Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

The Department of Higher Education and Training will probe claims about predatory publishing, and could withdraw subsidies paid out for the academic articles in question.

An analysis by Stellenbosch University researchers found that from 2005 to 2014, South African academics published more than 4,200 papers in 47 journals that were either "probably or possibly predatory".

Predatory publishing involves unscrupulous open access publishers who publish articles with little or no real peer review.

The government pays a university about R100,000 for an academic article, which has to be published in a journal accredited by the Department of Higher Education and Training.

In a written reply to a question from the DA in Parliament on Wednesday, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said his department was concerned about unethical publishing and had already initiated mechanisms to curb this behaviour before the analysis by Stellenbosch University researchers was published.

"In an attempt to deal with this problem, the department has funded a collaborative research programme, led by Prof Johann Mouton of the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) based at Stellenbosch University," said Nzimande.

The programme, he said, aimed to develop mechanisms to ensure that the department only funds quality research.

"In the meantime, the department will continue to seek satisfactory evidence on the validity of claims pertaining to predatory publishing, including investigations of the journal titles mentioned in the article.

"If they are confirmed, subsidies will be withdrawn for articles published in such journals, in line with the research output policy," said Nzimande.

In terms of current policy, he said, institutions receive a subsidy based on the number of approved published research outputs in accredited journals, scholarly books and peer-reviewed published conference proceedings.

The policy requires that all public higher education institutions submit their annual claims for research outputs published in journals, books and conference proceedings to the department, accompanied by the relevant supporting documentation.

The policy also explains the mechanisms that must be used to ensure only quality publications receive subsidies.

Nzimande said the policy held institutions and researchers responsible for ensuring they claimed only for quality research outputs. Should an output claimed later be found to have been published in a journal that did not meet the required standards, funding would be withdrawn.

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