A few days before resigning from his position as Minister of Education, Valentin Popa signed an Order (no. 5110/2018) that completely changed the way in which the doctoral degrees will be awarded moving forward.
As a result, it will no longer be sufficient for doctoral candidates to present three reports, and then have their dissertations validated by an official panel and, later, by the National Council for the Certification of Titles, Diplomas and University Certificates (CNATDCU).
From now on, all PhD candidates will be required to publish specialized articles in scientific journals during their three legal years of study. Depending on the field of studies, the criteria as well as the type of journals differ, as indicated in the Ministerial Order.
Of the 35 doctoral fields approved in Romania by the 35 specialized commissions within the CNATDCU, the field of Military Sciences, Intelligence and Public Order is the one that stirs up the most questions because the majority of the plagiarized theses originated there.
The candidates working towards completing their PhDs in this field defended their dissertations at universities belonging to various institutions of force: the “Mihai Viteazul” National Intelligence Academy (ANIMV) – subordinated to the SRI, the Police Academy – subordinated to the Ministry of Interior, and the “Carol I” National Defense University, subordinated to the Ministry of Defense.
Moving forward, PhD students from these three institutions will be obliged to publish scientific articles together with their PhD supervisors.
An official explanation, put together by those who are responsible for this bizarre decision, does not exist. However, it is evident that the military universities would see an increase in there doctoral supervisors’ Hirsch index.
Internationally recognized, the Hirsch index measures scientific productivity, based on the number of papers a professor has that are cited by other researchers.
More published articles or research papers would evidently yield more citations, therefore automatically increasing the Hirsch index.
This index is used in academic circles for evaluations, promotions or for granting the necessary funds for research.
The vast majority of doctoral supervisors in the field of Military Science, Intelligence and Public Order have an irrelevant Hirsch index (this is regardless of their status as professor).
The new minimum requirements that must be met for the Ministry of Education to award doctoral degrees will be applied beginning with the generation of doctoral candidates admitted in the 2018-2019 academic year.
A doctoral student must publish at least two articles together with supervisor.
Minister Valentin Popa approved the minimum requirements one must meet to be awarded a doctoral degree on September 17, 2018. Ten days later, he resigned from his position in the Ministry, after a brief mandate – an intensely contested one.
CNATDCU’s 35 specialized committees established the criteria, each corresponding to a doctoral field. The Ministry of Education later approved the requirements.
The purpose of these new requirements should dissipate the public discussions about doctoral studies in Romania and particularly those regarding the way in which doctoral degrees have been granted thus far.
The requirements differ from one field to another, with very large differences between the Humanities, where standards are low, and the exact Sciences, where standards are very high.
What is drawing the most amount of attention are the requirements that have been established for the field of Military Sciences, Intelligence and Public Order, a field that has been all over media in the past three years due to the fact that dozens of the dissertations defended within its academic institution were plagiarized.
The reasons why all eyes are on the requirements for the Military Sciences, Intelligence and Public Order field of studies are simple:
• in Romania, there are only three military universities that grant doctoral degrees: the SRI Academy, the Police Academy and the National Defense University;
• most of the dissertation defense committee members are academics from the three universities, being practically a “closed circuit” business;
• the members of the CNATDCU’s Committee on Military Sciences, Intelligence and Public Order, which is responsible for evaluating plagiarism accusations, are exclusively from these universities;
• within the Commission, there are many complaints that are yet to see resolution regarding plagiarized theses. The suspicion regarding this lack of resolution is precisely related to the opacity of the military system;
• The awarding of a doctorate in the field of Military Sciences, Intelligence and Public Order appears to be a validation of belonging to a certain caste.
The requirements established by the Ministerial Order no. 5110/2018 for the field of Military Sciences, Intelligence and Public Order provide the following:
- The publication of a minimum of four articles as the main author / correspondent author / co-author, of which:
a) at least two articles are written together with the doctoral supervisor;
b) at least three specialized articles are published in academic journals (with peer review system), indexed in at least two international databases;
c) at least one article in the publications of national and international conferences within the same field, proven through the conference’s program.
“This requirement has no correspondent in any other renowned academic programs”
Multiple university professors with a solid reputation have drawn attention to the minimum requirements that were established in the field of Military Science, Intelligence and Public Order.
Gabriel Bădescu, sociologist and a university professor at the “Babeș-Bolyai” University of Cluj-Napoca, believes that these requirements can lead to the exploitation of doctoral candidates as the following can ensue:
“The Commission’s requirement that the doctoral candidate publish at least two articles together with the doctoral supervisor has no just scientific basis. Nor does it have a correspondent in any other renowned academic programs. It can easily be the lead to the abuse of the doctoral candidate”
Viorel Barbu, academic and former President of the CNATDCU, has an even stronger opinion. He believes that dissertations run the risk of being written by multiple authors, especially if some sections of it will contain content that was published by the supervisors together with their doctoral students.
