On impact factors and university rankings: from birth to boycott

by Konstantinos I. Stergiou and Stephan Lessenich (2013)

In this essay we explore parallels in the birth, evolution and final ›banning‹ of journal impact factors (IFs) and university rankings (URs). IFs and what has become popularized as global URs (GURs) were born in 1975 and 2003, respectively, and the obsession with both ›tools‹ has gone global. They have become important instruments for a diverse range of academic and higher education issues (IFs: e.g. for hiring and promoting faculty, giving and denying faculty tenure, distributing research funding, or administering institutional evaluations; URs: e.g. for reforming university/ department curricula, faculty recruitment, promotion and wages, funding, student admissions and tuition fees). As a result, both IFs and GURs are being heavily advertised — IFs in publishers› webpages and GURs in the media as soon as they are released. However, both IFs and GURs have been heavily criticized by the scientific community in recent years. As a result, IFs (which, while originally intended to evaluate journals, were later misapplied in the evaluation of scientific performance) were recently ‹banned› by different academic stakeholders for use in ‹evaluations› of individual scientists, individual articles, hiring/promotion and funding proposals. Similarly, URs and GURs have also led to many boycotts throughout the world, probably the most recent being the boycott of the German ‹Centrum fuer Hochschulentwicklung’ (CHE) rankings by German sociologists. Maybe (and hopefully), the recent banning of IFs and URs/GURs are the first steps in a process of academic self-reflection leading to the insight that higher education must urgently take control of its own metrics.

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Boycott! German Sociologists Refuse to Participate in Academic Ranking

by Klaus Dörre, Stephan Lessenich, and Ingo Singe, Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena Germany (2013)

Universities and institutions of higher education across the globe are being impacted by structural change, guided by principles of the entrepreneurial university. The imposition of New Public Management principles means that universities are increasingly being managed like private enterprises. Resources are being allocated according to performance records and target agreements. Academic capitalism has entered Germany, and its main instruments are university department rankings and league tables. The downside is an academic routine biased towards quantitative performance indicators (research funding, number of doctorates and graduates) and a neglect of qualitative criteria. Work in academia has changed fundamentally in both design and content. Teaching and research are increasingly being obstructed by the growth of administrative responsibilities. There is a logic of escalation inherent in performance measurement exercises (›more and more and never enough‹), resulting in work intensification, stress and overload amongst all groups of the academic workforce. Negative effects on the quality of research and teaching are increasingly being felt.

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