The academic rat race: Dilemmas and problems in the structure of academic competition

in Volume 5 (2012): Issue 2 (Jun 2012)
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The social benefits expected from academia are generally identified as belonging to three broad categories: research, education and contribution to society in general. However, evaluating the present situation of academia according to these criteria reveals a somewhat disturbing phenomenon: an increased pressure to produce articles (in peer-reviewed journals) has created an unbalanced emphasis on the research criterion at the expense of the latter two. More fatally, this pressure has turned academia into a rat race, leading to a deep change in the fundamental structure of academic behaviour, and entailing a self-defeating and hence counter-productive pattern, where more publications is always better and where it becomes increasingly difficult for researchers to keep up with the new research in their field. The article identifies the pressure to publish as a problem of collective action. It ends up by raising questions about how to break this vicious circle and restore a better balance between all three of the social benefits of academia.