The Unintended Consequences of Using Direct Incentives to Drive the Complex Task of Research Dissemination
Keywords:funding formula; quality research; financial incentives; knowledge economy; predatory publishing
Universities have used an array of incentives to increase academic publications, which are highly rewarded in the South African higher education funding formula. While all universities use indirect incentives, such as linking promotion and probation to publication, the mechanisms used in some institutions have taken a very direct form, whereby authors are paid to publish. This process has paralleled a large rise in publication outputs alongside increased concerns about quality. Significantly, there are ethical questions to be asked when knowledge dissemination is so explicitly linked to financial reward through the payment of commission to academics. Based on an analysis of institutional policies and data from an online survey and interviews with academics from seven South African universities, we argue that when money is the main means used to encourage academics to contribute to knowledge, numerous unintended consequences may emerge. These include a focus on quantity rather than the quality of research, a rise in predatory publishing, and resentment among academics. We argue that incentives, in particular direct payment for publications, undermine the academic project by positioning publications in terms of exchange-value rather than their use-value as a contribution to knowledge building.
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