in newspapers are communicating these research in ways that you'll understand.

Even though journal articles are out of touch from our world, but why they're still important? Needless to say, your professors need to publish to keep their job. More importantly, telling the world about their research pave the way for subsequent work to increase our understanding of the world. By laying the groundwork for further research, your professors in university gain credit when their works are quoted (cited) by other researchers. Ultimately, when university rankings are concerned, impact of research in part, translate into university ranking.

To answer why our universities are failing us, in this piece I shall look from the perspective of academic publications aka journal articles.

Before we dwell into the topic, I'd like you to do a fact finding exercise. First, I'd like you to identify your area of expertise or interest. Then, list down prominent journal titles in your field. Next, go to a university website, look for an academic staff's profile page and go to the section called "Publications". From the bibliographic information you should be able to identify where a journal article has been published. (This is an oversimplified instruction, if you need help, Tweet me)

Rafiah, the current vice chancellor of University of Malaya, has come up with a policy that made publication of research compulsory for all academic staff within the university (professors & lecturers alike). But, she is very lenient about where the journal articles are published. As a matter of fact, making publication compulsory will not make much difference if research are not published in good journals.

Academic journals have metrics to measure their performance but I'm not going into too much details here. In short, to make an impact through research, you need to publish in a respectable journal, otherwise your research won't get noticed (and cited). I'd rather spend my money subscribing to an A-listed journal rather than wasting my time reading crappy ones. I've also once shared with that Malaysians create their own journal for the sake of providing spaces to publish but doesn't reflect the standard of research.

So, how does my fact finding goes? I've seen our local academics have published in respectable places like Acta Crystallographica and Australian Journal of Chemistry - kudos for that. I was like "you have no better place to publish is it?!" when I see some scientific findings being published in journals like African Journal of xxx (insert title here) but these findings have no relevance to Africa. Those published in good journals are few but the appalling ones are everywhere. No wonder our Malaysian universities are failing in the rankings.

To give our university ranking a boost, in terms of research publications, they must be published in reputable journals not once or twice but repeatedly. In other words, research must have far-reaching impact to make it to top journals. Seriously, Malaysian universities have not done enough to be respected.

This is my two cents. What 'ya think?


  1. This is interesting! Never know what is journal all about and how it affects the university ranking.

    My question is that... why wouldn't our local university publish their work in a reputable or respectable journal to get notice? Does our scholars did not write enough or simply they are not interested to do it?

  2. One possibility is that they're not aware of the importance of publication - ask why Rafiah has to come up with a policy of making publications compulsory.

    To do quality research, you need sufficient funding too.

    Even if publishing opportunity is available, our researchers just simply didn't submit to those journals. As I've know, to publish in top journals is not easy. For example, to have your research published in Nature, the journal wouldn't accept it unless your topic is of great importance that'll shape the direction of your field. To give you a real life example, I've actually met a scientist who discovered a gene (later worked out to be a protein) that stops cell death - his paper in Nature has been cited 2k++ times. A high quality paper doesn't simply describe result of the findings because anybody can do that - the complete picture must be worked out. Sadly our scientists and academics did not fare well in working out. So, I can say they've not done enough.

    I don't know if our local universities actually subscribe to those journals, but if they are, perhaps they should serve as inspiration for future scholars to climb higher.