Response to Andrew Jack

We appreciate Mr Jack’s positive response to our soft policy statement and his participation, as a representative of the FT, in our webinar series. Mr Jack’s response reflects a very legitimate point of view and makes sense, given the FT’s perspective.

However, we are disappointed that the FT will maintain its system of quantification and pass the responsibility for managing the reliance and impact of such a system to academic organisations, journal editors and academics. In particular, we note that Mr Jack’s comments assume agency on the part of academic organisations to ignore the rankings.  Of course, on one level this is true, there is nothing stopping universities from ignoring metrics such as the FT rankings.  Indeed, we have recently seen Utrecht University make a public decision to abandon impact factors in hiring and promotion decisions, following their signing of DORA.  However, as Mr Jack notes, rankings, particularly FT rankings, are powerful in driving market perceptions of the quality of a university and therefore have a potential impact on student numbers. Thus encouraging faculty to publish in FT ranked journals is a means to improve (albeit flawed) perceptions of reputation and thus student numbers. We regularly see richer universities use high salaries to employ those faculty who publish in these journals and therefore reap the benefits in relation to the rankings and resulting student numbers. To ignore the rankings potentially affects revenue – something that many universities cannot afford to do in the current climate.

We also suggest that this system perpetuates the power held by “western” universities, and actually by a small number of “elite” western universities as we create a cycle by which these universities can recruit faculty who publish in ranked journals, these universities therefore do better in the rankings and become richer and the cycle continues. Thus there is no mobility in the system at an organisational level so the power stays with the elite few and we create a system of “haves” and “have nots” in the academic world.  This unfortunately tends to align largely with particular regions of the world making it very difficult for universities from developing countries in particular to bridge this gap. We are concerned therefore that the reliance on such evaluations of research is in conflict with the pluralistic and global approach that IFSAM advocates.

IFSAM, Executive Committee