“The only possible explanation would be that the scientific supervisor should be rewarded for his contribution to the dissertation, but this possibility contradicts the very principle that the thesis should be evaluated only in the light of the doctoral candidate’s own contributions,” says Viorel Barbu.
He also states that the PhD supervisor is not the doctoral candidate’s collaborator, but solely his supervisor
“In any case, the international academic practice is that the doctoral supervisor should refrain from publishing joint papers with the candidate precisely in order to avoid confusion regarding the candidate’s real contribution in the writing of the thesis,” says Viorel Barbu.
Anthropologist Mihai Coman, Emeritus professor in the Department of Journalism and Communication Sciences wrote an article about this matter, that was eventually published on the edupedu.ro website. He draws attention to the fact that as a result of this decision, the doctoral candidate’s the copyright of the doctoral student is affected by this decision.
“The doctoral student is obliged to share (give up) the copyright with the individual who was designated to be the scientific supervisor. Or maybe it’s just teamwork! ”, Wrote Mihai Coman, with a sense of irony,
Professor Coman was also the individual who brought up the possibility that the scientific productivity of the PhD supervisors will become significantly higher once they start publishing with their PhD students.
In addition to the field of Military Science, Intelligence and Public Order, there are three other fields in which these requirements apply:
• Chemical Engineering, Medical Engineering, Materials Science and Nanomaterials and
• Mechanical, Mechatronic and Robotic Engineering.
“In the short-term, a doctoral degree supervisor from the field of sciences, who has eight doctoral students (the number set by the legal framework), of which (let’s say) four of these students each publish one article in an International Scientific Indexing ISI journal, will benefit from an increase in the measurement indices of his academic performance units by N units (depending on the coefficient indexing of the journals concerned) ”, considers Professor Coman.
He also states that the supervisor who publishes works together with his doctoral students “benefits from an undeserved competitive advantage” compared to a colleague who “publishes only what he alone has researched”.
Productivity and scientific relevance are measured by the Hirsch index, on the basis of the number of works cited by other authors.
The Hirsch indices of the doctoral supervisors belonging to the three military universities
I decided to calculate the Hirsch indices of all the PhD supervisors from the three military universities: the SRI Academy, the Police Academy and the National Defense University.
I was able to do the calculation using the Google Scholar platform, and for the professors who do not have a Google Scholar profile, I used the Publish or Perish software.
The results are not at all surprising: many of them, although they have been doctoral supervisors for over 10 years, have a Hirsch index resembling that of an early career professor.
At the SRI Academy, after multiple disclosures about plagiarism cases, the doctoral school is operating in damage control mode.
Currently, three professors ensure that the ANIMV doctoral school is up and running; this is after Gabriel Oprea, Gheorghe Toma, Constantin Onișor, Cristian Troncotă and Constantin Romanoschi were forced to leave.
Professor Gheorghe-Teodoru Ștefan, one of the three remaining PhD supervisors in the SRI Academy, has a Hirsch index of zero.
PhD Supervisors at the SRI’s National Intelligence Academy Academy Hirsch Google Scholar Profile
The Police Academy has two doctoral schools, one in Law, the other in Public Order and National Security.
In the Doctoral School of Law, four of the seven PhD supervisors have a Hirsch index equal to or greater than 5, meanwhile, in the Doctoral School of Public Order and National Security, things are really quite dramatic.
Only 4 of the 17 PhD supervisors have a Hirsch index that is equal to or greater than 5.
PhD Supervisors from the Police Academy – Law Hirsch Google Scholar Profile
Four of the PhD supervisors from the Doctoral School of Public Order and National Security of the Police Academy have a Hirsch index of zero, which indicates they have not written any relevant articles or research studies.
Among the supervisors with Hirsch index of zero are Claudiu Țupulan, who tried to save former Minister Petre Tobă as well as the Mayor of Voluntari, Florentin Costel Pandele from the plagiarism accusations made against them.
Later, Țupulan was himself accused of plagiarism.
PhD supervisors from the Police Academy – Public Order and National Security Hirsch Google Scholar Profile
At the National Defense University, the reality is just as sad as at the Police Academy and at the SRI Academy.
Only 5 of the 35 PhD supervisors have a Hirsch index greater than or equal to 5.
