The case for open access to research and the problem of reputation.

October 11, 2011

For £25 you can buy a pdf copy of my 2005 article “Placing Quebec nationalisms: constructing English identities in Quebec’s Eastern Townships,” which was published in the British Journal of Canadian Studies. The article is just 16 pages long, but costs more than most 200 page books. I have no idea how many people have actually paid £25 for my article, as I do not receive royalties and I did not receive a one-off fee. The University of Southampton was not paid for my contribution and neither were the two peer reviewers. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) which funded the research on which this work was based (with money from the UK taxpayer) won’t get any of that money either.

This is well known within academia, but those outside academia are mostly surprised to learn that neither we, nor our employers receive any payment for our work. This youtube video produced for open access week shows a conversation between a researcher who has been asked to assign copyright to the journal publisher and the publisher himself. (In practice these conversation do not happen—we just sign the form and stick it in the post).

Open access journals allow anyone with Internet access to have access to research. In some cases the researcher can pay the publisher a fee to make research open access, though this form of open access is scarcely really in the spirit of open access to research.

The aims of the open access movement are honourable. The researcher, reviewers, universities and government don’t make any money from putting research behind a paywall. This also means that the public, whether they be interested amateurs, independent scholars, advocacy groups or academics in universities without the funds to pay thousands of pounds a year for journal subscriptions—this is a key issue for academics working in poorer countries. The Open Access Pledge reads

I pledge to devote most of my reviewing and editing efforts to manuscripts destined for open access. For other manuscripts, I will restrict myself to one review by me for each review obtained for me by an outlet that is not open access.

Here, manuscripts destined for open access mean those that the authors or journal post on institutional or university repositories, or those that are made open access by the publisher within 12 months. Because I believe that access to publicly funded research should be free, I will also support open access in other ways.

At first glance it appears that the only winner in this process is the publisher. Therefore, why not just publish research on your own or your employer’s website? The answer is that academics and universities do gain from publishing research in good and prestigious journals in terms of reputation, prestige, potential for further research funding and promotion and rewards for the researcher him/herself. It is not the just the research that matters, it is where it is published. A pile of bricks in my garden is a pile of bricks—a pile of bricks in the Tate is art.

The reputation of journals is the principal barrier to Open Access.  As long as academics and their employers want to publish in the ‘best’ journals (of which few are open access) journal publishers will continue to make their profits from the labours of academics and taxpayers’ money.

Leadership and role-play: A few thoughts on the LLAS Head of Departments’ event.

September 15, 2011

Our first event of the ‘new LLAS’, Thriving in the New World of Higher Education: a workshop for heads of department and leaders in languages, linguistics and area studies took place yesterday. We had an overview on the state of Modern Languages in the UK from Jim Coleman (Open University and Chair of UCML) and Pam Moores talked about the resources developed as part of Shaping the Future, a project set up in response to Michael Worton’s report into Modern Languages in English universities. Our Director Mike Kelly had some good tips on managing relationships with senior managers in the university, and on the importance of understanding your university’s mission and making sure you know who you should go to for what.


My own contribution was in the form of role-play exercise in which participants ‘played’ a Head of Languages meeting her/his Dean to discuss either a faculty reorganisation or a curriculum change programme. I enjoy role-play as a way of learning, but I realise that not everyone does. However, it seemed that most people enjoyed the exercise and benefitted putting themselves in the position of another person. Some of our HoD’s are very good actors it seems.

As the author of the role-play scenarios, it was interesting to observe the numerous directions in which a situation can play out. The briefs for each role included a section entitled ‘What is on your mind’. It was interesting to see the ways in which people used or did not use this information to their advantage (some of the items were put in as deliberate distractions, e.g. your feelings about other people). I will write more about using role-play in this context at a later date.

For me the key lesson from this event is on the importance of working relationships. In these uncertain times for higher education, how we manage our relationships is more important than ever.


Should we bring drug testing into the REF?

June 3, 2011

Two items I spotted today on drug-enhanced intellectual performance.

Discussion on Chronicle of Higher Education website about use of prescription medication to increase research output.

Piece in the  TES about using drugs to enhance memory and exam performance.

We don’t tolerate drug use in sport, so why academia? Should blood and urine samples be submitted as part of the REF? Good question for a Friday!


Transition to university in modern languages

April 11, 2011

The article Angela and I wrote together has now been published in Arts and Humanities in Higher Education.

The full reference:

Angela Gallagher-Brett and John Canning, “Disciplinary disjunctures in the transition from secondary school to higher education study of modern foreign languages,” Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 10, no. 2 (April 1, 2011): 171 -188.

What is different about pedagogic research? Perhaps nothing.

January 31, 2011

Just read Bruce Macfalane’s article in the latest edition of Teaching in Higher Education. His opening paragraph gets to the heart of his argument, so I will quote  it in full:

There is an increasing tendency for research to be divided into two types: ‘subjectbased’ research and ‘pedagogic’ research. Subject-based research is serious, scholarly and well-respected stuff. It is published in prestigious subject-based journals. This kind of research is what counts in the assessment of research quality in countries like the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Then there is ‘pedagogic’ research. This is where academics from various disciplines do research about their own teaching, that of others or focus on the way students learn. Sometimes, ‘research about learning and teaching’ is the phrase used to distinguish this type of scholarly endeavour from everything else in academic life. But apparently, unlike subject-based research, ‘pedagogic’ research is not ‘proper’ research (p.127).

I liked this article and can’t really find anything to disagree with. I have long wondered what makes Boyer’s Scholarship of Teaching and Learning a somewhat different type of scholarship  to his other three scholarships –moreover why have so many pedagogic researcher accepted this? Why is pedagogic research seen as somehow second rate? Why is it seen as easier? Like most people who have done pedagogic research I have also done non-pedagogic research (or ‘proper’ research) as some might call it.  Both use social science research methods. Neither is intrinsically more difficult or more scholarly than the other.


Bruce Macfarlane, “Prizes, pedagogic research and teaching professors: lowering the status of teaching and learning through bifurcation,” Teaching in Higher Education 16, no. 1 (2011): 127-130