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Saudi academics demand response to paid citations allegations

Academicians at King Saud University in Riyadh and King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah called upon the two universities to issue a statement in response to claims by Science Magazine that the both pay money to researchers in return for international ranking.

According to several Saudi academicians, the report published this month in Science Magazine under the title “Saudi Universities Offer Cash in Exchange for Academic Prestige” ─ which accused both universities of paying researchers to cite their names as a second affiliation ─ is jeopardizing the reputation of two of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent institutions especially that the magazine is one of the most credible in the world.

In an attempt to solve the problem, Saudi Minister of Higher Education Khalid bin Mohamed al-Ankari held a meeting with officials from the universities of King Saud and King Abdul Aziz and asked them to issue an immediate statement in response to the report published in Science Magazine, sources told Al Arabiya.

The two universities have already denied allegations made by the magazine, said Rahman al-Salhabi, head of the Scientific Research Program ay King Abdul Aziz University Abdul.

“Officials at both universities admitted to ongoing cooperation with several foreign researchers but stressed that they are doing real work together and not just making them put the universities’ names on their research for money like what the magazine claimed,” he told Al Arabiya.

Salhabi added that it would be really shameful if what the magazine wrote turned out to be true.

“I find this quite unlikely, though.”

Salhabi pointed out that a university cannot focus on its international ranking without paying attention to the advancement of scientific research on its grounds.

“We should care about what the students do and what we offer them and how academic work in conducted inside the university. This is much more important than international ranking.”

For Yusuf al-Kuwaileet, editor-in-chief of al-Riyadh newspaper, the two universities have to respond to this “scandal.”

“This magazine is one of the most famous worldwide and that is why the universities have to issue a quick response,” he told Al Arabiya.

He added that what the magazine published is very serious and that it is totally unacceptable to use names of famous researchers to get higher rankings.

“A university cannot be founded on propaganda, but on what it really achieves. This is a scandal if it proves to be true, an international scandal and not just a local one.”

A large number of professors at both universities and officials at the Ministry of Higher Education refused to comment on the issue.

Professor of economics at King Saud University Mohamed al-Kanibt, who was the first to raise the issue in an article he wrote in al-Hayat newspaper, also declined to speak to Al Arabiya.

According to Kanibt, who was quoted in the Science Magazine report, King Saud University started the practice under the supervision of its president Abdullah al-Othman, who he called “the architect of international ranking jumps.” King Abdul Aziz University, he added, followed suit in order to reach higher ranking in a short time.

Till the writing of this report, neither of the two universities has issued an official statement confirming or denying the report. King Saud University only expressed its disappointment that the magazine based its report on one article by a Saudi writer without verifying the information it contained.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)