Is research autonomy at risk?

Is research autonomy at risk?
The enterprise-type internal organization of mass universities, the compulsion to publish, and the international struggle for funding and industrial collaborations pose a serious challenge to institutional and individual research autonomy. The article by Ewelina K. Niemczyk and Zoltán Rónay was published by the Q1 rated Higher Education Quarterly.

One of the indicators of the well-being and economic competitiveness of nations is research activities, as a result of which the tasks of academic researchers, their roles and the demands placed on them are increasing. At the international level, researchers are also expected to work effectively in a rapidly changing and challenging research environment (i.e., to be able to establish international and interdisciplinary collaborations) to provide internal and external support, and most importantly, publish tangible research results, all at a high level, with sufficient intensity and as quickly as possible.

The expected research excellence also affects researchers' application, advancement and recognition in their work.

However, based on this study, Ewelina K.Niemczyk, Associate Professor at North-West University in South Africa, and Zoltán Rónay, Associate Professor at the Institute of Educational Sciences of ELTE PPK, head of the Education-Law-Pedagogy Research Group, argue that research productivity and the pursuit of scientific excellence may limit the individual autonomy of researchers. Their study reviews the international literature and research on the productivity of higher education institutions in 15 countries. Based on a secondary analysis of the study summarizing the answers of 32 researchers to interview questions, it provides a comprehensive picture of the tasks facing higher education teachers and researchers and concerns their research autonomy.

The results show that the role of researchers is changing and that the competencies expected of them and the requirements placed on them are changing in a way that poses a significant challenge to researcher autonomy. The lesson load generated by mass education and the associated administration and the time-consuming struggle to obtain funds on the international stage limit the interest of researchers. The biggest problem, however, is that the most effective way to increase the number of publications, the citations, and the received research funding, is if researchers prioritize researches that have a greater chance of gaining access to decision-makers on careers in higher education, the allocation of resources or researches that are published readily by the editorial boards of high - quality journals. This often leads to electoral compulsion at the expense of a topic to be chosen based on their internal motivations and research convictions.

In the better case, this only hinders the development of new research topics and new research directions, but in the worst case,

It may force some authors to come up with solutions that challenge research ethics principles.

The compulsion of research productivity and the professional-scientific decisions subordinated to the possibilities can, therefore, not only limit the autonomy of researchers but can also threaten the scientific integrity of researchers.

The study can be read here:

Roles, requirements and autonomy of academic researchers, Higher Education Quarterly, 2022.

by Ewelina K. Niemczyk and Zoltán Rónay