Times Higher Education’s most-read articles of 2019

Critiques of the publish or perish culture, PhD career precarity and the plight of international students were themes in some of our most popular stories this year

十二月 27, 2019
Magnifying glass on 2019
Source: iStock

Catching our readers’ attention this year were news stories and first-person accounts about the precarity of academic careers, especially when they’re just getting started. One art historian revealed how much of her own personal money she has had to spend on travel, buying study photographs and paying for print-worthy high-resolution images. “Writing and publishing my books has cost me everything I have,” she says. Meanwhile, one of our most-read opinion pieces recounts the PhD comedown that one social psychologist experienced. 

The plight of international students also dominates our list of popular articles in 2019, with coverage of the Netherlands’ international student language requirements, expert opinions on the difficult times facing international students in the US, and a public relations snafu after the UK Home Office reintroduced a two-year post-study work visa. 

15. Restrict researchers to one paper a year, says UCL professor

Uta Frith, former president of the British Science Association and emeritus professor of cognitive development at UCL, called for “slow science” by restricting researchers to just one scholarly paper a year. 

14. How to be a PhD supervisor

Illustration of cones

In April we asked six academics to give their advice on how to be a good supervisor – a job that comes with little, if any, training. “Being a decent supervisor means being a decent human being, and showing students your respect and support,” writes one. Another advises supervisors to “set clear and explicit expectations, including deadlines and milestones (such as submission of papers for peer review), backed up by regular meetings with a specific agenda, action items and student follow-up.”

13. The academy I dreamed of for 20 years no longer exists, and I am waking up

Ellen Kirkpatrick, a PhD graduate in the UK, writes that 18 months after finally earning her doctorate, she is no longer sure she wants to remain in a sector defined by precarity, exploitation – and “quit lit”.

12. People of the year: who mattered in higher education in 2019

Rocky Tuan

Rocky Tuan, vice-chancellor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Nicola Rollock, reader in equity and education at Goldsmiths, University of London, are among the academics and administrators named for shaping the higher education debate in the past 12 months by Times Higher Education journalists.

11. ETH apologises for postdoc job advert demanding ‘Nature paper’

The head of a lab group in ETH Zurich’s Institute for Chemical and Bioengineering publicly apologised for prioritising journal impact factors in the hiring process. The university, a signatory to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, said that it “dissociates itself from the requirements expressed by the professor in question and has since sought dialogue with him”. 

10. UK clarifies post-study work visa eligibility after ‘confusion’

In an embarrassing public relations incident, the Home Office’s announcement that it would reinstate a two-year post-study work visa resulted in confusion about when exactly it would be available to students. Indian students, one of the key student cohorts the government hopes to lure back to UK universities with this policy, were among those expressing concerns to THE about the lack of reliable guidance on timing.

9. UK to reintroduce two-year post-study work visas

Despite the subsequent confusion about the post-study visa, its reintroduction was welcomed across the sector after years of campaigning to bring it back. The new “graduate route” will allow eligible students to work, or look for work, at any skill level, for a period of two years after completing their courses.

8. How to win a research grant

“Grant capture” is increasingly being adopted as a metric to judge academics and universities. But with success rates typically little better than one in five, rejection is the fate of most applications. Six academics gave us their tips on how to improve the odds.

7. Compulsory Dutch looms for foreign students in the Netherlands

In August, we reported on information from several sources saying that the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science was considering forcing international students to do part of their degrees in Dutch. The policy was in response to perceived problems arising from the growth of foreign student numbers in the country. A month later, more lenient legislation was passed that gave universities a legal duty of care for their international students’ Dutch language proficiency and putting in place tougher criteria to justify teaching a course in a language other than Dutch. 

6. Flipped classroom ‘fails to improve student performance’

A major study published in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology discussion paper found that the popular teaching method could be exacerbating achievement gaps between different groups of learners.

5. International students and cheating: how worried should we be?

Numerous studies show the propensity for students, especially international students whose first language is not English, to use essay milIs and plagiarise. A Times Higher Education survey of 230 academics adds fresh evidence to the discussion. Forty-two per cent of respondents said that international students are more likely to use essay mills than their domestic peers, but 43 per cent agreed that university admission standards were partly to blame for the rise in contract cheating. 

4. Difficult times for international students in the US

A combination of changing legislation, regulation and attitudes is excluding many international students and scholars from the US and creating a hostile environment for many more. Meanwhile the administrative burden on universities is increasing. Three experts considered the costs in this long read from October. 

3. The true costs of research and publishing

In academia, as everybody knows, it’s publish or perish. But Kathryn Rudy has discovered that it’s also publish and perish: publishing, at least in her field of art history, leads to poverty. 

2. The PhD comedown can be swift and brutal

“I had hoped a doctorate would erase my past and transform my life, as others had promised that it would. But it didn’t,” writes Petra Boynton, a social psychologist and author, in one of our most popular comment pieces of the year. 

 1. Ten rules for succeeding in academia through upward toxicity

Universities sing the song of meritocracy but dance to a different tune, says Irina Dumitrescu. You too can become upwardly toxic with her 10 easy rules. 



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