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Re-valuing research excellence: From excellentism to responsible assessment

Tijssen, Robert

Modern-day science policies and evidence-driven research management practices seem obsessed with quantification, performance indicators and the notion of ‘excellence’. Recent years have produced a flurry of academic studies on problematic characteristics of the concept ‘research excellence’, often referring to science in high-income countries and knowledge-driven economies of the ‘Global North’, and usually framed within the context of evaluating university research performance and improving quality assurance systems. This chapter takes stock of this body of knowledge. Key findings of this literature review reveal a lack of consensus on the meaning of research excellence, and ambiguity with regards to its relationship with connected notions such ‘society relevance’, ‘economic impact’ and ‘responsible metrics’. Further analysis, from ‘Global South’ perspectives, provide new insights that suggest the urgent need to move away from current conventional performance indicators and associated policy rhetoric, as well as the PR blurbs and hyped marketing-led ‘excellentism’ applications. We need more nuanced and practical understandings of research excellence that enable meaningful comparative assessments in resource-constrained environments. There is a need for plurality and multi-dimensionality in conceptualisations of research excellence and pathways towards excellence; it should reflect more than international research outputs or narrowly-defined notions of scientific impact. This chapter concludes with general guidelines and concrete recommendations, especially with regards to re-designing and re-valuing research quality assessment models in ways that are more appropriate for dealing with immediate expectations of major stakeholders in lower-income countries and their longer-term socio-economic needs.

Published by African Minds.
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