Research ‘culture shift’ needed in emerging European systems

Younger academics spending far less time on scholarship than in leading nations, analysis suggests

October 19, 2018
In balance

Younger academics in emerging higher education systems in Europe are spending far less time on scholarship than their counterparts in the continent’s leading research nations, new analysis suggests.

According to findings presented in a new book on working patterns in European academia, scholars under the age of 40 in countries like Poland or Portugal have a far greater teaching load than academics in nations like the UK or Switzerland.

The author of the analysis – Marek Kwiek, director of the Center for Public Policy Studies at the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań – believes that the findings mean emerging countries need national policies that help shift academic culture towards scholarship if they want to catch up with other nations on research excellence.

In Changing European Academics: A Comparative Study of Social Stratification, Work Patterns and Research Productivity, Professor Kwiek looks at thousands of survey responses given as part of European research projects from six countries: three research-focused systems (the UK, Switzerland and Finland) and three that lean more towards teaching (Ireland, Poland and Portugal).

In the research-focused countries, academics aged under 40 spent well over 20 hours a week on research on average, with the highest figure found in Switzerland at 28.5 hours a week. However, younger academics in Poland, Portugal and Ireland spent up to half as much time on research on average.

The opposite is true of time spent teaching, and Professor Kwiek made clear that the results are based not “on doctoral students or postdoctoral researchers but full-time staff members with teaching and research duties”.

For older academics, the situation seems to be reversed for the research-focused countries – with academics spending a declining amount of time on research – but does not change a great deal in the teaching-focused nations.

Professor Kwiek writes that the findings have major implications for the future development of higher education in countries like Poland, Portugal and Ireland as no “fundamental or sizeable generational shift can be expected toward research orientation”.

He told Times Higher Education that much of the focus on boosting emerging systems is about funding, but there actually needs to be a cultural shift towards research becoming a priority among some universities and academics.

“It is not only about academics, it is not only about institutions, it is also about national culture,” he said. “It is an enormously complicated issue and it’s not linked to funding only.”

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