Malaysia’s Ministry of Educationwill no longer pay for article processing charges when researchers at institutions in the country publish in journals run by three major publishers.
The ministry hasn’t explained how it came to its decision, but the publishers in question—Frontiers, Hindawi, and MDPI—publish open-access journals, which means researchers pay to publish, and the work is free for readers. Journals traditionally run on a subscription model.
It’s not the first time concerns have surfaced about high publisher fees. Earlier this year, the editorial board of an Elsevier journal resigned en masse when the firm refused to reduce its publishing fees.
Azhar Ariffin, a chemist at the University of Malaya who is responsible for communicating the new policy to colleagues at his institution, says he agrees with the Malaysian ministry’s decision. “We’re not a rich country,” he says, noting that publishing a paper in some of these journals can cost thousands of dollars.
He notes that papers published in Frontiers, Hindawi, and MDPI journals will still be counted during research evaluation as long as the journals are indexed by Clarivate’s Web of Science.
Ariffin published papers in the MDPI journal Molecules when the article-processing charge from the Swiss company was only a few hundred Swiss francs, but he says he stopped submitting there when the fees went up to 1,800 Swiss francs. Ariffin says he doesn’t plan to submit papers to any Hindawi, Frontiers, and MDPI publications going forward.
The publishers are not happy with Malaysia’s action.
“We wrote to the Ministry in August to better understand the situation and to open a constructive dialogue with them, with a view to how best to clear any misconceptions as soon as possible,” a Frontiers spokesperson says in an email. “We suggested that the Ministry look at the data and rely on robust bibliometrics indicators (such as our ranking as the third most cited publisher) rather than judge by loose association with other publishers that do not share our values nor enjoy the same track record of quality, transparency, and achievement.”
A spokesperson for Wiley, which acquired Hindawi in 2021, says in an email, “We are disappointed by this decision as we have done extensive work to investigate and take action on the research integrity issues that affected Special Issues in a limited number of Hindawi journals. We remain deeply committed to protecting the integrity of the research we publish and are vigilant in our efforts to correct the scholarly record.”
It’s been a tough year for Hindawi. The publisher has had to retract hundreds of articles for compromised peer review and cease publishing four journals whose special issues were overrun by paper mills. It also had 19 of its journals delisted from Clarivate’s Web of Scienceamid concerns around paper mill activity. Paper mills churn out substandard papers, often with fake authors listed, in exchange for a fee.
Earlier this year, an anonymous site dedicated to maintaining a list of so-called predatory journals—titles that publish low-quality and often plagiarized papers for a fee—sparked a debate after it added all MDPI titles to its list. At the time, MDPI responded by saying “the anonymous website in question lacks transparency and rigor in its evaluation criteria, and has an apparent bias against MDPI and open access publishing.”
A similar debate took place in 2015 when Frontiers—partly owned by the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, which also owns a share of the publishing giant Springer Nature—was added to a list of potentially predatory academic publishers kept by the librarian Jeffrey Beall. The list was subsequently taken down.