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The dangers of limiting research to elite universities

Oct 1, 2018 by

Jenny J Lee and Alma Maldonado-Maldonado –

With regard to our recent debate with Philip Altbach and Hans de Wit on research publishing, there are some points of agreement; however, key points of disagreement remain.

Based on what has been expressed thus far, we, along with Altbach and De Wit seemingly agree that: there is a crisis in publications, including Western biases in peer review and dominance in top journals worldwide; tremendous pressure is placed on higher education institutions to behave as research universities; global rankings are a powerful influence in shaping higher education missions, policies and activities; and diversity is a valuable aspect of the knowledge creation process.

While we generally concur with these observations, we respectfully disagree with Altbach and De Wit’s suggested approach to these problems – ie, differentiating which universities are responsible for published research, while others are rewarded mostly for teaching. We are fundamentally troubled by the implications of such a suggestion, as mentioned above.

Democratising knowledge creation

Reserving the research function to any country’s top research universities limits participation, which will inevitably increase stratification within countries. Already, there is abundant research (including from scholars in non-research universities) that has documented ways that individuals of minoritised races, ethnicities and socio-economic status are disadvantaged in accessing higher education.

While Altbach and De Wit state that the problem is the publishing system and not the scholars, these issues are intertwined. In the case of the United States, rising institutional inequality is a component of individual-level inequality, with a patterned sorting of students to institutions of varying status.

In other words, research universities do more than research. They are also the most selective in admissions, limiting social mobility and favouring individuals of the highest socio-economic status, while disadvantaging ethnic minoritised students by relegating them to lower resourced universities. These demographic concerns also apply to university faculty.

Benefit from other university types

Even as a country with the highest concentration of research universities, the US knowledge society can benefit greatly from other university types. The country’s tribal colleges, for example, employ a high proportion of Native American professors, while this population represents less than 1% of faculty numbers in all US higher education institutions.

continue: The dangers of limiting research to elite universities – University World News

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