PhD Supervisors from UNAP Hirsch Google Scholar Profile
In the other three fields, where it was ordained that the PhD candidates would publish together with their supervisors [(1) Chemistry, (2) Chemical Engineering, Medical Engineering, Materials Science and Nanomaterials and (3) Mechanical, Mechatronic and Robotic Engineering], things look completely different.
The PhD supervisors from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Bucharest have huge indices compared to the supervisors from the Military Sciences, Intelligence and Public Order field.
For example, the highest Hirsch index of a PhD supervisor at any one of the military universities (11) is lower than the lowest Hirsch index of a doctoral supervisor from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Bucharest (12).
Despite this observation, these two fields of studies cannot be compared.
PhD Supervisors, Chemistry Department – Universitatea din București Hirsch Google Scholar Profile
Each specialized commission within the CNATDCU has established the minimum requirements necessary to obtain a doctoral degree.
The members of the Military Science, Intelligence and Public Order Commission, with two exceptions, have an irrelevant Hirsch index
For example, the President of the Commission, Professor Ioan Crăciun, has a Hirsch index of 1.
Comission Members of the Military Sciences, Intelligence and Public Order CNATDCU Hirsch Google Scholar Profile
When contacted by PressOne, Professor Ioan Crăciun denied the possibility that PhD supervisors could take advantage of the work of doctoral students if jointly publishing articles:
“I believe that the doctoral supervisor is the one responsible for overseeing the research from an academic point of view and that he is well-established in several academic forums, thus allowing for the dissemination of scientific research. As a rest, the co-operation of the doctoral candidate in the pursuit of co-written articles simply means that the doctoral supervisor will encourage the doctoral candidate to follow in his footsteps”.
In regards to the fact that the Hirsch index of the supervisor will increase if publishing a high number of studies in a relatively short time, Professor Crăciun acknowledges that this will be an evident, undeniable consequence:
“Indeed, if you check the Hirsch index, it seems that people haven’t written, that they have no academic relevance.”
However, he argues that in the Commission for Military Sciences, Intelligence and Public Order of CNATDCU, measures are being taken to increase that doctoral supervisors might offer more quality.
“We have a problem here, and this is from a personal point of view, not from the perspective of the CNATDCU Commission Chairman.”
“Quantity at the expense of quality”
The requirements that have been newly adopted by the Ministry are challenged, in their entirety, by several professors, both in the country and abroad.
Sociologist Gabriel Badescu (Hirsch index of 13) states that on a whole, there is an overall impression that some of the Commission’s have a high minimum number of articles, and they, “insist too much on quantity to the detriment of quality”.
He believes that, although PhD students will be encouraged to write often, they might send their work to scientific journals that “publish quickly and are minimally selective”.
Maria Bucur (Hirsch index of 12), a professor at Indiana University in the USA and a member of the CNATDCU Social Sciences Commission, asserts that the standards are “quite unequal if we look at the different disciplines across the board”.
She says that in the United States, there is no standardized requirements which stipulate that doctoral candidates must publish one or more articles in any scientific journal. Nor is there the obligation to attend a conference in order to receive the title of doctor:
“In the USA, obtaining a doctorate is directly related to one’s participation in a doctoral program and achieving superior results (in the courses that were taken, in the preliminary exams and then in the defense of the doctoral thesis as well as in the field research)”, says Professor Bucur, who specializes in gender studies.
Maria Bucur also articulates that the following are necessary for obtaining a PhD:
• an original research study, with the methods and in the epistemic space of the respective discipline;
• incorporation of the knowledge from the particular discipline into the research for that specific topic;
• developing a clearly articulated and persuasive argument about the research carried out, to demonstrate why this research has global significance for knowledge in that discipline.
Bogdan Voicu (Hirsch index 19), a researcher at the Institute for Quality of Life of the Romanian Academy, told us that the introduction of these requirements does not solve the fundamental problems of the doctoral schools in Romania.
He considers that the plagiarized work discovered so far is a direct result of the fact that the PhD students are not successfully guided by their supervisors, that the topics are beyond the supervisor’s competence, and the defense committee members have no research and publication experience related to the subject, nor any expertise in the methodology used.
Academic Viorel Barbu (Hirsch index of 42) argues that the notion of imposing certain requirements on PHD candidate in order to obtain a doctoral degree is inappropriate.
“The obligation to publish the results found in the doctoral thesis in an ISI journal is a norm that is not found – to my knowledge – in any other academic system. The international practice is to publish the results of the thesis after the defense, and not before, ”argues Professor Barbu.
He says that the only standard for awarding the title of Doctor is “the quality of the thesis, proven by novelty, originality and scientific rigor”.