Steep conference fees ‘exclude academics’

Conferences should be part of the open access debate, Tokyo researcher says

November 12, 2019
Source: Getty

Exorbitant conference fees have spawned a type of academic apartheid, where higher education experts cannot participate in the major global forums for their disciplines, according to a researcher.

Christopher Pokarier, professor of business and governance at Tokyo’s Waseda University, said that the fees – which could top $1,000 (£780) even with discounts for a presenter with an “early bird” registration – were excluding specialist higher education researchers from the major conferences of Europe, North America and Australia.

Professor Pokarier said that the price of conferences, like journal subscriptions, was preventing the generators of new knowledge from accessing the discoveries of their peers. “Those who have an active research interest in the internationalisation of their profession can’t afford to be part of the formal conversation,” he told Times Higher Education.

“[The fees] preclude the people at the pointy end of delivering the product in the first place.”

Professor Pokarier said speaker and delegate lists showed that there were “remarkably few academics” at major gatherings such as the Association of International Educators (Nafsa) expo and the Australian International Education Conference.

“As we get events run by specialised event management companies, who obviously want to charge a fair price for doing that, only people in positions of authority can afford the registration fees,” he said. “It’s people in established leading roles talking to other established leadership personalities, and not necessarily broadening and sharing the conversation.”

“Nafsa has become an incredibly efficient place for institutions from all over the world to meet their partners,” he added. “The digital architecture of these conferences really helps people connect and schedule meetings from morning to night. It saves an enormous amount of money [and] travelling.”

But these benefits were largely confined to university administrators, Professor Pokarier said. “There’s so much knowledge to be had but it doesn’t necessarily transform the institution. Even though the people participating know what’s best practice, it doesn’t necessarily filter through.

“There are the haves and the have-nots. If you’re cashed up you get the opportunities to meet people, make connections, improve your knowledge, engage with people as research subjects. [If you] can’t afford to participate you’re dependent on web-based shares. You’re simply not part of many of the interesting conversations.”

Professor Pokarier said that cost was also an impediment to participation in conferences of “academic communities” such as geologists and biotechnologists. While such forums had traditionally been run by disciplinarians who understood what their fellow academics could afford, they were increasingly being outsourced to professional outfits that charged steep entry prices, he warned.

He said “organisations that run the conferences simply have to ask themselves whether they want to open them up to a wider range of participants”. 

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Scholars ‘can’t afford’ conferences

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