17,493 ways to hold universities more accountable

Little kid with abacusUntil university leaders can supply politicians with better approaches to accountability, they’re just going to count. In Norway right now, we’re in the midst of counting season. And because of the sharp folks at Current Research Information System in Norway, we have detailed numbers. (Disclosure: I’m the head of the board at CRIStin.)

Along with counting, comes comparison. So, here’s a little teaser from the high north and, sure, I’d like to know how it stacks up against your university.

In 2013, the 18,709 academic staff members at Norwegian colleges and universities were (co)authors on a total of 17,493 research articles, for an average of just less than one (co)authorship per academic employee.

The biggest and oldest university in Norway (Oslo) has 3,344 academic positions and generated 5,102 (co)authorships, for an average of about 1.5 publications per academic employee. The smallest and youngest university (Nordland) has 308 academic staff and 169 (co)authorships, for an average of about 0.5 publications per academic employee.

Academics in Oslo, from this perspective, publish three times as much as academics in Nordland.

Publication pays
In the Norwegian budgetary system, points are assigned through an elaborate algorithm building in part on the (alleged) quality of journals. Universities, through this system, get paid for their publications.

According to the point system, the University of Oslo has about 30 times as many points as the University of Nordland. But Oslo also has 10 times more employees.

Oslo, in other words, comes out as about three times more productive than Nordland either way: if we count (co)authorships or if we count in the Norwegian point system.

(I describe the point system and 6 ways it could be better in a three part series on this blog: Part 1Part 2Part 3. The system was recently evaluated.)

The cost of co-authorship
These two ways of counting shouldn’t necessarily line up so nicely, and the fact that they do hides some important differences. Nearly 40% of the publications at the University of Oslo are at the highest level in the point system while only about 20% of those from the University of Nordland are there. From this perspective, we would expect the points per employee in Oslo to distinguish the institutions even more than the (co)authorships do.

On the other hand, about 40% of Oslo’s articles are written with international co-authors while only 30% of Nordland’s are. Our Ministry — which claims to want to encourage international cooperation —  actually punishes universities for international co-authorship by reducing the number of points the Norwegian institution is credited with.

(As I noted here, eliminating the reduction that follows from international co-authorship is a no-brainer for improving the system.)

Open access policy goals
The Norwegian point system is not being creatively used to pursue policy goals — or else the government’s only policy goal is getting researchers to publish more, which at the very least lacks nuance.

One of the most exciting opportunities would be to use the point system to push researchers towards open access publication. This should be a policy issue of concern to the Norwegian government, not least of all because of the sanctions recently reported in Nature.

The London-based Wellcome Trust says that it has withheld grant payments on 63 occasions in the past year because papers resulting from the funding were not open access. And the NIH, in Bethesda, Maryland, says that it has delayed some continuing grant awards since July 2013 because of non-compliance with open-access policies.

European-level research funders are sure to join this trend; they, too, have OA regulations in place and will likely act to make sure they are followed. Norway could achieve a competitive advantage in the European context through higher compliance with open access publishing requirements.

And if we do that, we’ll be good at even more than counting.

 

 

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About Curt Rice

My interest in leadership development at universities affects most of what I do, whether it’s working on gender balance issues, developing policies about Open Access, promoting research-based education or just about anything else. I'm a professor at the University of Tromsø, where I've spent the last decade serving first as the head of a Center of Excellence (2002-2008) and then as the Vice President for Research & Development (prorektor for forskning og utvikling) (2009-2013). I'm currently a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study.

Comments

  1. Pål M. Lykkja says:

    Richard Padley on the blog Semantico had some very good points about the future of publishing. Based on what he wrote i ask myself:

    What if there is no longer any article, no-one ‘the version of record’, and that this “non-version” (as I call it) don’t are contained in a version, and are not even limitet to a certain number of pages? Or, that the only interesting feature is that machines can read it and understand it, or that “publishing” is the interesting feature at all, but rather the ability to “play” with the article. When citations becomes uninteresting, but reproducibility is what counts?

    Most learned societies or even research administratives even talk about research in these terms, they all stress that we are going slooooowly and consult with every stake holders (publishers) for every step. It has now taken about 20 years with small steps to not rush open access. If you asked the learned societies themselves about open access, I doubt they even would respond if they didnt need to.

    • Curt Rice says:

      A depressing if realistic description of the situation, Pål. I was surprised to have provoked the historians in the UK when I wrote in the Guardian on the benefits of open access last year. The change is inevitable but, as you note, it’s slow going.

  2. Curt, Except for restricted niches such as petroleum geology, quantum chemistry, arctic biology, etc., science in Norway is in considerable trouble. Check out the above Facebook note; that’s a reliable, inside view, in my opinion. Unfortunately, there is a code of silence on the whole issue among academics.

    • Curt Rice says:

      The code of silence is only possible because of the magnitude of the public sector, don’t you think, Abhik?

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