Should ALL academics be required to publish?

Should ALL academics be required to publish?

The academic world is a major source of discovery and new ideas. It provides most of the basic research and much of the applied research that leads to new products, new processes, new markets, and new paradigms. However, it is also a world where the same questions keep resurfacing.

Quite often, they resurface because the earlier answers have been forgotten or were never known by a new generation. Or because circumstances have changed, and those same questions could now be answered in a different way.

One such question concerns the relationship between research and teaching: Should academic institutions and those who work within them be divided into those focused wholly on research and those focused wholly on teaching? Or should all institutions and their teaching academic staff be required to do both?

An academic journal is a regular publication intended to advance progress in a specific academic discipline. For a manuscript to be accepted by an academic journal, it must (normally) identify a gap in the existing body of knowledge and make a contribution that, in part at least, fills this gap.

Any research undertaken to produce the results described within the article must include sufficient detail for another qualified researcher to repeat the experiment or survey to verify the results. Prior to publication, the article should pass successfully through a double-blind review process.

Casual observations suggest that more than 90 per cent of articles in recognised quality journals are written by academics in universities and specialists in research institutions. Very few come from the non-university HEIs.

There is considerable pressure on universities to generate, evaluate and (most importantly) publish research in peer-reviewed journals. Academics in universities also place considerable pressure on themselves to publish, both to gain promotion and to earn the respect of their colleagues.

Increasingly, non-university HEIs have been trying to improve their status and present more like the universities, by requiring their own teaching staff also engage in and publish research.
Requiring staff in non-university HEIs to publish would likely have two major effects, both adverse. Firstly, it would set them up for failure: there are simply not enough vacant spaces in journals for more than a small percentage (say, 5 per cent) to publish an article in any given year.

Secondly, dedicating time to publishing works means less time spent on teaching preparation, delivery and/or assessment. The latter would, in turn, have the potential to lower the national average on student experience and satisfaction as measured in the annual QILT surveys.
Hence instead of “should all academics be required to publish?” - perhaps the real question we should be asking is “what tangible benefit would such a requirement deliver?”.


Emeritus Professor Greg Whateley is Deputy Vice Chancellor, GCA

Professor Angus Hooke (Research Fellow)