New Telegraph

December 5, 2023

Academic staff promotion in Nigerian universities: Science or mediocrity?

There is no denying that staff promotion in higher learning institutions serves dual purposes. To the institutions it helps to promote its international academic rankings and visibility. This implies that with senior academic posts, an institution boosts its capacity on teaching, research, and consultancy. Without well qualified and committed academic staff, no academic institution can really ensure sustainability and quality over the long haul. Likewise, to an individual staff, promotion to a senior rank comes with additional remuneration, increased influence within the university, recognition, tenure, and leadership positions.

Indeed, there are established modalities and procedures in universities for assessing and making recommendations on the performance of staff members in promotion exercises. However, my recent experience while partaking in an academic promotion exercise has since fueled my curiosity about whether credence should be given to science or mediocrity on the extent to which emphasis on “where to publish” affects academic staff promotion outcomes. The dilemma of where to publish has captivated academia and the scientific community, particularly with the comeback and growth of open access predatory journals and publishers in the 2000s, the majority of which self-declare to be “international.” In the framework of the publishing industry, there are two prima ry options: science or mediocrity (see Makulilo, 2021).

The former meets the scientific community’s internationally accepted quality standards, whereas the latter falls short of science. As a result, mediocrity is a reflection of predatory and low-quality journals and publishers. Although the medium of publication is critical in determining the quality of the peer-review process and the overall quality of the scientific merit of a scholarly work, quite a number of Nigerian universities have continued to favour publishing in deceptive journals with academic or administrative positions being achieved without the proper merits.

Because the cost of publishing in predatory journals is relatively low in terms of peer review process and very short period from manuscript submission to publication, a staff can realize a good number of papers for promotion with little or no consideration for the quality of the medium of publication (Grgi&Guski, 2019). However, it must be pointed out that an academic position obtained regardless of scientific merits is popularly termed a “zombie professorship” (Frandsen, 2019; Balehegn, 2017; Pyne, 2017; Omobowale et al., 2014).

Institutions and staff who practice and benefit from mediocracy oftentimes camouflage quality in public. Thus, such institutions state clearly in their vision and other policy documents that they stand for distinctive outputs. Pyne (2017) maintains that publication in a deceptive journal has a negative but insignificant effect on faculty salary. However, the number of journal publications has a strong positive and significant effect on salary. This implies that the quantity of publications is more important than quality, and therefore there are few incentives to prevent publication in deceptive journals. In this aspect, the freedom of staff to choose “where to publish” is constrained by the demands of the scientific community, regulatory authorities, and institutions. For four main reasons, universities are very concerned about “where to publish”.

First, it is about the reputation and visibility of the universities. It should be noted that a publication always goes with institutional affiliation of an author. It means that if staff of a university publishes in higher quality journal outlets or publishers, that among other things, contributes to enhancing the reputation of the university and vice-versa is the case. Secondly, almost all universities, in their respective vision and mission statements, identify themselves as centres of excellence. To realize this label, it follows logically that they need highly competent and skillful staff to achieve their goals. Thirdly, with publications in high-quality outlets, universities are able to attract large amounts of funding through research and consultancy projects. Fourthly, with publications in high reputable outlets, universities are able to promote staff smoothly to the senior ranks.

Senior staffs are critical to the survival of universities in the sense that they perform teaching, research and consultancies to the required standards set by regulators nationally and internationally. There is this global trend of classifying journals as foreign and indigenous without attaching any importance to such distinctions beyond geographical expression. But in this part of the world, we tend to erroneously tag foreign journals as “international journals” and our indigenous journals as “local journals.” However, what we regard as a local journal can also be considered international.

That is, it does not matter where a journal is been published, for a journal to qualify as international it requiressome attributes such as: being reputed in international indexing databases; one-quarter (25%) of the editorial board reside or are employed outside thecountry of publication; one-third (33%) of the total number of papers published originate from outside the country of publication; at least half (50%)the total number of subscriptions originate from institutions or individualsoutside the country of publication; and wider acceptance and citation as well asbeing published by renowned publishers (Lakhotia, 2013; Shaik, 2017). In view of the above, a journal can still be international in its own locality as long as it exhibits the features of an international journal.

Hence, geographical territoriality is no longer important in classifying the internationality or locality of a journal Publishing in journals with the highest scholarly standards is critical to enhancing the academic reputation of our universities. Articles published in highly reputable journals are usually listed under the Scientific Citation Index (SCI) or indexed in well-known databases. More importantly, emphasis should be centered on quality rather than quantity. In a situation where an institution does not embrace a high-quality culture in conducting its business, when staffs are transferred to another university that upholds the highest standards of promotion, then such staffs are likely to always live in fear and inferiority complexes in their new environment, especially when they hear anything resembling a staff qualification audit.

*Kazeem O. Isah, is a Doctoral student at Department of Economics, University of Kwa- Zulu-Natal, South Africa and lecturer at the Department of Economics, Kogi State University (KSU), Anyigba, Kogi State, Nigeria

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