An explosion in the volume of higher education research being published – more than 40,000 pages in the main journals alone during 2016 – has triggered a call for academics to prioritise synthesising and communicating their findings rather than undertaking new studies.
Malcolm Tight, professor of higher education at Lancaster University, has calculated that there are now 86 English-language journals focused on higher education. In a paper published in one of these, Higher Education Research & Development, Professor Tight charts the growth of the sector and lists 28 periodicals that he considers to be the “most reputable”.
Of the 86, Professor Tight finds that 34 (40 per cent) have been founded since 2000. Meanwhile, higher education journals are growing in size: 12 published more than 1,000 pages last year, the biggest being Studies in Higher Education, whose output ran to 2,286 pages. The same journal published only two issues a year until 1986, but now it publishes 12 annually.
Professor Tight calculates that the 86 journals published “well over 40,000 pages” of articles in 2016 and, assuming an average of 400 words per page, estimates that the total annual output amounts to about 16 million words, and growing.
This is “far more than any one individual could presume to ‘read’ in a year”, Professor Tight writes, and the volume indicates that all the papers “cannot be of the highest quality”.
“Many will be repeating analyses that have already been carried out elsewhere in a different context, and adding only a limited amount to the sum of knowledge about higher education,” he says. “Most are also relatively small-scale, focusing on a single case or a small number of cases.”
Speaking to Times Higher Education, Professor Tight said that this did not mean that the explosion of output was a bad thing.
“It’s probably a good thing in that decisions about how to do higher education – how to teach, how to run institutions and organise research – are informed by evidence from research,” he said. “So many decisions in higher education are informed by personal experience – typically the way people teach and supervise is shaped by the way they were taught and supervised – but we are moving on from that.”
Professor Tight argued that the explosion of output likely reflected the increasing interest around the world in the quality of higher education provision and also the pressure on individual academics to publish more.
But he argues in the paper that the “most pressing need in higher education research now is not to undertake more research as such, but to synthesise and learn the lessons from all of the research that has been done to date”.
“There are quite a few meta-analyses and systematic reviews available in education research generally and there is no reason why we couldn’t do more of that in higher education research in particular,” Professor Tight told THE. “In essence, we know how to do things better, but these findings are not always being communicated or packaged up for the people who might benefit.”
In his paper, Professor Tight uses three measures – age (at least 10 years old), size (at least 200 pages published in 2016) and citations (a score of at least 0.5 on the SCImago Journal Rank Indicator) – to create what he describes as “a reasonable assessment of which are currently the most reputable higher education journals”.
Malcolm Tight’s key higher education journals
- Academic Medicine
- Accounting Education
- Active Learning in Higher Education
- Advances in Health Sciences Education
- Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education
- Community College Review
- Higher Education
- Higher Education Policy
- Higher Education Quarterly
- Higher Education Research & Development
- International Journal of Doctoral Studies
- International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
- Internet and Higher Education
- Journal of College Student Development
- Journal of English for Academic Purposes
- Journal of Higher Education
- Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management
- Journal of Hispanic Higher Education
- Journal of Studies in International Education
- Medical Education
- Quality in Higher Education
- Research Evaluation
- Research in Higher Education
- Review of Higher Education
- Studies in Higher Education
- Teaching in Higher Education
- Tertiary Education and Management
Source: Malcolm Tight, “Higher education journals: their characteristics and contribution”, Higher Education Research & Development, 2017