Chinese scholars ‘show mixed responses’ to ‘cash for articles’

Some academics feel incentives do not reflect that motivation for research comes from ‘the pursuit of knowledge’, says researcher

December 12, 2019
Man with image of Chinese banknote

Chinese universities’ “cash for articles” incentive schemes are garnering mixed responses from humanities and social sciences academics, with some scholars welcoming the system and others actively resisting it.

Chinese scientists can win awards of up to $165,000 (£127,000) from their universities for publishing in leading international scientific journals.

However, Xin Xu, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Global Higher Education, department of education, University of Oxford, said her latest research, due to be presented at this week’s Society for Research into Higher Education conference and based on interviews with 75 academics, senior administrators and journal editors in China, suggested that not all scholars were lapping up the chance to receive these lucrative rewards.

“The conclusion is that academics have really mixed responses to the incentive schemes,” she said.

“It’s not like once there are some monetary rewards academics will all go for that. Some of them are maintaining their own choices of where to publish. Some of their choices to publish internationally are not determined by the incentive schemes.

“If their research fits more in international academia, then they publish internationally no matter if there is an incentive scheme or not.”

Another recent study published by Dr Xu and based on interviews with 65 humanities and social sciences academics at six universities, found that half of the participants supported the incentive scheme but a significant minority (14) had a “resistant” attitude, expressing less or no intention to publish internationally as a result of the rewards. The same number (14) were described as “adaptive”, meaning they were not in favour of the incentives but they intended to publish internationally because of difficulty in publishing domestically.

In terms of behaviour, 40 interviewees said that they did not attempt to change the status quo and were making efforts to publish articles in international journals, but 16 displayed “rejecting” behaviour and did not try to publish internationally, while two, including one in a managerial position, were actively “rebelling” by attempting to change incentives and making no or little effort to publish internationally. Seven scholars took a “reformative” approach, actively seeking changes to the incentives while making efforts to publish internationally.

Dr Xu argued that “some academics said they were not so concerned with the financial bonuses because they did not reflect their own motivation to do their research, which is the pursuit of knowledge”. Monetary rewards also tend to be lower in the humanities and social sciences than in the natural sciences, which could also be a factor, she said.

Dr Xu added that some researchers were concerned that the incentive schemes create inequity because higher bonuses are given for more prestigious journals, while others thought that they made the research system more equal because junior academics, who sometimes struggle to publish in domestic journals, may have more chance of publishing internationally.

Meanwhile, some academics highlighted that the schemes tend to reward quantity over quality of research.

Dr Xu recommended that universities “consider involving more academics in the policymaking process” so researchers themselves have a chance to shape the incentive schemes and ensure that the system facilitates academic research.

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If you are interested in the incentive schemes for international publications in Chinese humanities and social sciences, our recent publications might be of your interest: Xu, X, Rose, H, Oancea, A (2019) “Incentivising international publications: institutional policymaking in Chinese higher education”, Studies in Higher Education. Xu, X (2019) “Performing under ‘the baton of administrative power’? Chinese academics’ responses to incentives for international publications”, Research Evaluation. Xu, X (2019) “China ‘goes out’ in a centre/periphery world: Incentivising international publications in the humanities and social sciences”, Higher Education.


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