Improving academic culture, a view from the publisher and from industry

11th January 2022

Improving academic culture, a view from the publisher

Author: Sharon Parkinson, Quality Education for All Publishing Development Manager

What’s very striking about this report from a publisher’s perspective, is that over 90% of respondents believe that publishers have a role to play in improving academic culture. This is a privilege and I’ll explain why. The primary role of any academic publishing house is to disseminate and distribute the research outputs of the communities they serve. Traditionally we’ve done this by packaging academic articles into subject specific journals – a model that has remained largely unchanged for over 350 years. What we – the academic community, publishers, and all those who have a role in the research ecosystem – now realise is that not all research is ‘article shaped’ and nor should it be!  

Research spans a multitude of disciplines and involves stakeholders from across the world with different backgrounds and experiences, so no two research journeys are the same. To expect any subsequent outputs to take the same form, with the same layout, headings and formats, and to be disseminated via the same mediums is, quite frankly, ridiculous. As researchers look to engage beneficiaries of the research from the outset and start to ‘bake in’ the targets around societal, economic, and environmental benefits during the research cycle, then it is no surprise that there is a need for outputs to take different forms and be communicated in an assortment of ways. Sadly, the worth and contribution of many academics around the world is still assessed and measured through what and where they publish.  

Responsible publishers act

Being under pressure to publish articles in ranked journals can often stretch the outputs and arguably render them redundant in terms of real-world benefits. Publishers have a duty to advocate for and advance the need for practical and robust approaches to research assessment globally, across all scholarly disciplines – assessments that don’t place the traditional markers of influence such as citations front and centre, because citations alone don’t tell the full story of impact.

Acting on our responsibility, Emerald signed the Declaration on Research Impact (DORA) to combat the use of journal-based metrics in research and researcher evaluation. This happens at key transition points during a researcher’s career, including hiring, promotion and tenure. We’re working to offer authors a diverse range of publication options that will help their research reach the right audiences in the most appropriate ways. This could be through podcasts, blogs, infographics, policy briefs. These aren’t ‘ranked’ and do not have impact factors, but they resonate squarely with the right audience in an accessible way and in turn recognise the ‘real’ impact of research and the researcher’s true worth.

To expect [research] outputs to take the same form, with the same layout, headings and formats, and to be disseminated via the same mediums is, quite frankly, ridiculous

Publishers also need to make access to publishing easier and increase participation from underfunded or disadvantaged areas. Inclusive publishing is very high on our agenda. We  have published research from over 100 countries, but this can, should and will increase! Starting with the fundamentals, we have been developing our editorial advisory boards to ensure wide and fair representation. After all, if the main role of a board member is to advocate for the journal and encourage submissions then we need members from diverse backgrounds to support this.  

Emerald is also committed to making open access routes to publication accessible and inclusive to all, and we support publication of research from low- or middle-income countries by offering discounts and waivers. Economic barriers can lead to exclusion of authors’ work, so recognising this and using revenues from our subscriptions to invest in a waiver programme helps to overcome those barriers and ensures that economically disadvantaged authors can fully enjoy the benefits of open access routes.

And finally, publishers are well positioned to help researchers secure funding. Achieving funding for research ideas is challenging and stressful and undoubtedly adds to the testing academic culture, and there is ever-growing pressure in all disciplines to win funding via research grants. By acting as ‘in-kind’ partners on grant applications, publishers can offer input both in terms of preparing the application for submission, and support the research activities through offering skills, channels to market (to help engage beneficiaries and stakeholders) and facilitate events and activities that may be part of the project, as well as taking a critical role in knowledge mobilisation and dissemination aspects.

Helping to improve academic culture through some of the initiatives outlined above is why I believe it is a privilege to be a publisher.  

Improving academic culture, a view from industry  

By Zana Khan, Goal Advisor for Healthier Lives

This is a very interesting piece that reflects the common challenges faced by people working in academia and the ongoing systematised discrimination that has wider, real-world ramifications.  Lack of diversity and inclusion at all levels and in particular leadership narrows the impact and voice of academia (and other sectors), limits the scope of teaching, and ultimately sustains the problem of structural discrimination and misogyny rather than challenging it.  

The competing demands of work, child rearing, family support and personal wellbeing aren’t well understood in general, but some sectors (healthcare and academia) have been even slower to recognise factors of intersectionality and the disproportionate impact on some groups highlighted in the piece.   

My reality

In my own experience, universities that employ dedicated teaching staff and teaching teams and those who had established online and distance delivery fared better during the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of delivering teaching. Those that did not, struggled to deliver high quality education and support for staff who were being pulled in different directions.  

Some institutions are making efforts to explore the reason for inequity in workforce progression, but it needs radical rethinking and reversing of chronic and systemised problems

Reflecting on my own challenges and experiences of structural discrimination and the consequential structural violence of chronic and repetitive discrimination, I have frequently questioned how long I can sustain working in a senior clinical role. I see diverse workforce excluded at every level, resulting in a narrow view of leadership that impacts agendas and approaches to care and approaches to staff. Some institutions are making efforts to explore the reason for inequity in workforce progression, but it needs radical rethinking and reversing of chronic and systemised problems. After the last two years, there is a risk of worsening inequity and lack of diversity, as those most impacted by structural discrimination may well choose to prioritise themselves and their family rather than continuing to challenge a flawed system.