Durham versus Durban: Quantifying productivity in astrophysics research
Keywords:bibliometrics, citation counts, publication counts, research funding, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Quantifying and rewarding research productivity is a contentious issue. In South Africa, there are at least two systems in wide use: peer assessment (as used by the National Research Foundation in providing researchers with individual ratings) and a simple publication count (used by the Department of Higher Education and Training to incentivise research output). At the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the latter is used to grade the research performance of staff; however, this metric penalises those academics who work in large teams, as is increasingly common in astronomy. To test for correspondence between this metric and perceived research quality, I conducted a case study of the Extragalactic and Cosmology Group at Durham University in the UK, which is one of the leading astrophysics research groups in the world. I found that 44–74% of the permanent academic staff within this research group would not meet the research productivity target applied at UKZN in 2014. Given the disparity between this result and the esteem in which the research of the Durham group is held, I suggest that alternative methods of recognising and rewarding research output by funding agencies and universities should be explored, with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity.
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