ABS ranking reveals 'world elite' of business journals

Thirty-three journals have been given the coveted “world elite” ranking in an influential and hotly debated league table

February 25, 2015

Source: Getty

The Association of Business Schools’ Academic Journal Guide 2015 assesses the quality of 1,401 business and management publications worldwide, based on citation scores and the judgements of leading researchers.

It is designed to help academics to make decisions about where they should seek to have their work published and to help deans to evaluate performance.

But some scholars complain that the guide has become too powerful in decisions on recruitment, promotion and salary review, and that as a consequence they are assessed only on where they publish, not what they publish.

In the latest edition of the guide, the award of the 4* “journal of distinction” accolade to 33 publications represents an increase since the last version, published in 2010, when 22 reached this grade.

However, since the previous issue encompassed only 823 titles, the proportion of journals considered 4* has declined, from 2.7 per cent to 2.4 per cent.

The new guide gives 85 journals (6.1 per cent) a quality rating of 4, meaning that they publish the “most original and best executed research”, compared with 72 (8.7 per cent) in the last edition.

Some 312 journals (22.3 per cent) were rated as 3, meaning that they publish “original and well executed research”, compared with 230 (.9 per cent) last time.

There were 481 titles (34.3 per cent) ranked 2, meaning they publish “original research of an acceptable standard”, and 490 in the bottom 1 category, classed as journals publishing work of a “recognised, but more modest standard”.

The guide divides journals into 22 different subject areas and judges economics to have the highest number of 4* journals, with six. Marketing had five, while accounting and general management had four each.

Geoffrey Wood of Warwick Business School and David Peel of Lancaster University Management School, the guide’s co-editors, say that they recognise that any attempt to differentiate between journals will “naturally be contentious”.

Writing in the guide’s introduction, they say that “exceptional scholarly work may be found in many places” but that it “tends to be clustered in particular locales and journals”.

“Identifying such locales is a difficult and fraught process, but we remain convinced that it is better that it is done through the involvement of scholarly experts and their associations than without,” the editors say.

Professor Wood told Times Higher Education that the guide aimed “to provide scholars with clear goalposts against which to aim for in seeking to progress their careers”.

“Although the guide is not intended to be fully inclusive, inclusion in the guide is an indicator that the journal should uphold high scholarly standards, and treat authors professionally and with respect,” he said.

The next edition of the guide is scheduled to be published in 2018.

For full coverage of the ABS journal guide, see this week’s THE


World’s elite: 4* journals in the ABS Academic Journal Guide 2015

Field: Accounting

  • Accounting Review
  • Accounting, Organizations and Society
  • Journal of Accounting and Economics
  • Journal of Accounting Research

Field: Economics, econometrics and statistics

  • American Economic Review
  • Annals of Statistics
  • Econometrica
  • Journal of Political Economy
  • Quarterly Journal of Economics
  • Review of Economic Studies

Field: General management, ethics and social responsibility

  • Academy of Management Journal
  • Academy of Management Review
  • Administrative Science Quarterly
  • Journal of Management

Field: Finance

  • Journal of Finance
  • Journal of Financial Economics
  • Review of Financial Studies

Field: International business and area studies

  • Journal of International Business Studies

Field: Information management

  • Information Systems Research
  • MIS Quarterly

Field: Marketing

  • Journal of Consumer Psychology
  • Journal of Consumer Research
  • Journal of Marketing
  • Journal of Marketing Research
  • Marketing Science

Field: Operations and technology management

  • Journal of Operations Management

Field: Operations research and management science

  • Management Science
  • Operations Research

Field: Organisation studies

  • Organization Science

Field: Social sciences

  • American Journal of Sociology
  • American Sociological Review
  • Annual Review of Sociology

Field: Strategy

  • Strategic Management Journal

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

Please login or register to read this article

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Reader's comments (11)

