Combating inhibitors of quality research outputs at the University of Cape Town.

Author:Masango, Charles Akwe


This paper examines the debates about academic scholars and their ability to produce quality research outputs. One can argue that quality research outputs are the 'number of articles per [academic scholar] that have appeared in a specific period of time in a set of prestigious journals' (Hadjinicola & Soteriou, 2006, p. 3), or research published in 'professional journals and in conference proceedings, writing a book or chapter, gathering and analyzing original evidence, working with post-graduate students on dissertations and ... projects' (Lertputtarak, 2008, p. 19), activities otherwise known as the pursuit of the academic mission. In South Africa, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has identified quality research outputs to be those that appear in a set of prestigious journals, or, certain recognized research publications that qualify for subsidy. According to the DHET list, 'for purposes of subsidy, only DHET-accredited journals are recognised for subsidy' (University of Cape Town Publication count overview, 2012). These encompass the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) that includes Arts and Humanities Citation Index; Science Citation Index Expanded; and Social Sciences Citation Index. Other accredited lists are the approved South African journals and the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS) (University of Cape Town Publication count overview, 2012). It is expected that 'every academic publish at least 1.25 articles annually in journals' that the South African Department of Education has accredited (Schulze, 2008, p. 644).

The paper explores whether it is possible for academic scholars to produce quality research outputs in their respective domains, consistently and frequently, despite obstacles that impede scholars to do so. The rationale for the examination stems from the fact that in the academic community, much of a scholar's reputation depends on the publication of research in journal articles and books. Quality published research outputs enhance a scholar's status and serve as an important factor in situating where a scholars employment will be within the hierarchy of his or her discipline (Eliason, 2008, p. 51), hence an examination of the climate of research output is timely and useful.

In order to explore whether it is possible for academic scholars to produce quality research outputs, the paper first examines the reasons for engaging in the academic enterprise in the first place. Secondly, the paper exposes the obstacles that inhibit the production of quality research outputs. Finally, the paper exposes measures used in the Emerging Researchers' Programme (ERP) of the University of Cape Town to overcome obstacles to the production of quality research outputs.

Why Write A Paper?

Among the reasons scholars engage in academic pursuits is to claim the moral right of an academic. This is to safeguard the authors 'personality' that encompasses the right of attribution of authorship, the right of integrity of authorship and the right against false attribution of authorship. The right of attribution of authorship is to avoid misattribution of one's work. The right of integrity of authorship and the right against false attribution of authorship of a work are rights of an academic to object to the 'intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of a work if [the] distortion is likely to harm the author's reputation, and prevents the destruction of any work of recognized stature' (Rosenblatt, 1998), Indeed, within the scope of moral right, an academic is allowed to take certain measures to preserve the integrity of his or her work (Zemer, 2007, p. 37).

Another reason for producing quality academic research outputs is to confer personal benefit. It increases the chances of a salary increase or a promotion. Hadjinicola & Soteriou (2006, p. 1) report that research productivity has a momentous impact on promotions and salary raises. For example, with regard to the former, at the University of Cape Town, academic scholars are given a salary increase based on 'rate for job' (RFJ). This means that academic staffs are expected to, among other duties, produce 'certain levels of publication of peer-reviewed outputs ...' (Minimum performance criteria for academic Rate for Job, 2006). With regard to promotion, Shapiro, Wenger and Shapiro (1994, p. 439) say 'authorship credit is important to researchers because it helps them gain promotion'. In academia, the more a scholar publishes, the greater are the chances of being promoted in the profession and 'an inadequate publication record can prevent one from gaining promotion' (Effendi & Hamber, 2006, p. 113). In fact, non-production of academic output may result in failure to qualify for RFJ or promotion at the University of Cape Town.

The desire to qualify for research grants also can be cited as a reason to write, publish, do research, or teach. The more a scholar publishes the more likely s/he is to gain research grants. According to Shapiro, Wenger and Shapiro (1994, p. 439) 'authorship credit is important to researchers because it helps them gain ... grants'. Dundar & Lewis (1998, p. 608) are of the view that 'reputation for scholarly excellence can, in turn, result in an increased capacity for attracting research'. In South African tertiary institutions for example, the National Research Foundation (NRF) allocates funding to scholars to pursue research. In order to qualify for such research funding in both the 'unrated' and 'rated' researchers categories of the NRF, applicants have to show among others 'consistency of proposed research with previous track record'(Multi-Criteria Decision Making (MCDM) Tool: Unrated Researchers, 2006; Multi-Criteria Decision Making (MCDM) Tool: Rated Researchers, 2006). Hence, it can be said that the production of quality research among South African scholars' increases their chances of gaining NRF and other research grants.

The desire to be known, recognized, and associated with good research output by one's peers are certainly factors among the reasons. In the academic environment there are certain well-known academics who have gained 'the approbation of professional societies and their peers' (Shapiro, Wenger & Shapiro (1994, p. 439). In fact, it is by the production of quality research outputs that academics have gained recognition and exposure. This is irrespective of their academic ranking. Take the example of a professor and a lecturer who are both engaged in a research project. Although it would be natural to assume, based on academic ranking alone, that the professor leads the research project (Hafernik, Messerschmitt & Vandrick, 1997, p. 31), the inclusion of the lecturer's name associates him or her with the research and qualifies him or her for the benefits to be gained from participation in it.

A final reason for producing quality research outputs is to uphold one's indirect economic rights. These rights are termed 'indirect' because academic authors do not directly acquire any monetary benefits from their 'natural property right' that is, from 'the fruits of their creation' (Hurt & Schuchman, 1966, p. 421). For example, at the University of Cape Town, academics have a duty to publish in peer-reviewed subsidy-generating journals in order to generate income for the institution. The subsidy, valued at approximately R119.331,00,US Dollars 10.1263 since 2010, is awarded by the Department of Education (DoE) to the institution for each published single-authored article (Maritz, personal communication, June 19th, 2012). Authors receive no direct monetary compensation but are encouraged by the institution to continue publishing to sustain the revenue stream. In this regard, it can be argued that the economic rights of authors are associated with the politics of scholarly publishing (Hurt & Schuchman, 1966, p. 422), because it is 'imposed by the academic community' (Hafernik, Messerschmitt & Vandrick, 1997, p. 31).

Possible Factors Inhibiting Production of Quality Research Output

Among the factors inhibiting the production of quality research outputs is the lack of research 'planning guidance' (Greed, 2005, p. 725), that formulates, assesses, clarifies, structures, and establishes objectives...

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