Universities worldwide compete among themselves to be listed among the top ranked and elite universities. The competition is of course so fierce from paying, for example, American football coaches millions of dollars to train the university’s team to aggressively competing in publishing high quality scientific research.
Academics know how vicious it is to excel at top universities. Symptoms of such war ranges from suicide attempts, depression, sexual advancement, to lots and lots of butt kissing. And in some extreme situations the pain and humiliation resembles dropping one’s pant and bending.
On the other hand, there are some academics or universities who buy or cheat their way to the top. Lately, an article published in Science Magazine titled “Saudi Universities Offer Cash in Exchange for Academic Prestige” made the news.
Two Saudi institutions are aggressively acquiring the affiliations of overseas scientists with an eye to gaining visibility in research journals.
At first glance, Robert Kirshner took the e-mail message for a scam. An astronomer at King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was offering him a contract for an adjunct professorship that would pay $72,000 a year. Kirshner, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, would be expected to supervise a research group at KAU and spend a week or two a year on KAU’s campus, but that requirement was flexible, the person making the offer wrote in the e-mail. What Kirshner would be required to do, however, was add King Abdulaziz University as a second affiliation to his name on the Institute for Scientific Information’s (ISI’s) list of highly cited researchers.
Kirshner’s colleague is not alone. Science has learned of more than 60 top-ranked researchers from different scientific disciplines—all on ISI’s highly cited list—who have recently signed a part-time employment arrangement with the university that is structured along the lines of what Kirshner was offered. Meanwhile, a bigger, more prominent Saudi institution—King Saud University in Riyadh—has climbed several hundred places in international rankings in the past 4 years largely through initiatives specifically targeted toward attaching KSU’s name to research publications, regardless of whether the work involved any meaningful collaboration with KSU researchers.