This list "aimed to provide scholars with clear goalposts against which to aim for in seeking to progress their careers”. But you better be playing American Football, because this is simply a list of US journals. In my subdisciplines, in the journals ranked, the work is conservative, narrow, and parochial to the United States. People had better not believe the playing field is level, either. The normal institutional biases, let alone positive discrimination, tilt play in favour of the US scholar. The paper you've written and want someone to read informally. Your reader down the corridor or you bump into at a local seminar in THE-land is not going to be the editor of any of these journals, is he. Yes, he (nice, and appropriate pic btw). The Association of Business Schools is now trying to face in two directions at once. It is sending the message, firstly, that if you are 'seeking to progress [your] career' you should publish in these US journals. At the same time management scholars are told, rightly, and not least by the ABS that they need to have a strong concern for 'impact' in the REF sense - for material changes in the real world. Well, intuitively, research that gets published in these 4* journals will by definition have to be the opposite of impactful. (I make these comments in a personal capacity, and not in my capacity as Vice Chair Research and Publications of the British Academy of Management).
Agree with Bill's comments the list is tedious and, possibly worse, irrelevant to the real world of business education. Little wonder that business education is increasingly irrelevant to business, business support for research in B schools collapsing and Schools are becoming peripheral cash cows to the Universities that host them.
The six management journals listed here (four in Management, one in Organization Studies, and one in Strategy) are the usual suspects; their publications overwhelmingly showcase mostly positivistic, "normal science" research. The dominant understanding of management that comes across in such publications is as follows: "management is a value-free scientific body of knowledge, that helps contemporary capitalism thrive, by allowing business companies to make profits through the work of people. This is a good thing". At a time when business schools and corporate capitalism are being heavily criticized, at a time of growing social inequality globally, and impatience of practising managers with the limitations of what they study and learn in business schools, such rankings serve an ideological purpose. They reinforce parochial views that North American theories of management can help contemporary capitalism thrive. Frankly the opposite seems increasingly the case, that it is by criticizing and moving away from canonical views that innovative and socially relevant means of managing are possible.
The newly published ABS Journal Guide is a travesty. It entirely undermines a century (and more) of European scholarship that has sought to challenge the positivistic orthodoxy in social research. We have mainly succeeded in that aim with innovative theory building and ample empirical studies that offer insight into what real organisations look and feel like – not what a model tells us they should look and feel like. In an era where our research must feed into the needs of society and where, as the delivers of business education, we need to develop responsible and reflective leaders of the future and encourage innovation and creativity not a regurgitation of the same orthodoxies that please the elite. Not least, to encourage scholars to use this as a guide to publishing to advance their careers is demoralising and punitive. The biggest disappointment is that the ABS publishes this on our behalf. This does not represent research in UK Business and Management Schools. It does not represent the values and ambitions embedded in research in UK Business and Management Schools. Nor does it represent the REF panel’s views of 4* research. As our association, ABS has let us down.
My internet security software has some sage advice about the crassly named ABS website: "bizschooljournals.com": "This link isn't rated. Proceed with caution."
A ranking list is one measure of achievement, and as presented here, it outlines the 'world elite' ranking. Accreditation is another indicator of achievement. This approach by EFMD suggests a broader definition of research activity (and presumably 'achievement' as well): "EQUIS has always defined research as a broad spectrum of intellectual endeavour, ranging from scholarly publications aimed primarily at the academic community, through professionally relevant publications and activities aimed at organisations and business practitioners, to educationally relevant productions aimed at learners and teachers in universities, schools and companies."* It is not easy to navigate around the concept of research, and what achievement means. --What message to give to early career faculty? *Source: ("The Challenges facing business school accreditation", 2014:10, https://www.efmd.org/images/stories/efmd/GF/2014-issue3/Issue_3_2014_accreditation.pdf)
What do they mean by "impact"? Do they make the world a better place? Do they improve the quality of living? or do they simple advance the ability of researchers to talk to themselves and only to themselves and try to game the system by quoting each other? Is it time that research impact be measured as contribution to society's well-being. Then lets allocate society's resources to research that has impact.
