The publication of academic books is under threat. The global university ranking and the competition university measurement and positioning for international funding and student enrollment are reshaping the research landscape.
Academics are more pressured to win grants and publish articles in journals rather than books and be more strategic in their publication. With universities losing billions in revenue due to the impact of covid-19, these pressures will only increase.
University Measurement and Positioning:
Traditionally, a monograph published by a reputable publisher has been a key means of creating and disseminating research in the humanities and social sciences. It was also important for building an academic career and reputation. However, our research shows that editorial pressures, motivations, and rewards change.
The Australian government’s approach to research funding has had a major impact on the types of publications encouraged. Australian universities began reporting academic research details to the government in the 1990s as part of a formula for distributing research funding. The funds available for publication were significant. In 2001, a peer-reviewed journal article was worth over $ 3,000 at the university. One book was “Worth” $ 15,000.
Switch From Quantity to Quality:
Publish or die had worked well and really. Without adequate measures to account for quality and impact, the system inadvertently had the effect of encouraging academics to publish low-quality research with low-quality journals and publishers to meet performance targets. The use of quantitative measures alone also increases the possibility of gambling and manipulation.
The Publication Data:
- The publication data were eventually removed from the higher education research collection specifications in 2016.
- Since then, no government funding has been distributed based on the quantity of the research results. Consequently, all universities expect “Quality” publications from their staff.
- As universities compete with each other, they have a strong incentive to improve their research profile and design internal reward systems based on how the era determines quality.
Academics Are Now Raising Funds:
Our research project examined the editorial strategies and behaviors of academics in the humanities and social sciences. We found that the pressures for quantity seem to have eased (at least for some). However, there is now a greater push towards competitive, quality grant funding and real-world impact.
- Although universities are still interested in quality publications, the change in funding rules means that universities that receive competitive funding get additional research funding through herds.
- This translates into increased pressure on academics to apply for and secure funding.
- The academic result seems to have moved from publication as the result itself to funding as a key performance indicator.
Distorting the Value of Academic Research:
Different stakeholder expectations mean academics receive conflicting advice on publishing strategies. These pressures lead researchers to publish in ways that reflect how they measure themselves. This, in turn, appears to affect their research agendas.
Academics, particularly early career researchers, have no choice but to remain open to changing priorities, both institutional and governmental. They have to balance the contradictions and tensions in the academic community.
In addition to influencing the careers of individual academics, these practices have broad social and spiritual costs. For the humanities and social sciences, in particular, these trends could influence the future and relevance of these sciences in Australia.