Imagine a scenario where you’re at an official dinner and you’re asked to introduce yourself to other guests.
As soon as one of them hears you are an academic, you are inundated with questions: Which institution are you attached to? What course do you teach? How often do you write in the media? Has any of your work appeared in a refereed journal? Do you have a PhD? Which university did you get your PhD from? Is it in the Ivy League or the Russell Group?
This is the kind of stress an academic faces beyond his workplace.
Academics have far more work than most imagine.
The more senior an academic is in tenure and position, the more work he is entrusted with and the more mistakes he is likely to make.
An academic’s first and foremost priority is his academic work.
This involves lecturing, preparing lecture materials, updating notes, correcting assignments, grading class projects, supervising exams, and correcting and evaluating exam papers and theses.
As his qualifications and experiences increase, he is entrusted with supervising and guiding postgraduates, starting with master’s degree students and later doctoral candidates.
Communication is done mainly through face-to-face meetings, and assignments submitted have to be corrected meticulously.
When students are about to graduate, he is sought to write reference letters to potential employers.
In the era of ‘publish or perish’, academics submerge themselves in research and writing instead.
These perhaps have replaced teaching as the most important activities for academics as they are perceived to promote the image of their institutions and themselves.
Writing and publishing involve reading papers in related areas, brainstorming and planning projects, and meeting new colleagues in various departments to exchange research ideas.
We also meet with collaborators in relevant industries to give a clear picture of the research and writing process.
In addition, academics cannot simply leave the administrative staff to run academic departments and centres in colleges.
Activities may suddenly emerge on an ad hoc basis too.
The seniority and reputation of academics may demand that they serve as the chairpersons or moderators at conferences and on a panel of advisors.
As their reputation grows, they may be seconded to other institutions or agencies, especially government think tanks, to act as advisors or to hold senior positions for a limited period.
While this may help to increase the prestige of their parent institutions, it may upset the balance of staff as the parent institutions have to find replacements.
This is especially so when the secondment is extended or becomes permanent.
Retired academic and former UiTM Faculty of Business Management lecturer Dr Arzmi Yaacob
There was a time where being an academician was about doing research and publishing your work in a reputable journal.
Then came the companies that started this ranking business. They tied it to publications which are also owned by them.
Suddenly, it is not just about publication anymore. Journals became tiered just like the ranking of universities. And universities had to pay a lot of money to get into the tiered list.
Now you hear of universities paying people to cite their papers. What are we becoming? We are so caught up in this ranking game that we have lost sight of our true north. It is a scam.
Universities must set realistic KPI targets because researchers are under tremendous pressure to deliver the required KPI.
I hope the Higher Education Ministry has the willpower to overcome the pursuit of rankings and look again at what constitutes a good university.
The money spent on ranking should be better spent on research grants.
Let us all not lose sight of our true north.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Inorganic Chemistry senior professor Prof Dr Yang Farina Abdul Aziz