P.S. Being in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility I notice, with disgust, that in the picture there is only one woman and one black.
I support all of the above criticisms of the list. The main point though has yet to be made. It is simply the role of this list, in all of its versions, in the most widespread case of group think I have ever experienced. The reliance on, or more accurately obsession with, this list as an indicator of the RAE/REF 'star quality' of research outputs among Deans and Heads of Research; however titled; in UK business schools. Despite the written guidance in RAE/REF official documents; despite the written and spoken assurances of RAE/REF panel members that journal ranking lists play(ed) no part in RAE/REF assessments of output quality; despite the actual results of RAE/REF final assessments; the 'ABS List' has been the most significant single metric applied to internal assessment of research performance of B&M academics, to decisions on who receives support for research and to decisions on whose work is entered into RAE/REF submissions. Unless someone can produce a cure for the group think, the message for those processes remains the same; if you want positive performance appraisals, support for your research and to have your work included in the next REF then conduct positivist research which results in lots of numbers and publish in an American journal which is read by only other academics attempting to ensure that their next piece gets favourably reviewed and published. If we can cure the group think then this list, and all such lists, will become the irrelevance it deserves to be. I write in a personal capacity and not in my role as Executive Secretary of the University Forum for HRD.
I agree with Jim Stewart's comments. My view of this list is that it should be seen as nothing other than some irresponsible parents' disruptive child that comes around to torment us when we are working! Also, in the spirt of Jim's comments, in my opinion, the best thing that our community organisations can do is seek to lead a change of practice where we each say that we will only comment on the quality of our colleagues' work if we have read it. We should expect that kind of behaviour from all of our colleagues, regardless of their seniority, editorial responsibility, etc. Not only will we then be showing the proper amount of regard for the efforts of all of our work colleagues, but we will also be respecting the noble contribution of those colleagues from elsewhere who have put so much effort into research quality assessment panels. We might think that these exercises are a burden, but at least the panels take the assessment of a multidimensional and catholic sense of quality seriously.
It is inspiring to read the several comments to this article: so many people clearly see how stupid and damaging this all focus on journal ranking really is. If these so-called scholarly associations (and the many so-called scholars who live by their credos) spent the same time and energy worrying about having a real impact through their work as they unfortunately spend thinking about publishing and journal rankings, we would live in a much better world. One where perhaps fewer articles were published (thankfully!!!) but the few ones that were, actually contributed to our evolution, i.e. improved our understanding of the world and the world‘s phenomena. We shouldn’t forget that the original noble purpose of universities was to conduct research that would contribute to advancing societal understanding and well-being . Back in 1990 Ernest L Boyer noted how the term ‘scholarship’ originally referred to “a variety of creative work carried on in a variety of places, and its integrity was measured by the ability to think, communicate, and learn”, not to publish on high ranking journals. Unfortunately today, the word ‘scholarship’ merely evokes thoughts of academic articles published in peer reviewed journals. To go back to that very noble original purpose, Costas Markides from the London School of Economics has a proposal that makes an enormous amount of sense to me: “The first step in my opinion to generate more innovation in academic research is to change the purpose of the paradigm, which says that our goal is to publish or perish. It is not! Our goal is to generate ideas that help change the world, that create value. And if you don’t develop a new paradigm and use new mind-sets you are never going to have progress in academia”. How do we do that in practice? Let’s try MacDonald and Kam’s Tinker Bell solutions, i.e PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, let’s start laughing at, rather than applauding traditional measures of impact and at those who enforce them. Let’s ridicule those so-called scholars who choose to make it the sole objective of their career to amass as many publications as possible and “at any cost”, i.e. playing the citation game, the co-authorship game, the have-your-students-write-the-article-and-stick-your-name-on-it game, and the so many other disgusting and shameful games we all know. Good night, and good luck. Marco uk.linkedin.com/in/marcobusi/ PS: I believe anyone should read this before deciding how to interpret journal ranking and impact factors: Macdonald, S, and Kam, J, Ring a Ring o’ Roses: Quality Journals and Gamesmanship in Management Studies, Journal of Management Studies, Vol 44, 4 June 2007.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments