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  • Money can buy excellence

    - Two Saudi Arabian universities massively recruited top scientists at Harvard, Cambridge and co. to publish their research as affiliated. This way, King Saud University made it from unlisted into the top 200/300 bracket of the Shanghai ranking. “It’s just capitalism,” a Cambridge affiliate says.

    Publishing articles gets you citations. Citations create your reputation. Reputation brings you money. This is a fundamental mechanism behind research funding. Two universities in Saudi Arabia now show that you can turn this causality upside down.

    An investigation by Science Magazine revealed that the King Abdulaziz University (KAU) and King Saud University (KSU) engaged top researchers worldwide to win them over as affiliates boosting the visibility of KAU and KSU in research journals. Offering salaries of around $70.000, the two universities boosted its standing in rankings by having scientists at Harvard, Cambridge and co. list themselves as affiliates of the Saudi Arabian institutes.

    From nowhere to top 200/300 ranking

    Within 2 years, the KSU almost tripled its affiliated publications to a total of 1211. This did pay off ranking wise. Between 2006 and now, KSU jumped from place 2910 to 186 in the Webometrics rankings. In the prominent Shanghai ranking it got into the top 200/300 bracket despite not even being listed a couple of years ago.

    Surender Jain, a former professor of Ohio University in Athens and current advisor to KAU, admitted that primary goal of this strategy was to "improve the visibility and ranking of King Abdulaziz University". Still "we're not just giving away money", but genuinely wish these top scientists to contribute to research done at our institute, Jain stated.

    Gerry Gilmore, astronomer at Cambridge University and KAU affiliate, says that "it's just capitalism. They have the capital and they want to build something out of it. Universities buy people's reputations all the time. In principle, this is no different from Harvard hiring a prominent researcher."