Pressure to publish is more damaging in the Global South

In the knowledge economy era, there has been a substantial increase in the production and dissemination of knowledge around the world. The race for knowledge has enabled advancements in technology, communication, infrastructure, income and standards of living and has brought many more tangible and intangible benefits to countries.

In our universities, this has led to a pressure to produce and disseminate knowledge, both in terms of quality and quantity. While there are various causes and effects, the three primary factors are the politics of knowledge, university rankings and performativity pressure.

Politics of knowledge

While there is no set definition for the term politics of knowledge, the main elements involved were recognised by Hans Weiler in 2011. According to him, the politics of knowledge involves understanding the existing hierarchies in the knowledge order, the disproportionate dominance by a small number of societies and institutions in the northern regions of the world when it comes to methodological standards and the theoretical agenda and the commercialisation of knowledge.

The dominance of Europe and the United States in knowledge production is well known. A 2019 study suggests that Europe produces around 30% of the world’s scientific publications.

The legitimation of the knowledge produced by northern countries over that produced in the Global South, the dominance of the English language in research publications and vast differences in resources, technology and funds, are a few factors that hamper knowledge production in developing countries.

University rankings

The pressure to publish is also a by-product of the race to climb the ladder of university rankings. In recent years, there is no doubt that the role of the university ranking system has emerged as a significant factor when it comes to increasing the reputation of a country’s education system and the prospects for universities, academics and students. The problems that beset the idea of ranking are both its intent and the approach rankings take.

Most ranking organisations are based in the North and also have universities from the ‘North’ at the top of the charts. By including research and publication as parameters of university ranking, rankings further legitimise the hierarchy of knowledge production and increase pressure to publish among universities based in developing countries.

To compete to become ‘world-class’ or ‘elite’ institutions, universities in developing countries tend to mimic the organisational structure, management style and market-oriented strategies of already successful higher education institutions – a concept known as structural isomorphism. One of the main outcomes of this mimicry is performativity pressure.

Performativity is the manifestation of an audit culture at the institutional level where the teaching and research performance of university academics is analysed and used as an incentivising tool.

Universities in the developing world have identified research to be a key area where they need to improve if they are to become ‘world-class’ institutions. Yet instead of incentivising research and knowledge production, performativity has had the opposite effect, and has brought the principle of ‘publish or perish’ to the academic world.

The impact in India

A recent exploratory study that we conducted across Indian universities suggests that there is a consensus among Indian academics about the existence of publication performativity pressure.

The study was conducted in the context of global inequalities and the politics of knowledge and their implications for university systems. The study examined several factors such as age, gender, discipline, designation, years, academic experience, having a PhD, research publications per year, type of institution, institutional factors and external factors; and looked to understand the effects of the politics of knowledge on publication performativity pressure.

It was found that the pressure to publish is greater among young academicians, women, academics in the humanities and social sciences, those who are in the early stages of an academic career, those who do not have a PhD, those who have low publication numbers per year and those who are from a private university.

There was a statistically significant difference in the publication pressure felt by academics at private universities and this could be due to the differences in availability of resources, infrastructure, job security and auditing culture.

The discontent among Indian academics about the pressure to publish was also noticeable in the remarks made by participants in the study. There were a few who expressed their frustrations about how they are expected to balance their teaching, administration and research responsibilities.

A few respondents believe that the pressure to publish in a certain type of journal is unnecessary and counterproductive and said that the lack of good journals to publish in made it difficult.

Some just used three words to describe how they felt about the pressure to publish: “It’s a scam!”

While the search for journals in which to publish continues, a change in perspective about knowledge production and dissemination is much needed among university management and education policy-makers. It is imperative to address the issue of publication fatigue among academics and to create an educational environment that is both competitive and cooperative.

Aniruddha Inamdar is doing an MA in European studies at the Manipal Centre for European Studies in the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India. Pranjali Kirloskar is coordinator of international collaborations at the Manipal Centre for European Studies.