Money can buy you a higher rank but not a reputation

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.

8 thoughts on “Money can buy you a higher rank but not a reputation

  1. And how do you think did Qatar get to host the 2022 World Cup of Soccer tournament? Can’t qualify on merit so let’s buy our way in.

    There goes your chance at being invited to put your name to a prestigious Saudi or Arab Gulf university.

    1. hahaha… I hope they forget about this post by the time I finish my PhD 🙂
      I think Qatar situation is different because no harm is caused in this process. FIFA has some criteria regarding stadiums, accommodation, security, etc. and Qatar seems they can manage to build and do such thing. No that I am okay with spending gazillion of dollars for show off.
      The two Saudi universities’ goal was not to improve the research merit in their universities but just to put their universities in a higher rank only, regardless of the process. It is considered cheating.

  2. But for what purpose? What would a higher rank achieve? More students? More scholars?
    It seems that they weren’t interested at all in improving their capacity or qualifications, so I wonder what the goal of a higher rank was….especially now that the scam is out in the open. What do they gain from this?

    1. Did you notice recently how countries who are not leading the world in number of inventions, scientific discoveries or technologies are competing in building the highest towers in the world? What gain they will receive if all their architects, engineers and even builders are not their own?

  3. اشي مقرف بيني و بينك ، يعني اذا معهم مصاري خلص صاروا احد اهم المراكز التعليمية بالعالم !!؟

    this indicates how empty they are , and how much they care about prestige and not about the hard working and real accomplishment !

    1. I have meet many intelligent Saudis here in the US. Unfortunately, such people like in Jordan are sided away. Some of them chose to stay here because they know they can change nothing in their country.

  4. I think it’s sad that they believe that money can buy them a higher rank. Also, I think it’s dumb to do it in an email! What happened to not leaving a paper trail? Maybe this person was arrogant enough to think that it wouldn’t be turned down. Makes me sick.

  5. After the article published the Saudi university replied that they were not doing anything wrong. So, they don’t even understand that the email they sent is wrong!!!
    This tells you something about the status of universities in the Arab world.

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