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Blog post

Journal peer review: Higher Education Research & Development

Jisun Jung, Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong

As one of the co-editors of Higher Education Research & Development, I had the privilege to meet early career researchers from BERA in October 2022 via Zoom. After I introduced the journal Higher Education Research & Development for those researchers who might be interested in sending their manuscripts to the journal, there were many interesting questions and discussions. I want to share a couple of key points in this blog entry that arose from the webinar.

‘The “publish or perish” culture in higher education today has created enormous pressure for individual academics to publish their work in reputable journals.’

The ‘publish or perish’ culture in higher education today has created enormous pressure for individual academics to publish their work in reputable journals. The so-called ‘research profile’, which includes the publication list, number of citations and journal rankings, has become an unavoidable metric for academics, departments and institutions. I want to emphasise that ‘publishing’ is not the only method of ‘disseminating research’, but it is the most important way of engaging in your academic community and creating meaningful dialogue with your peer researchers. For many early career researchers, the first steps of publishing, such as how to choose the most relevant journal for their research topic, how to prepare the manuscript and how to handle reviewers’ comments, are not easy.

The process is becoming more challenging because high-impact journals have a tough review process, including a high desk rejection rate, long duration of the review and strict rules for the review. The journal that I introduced in the webinar, Higher Education Research & Development (Q1 journal in Journal Citation Reports and number four in the Google Scholar ranking for higher education), has received around 1,000 manuscripts, only around 10 per cent of which have been accepted. Editors want to publish the best-quality research, which can include theoretical, philosophical and historical, and empirical higher education studies. The most important criteria are original and critical insights into the area addressed. Some manuscripts are rejected at the first stage of screening by the editors without going through the peer review process. Journals also have preferred research approaches and methodologies for their specific audiences. Most journals clarify such screening criteria, but many researchers overlook these instructions.

I recommend authors carefully choose the journal in which they want to publish their manuscript. It is important to understand not only the acceptable research topics but also the discourse of the target academic community. For example, if your research is about ‘students’ wellbeing’, please consider how educational psychology and higher education, for instance, might have different approaches to the topic. If you are examining ‘English medium instruction in universities’, think about how language educators and higher education researchers might conduct different data analyses. Should you still be in doubt, the best trick is to check the reference list in your manuscript to see which journals you are citing the most.

Once you start publishing in academic journals, you will likely be invited to review papers in your area of research expertise. Please take the reviewer’s role as a learning opportunity and feel responsible for conducting a thorough review of others’ works. You would want your manuscript reviewed by diligent and dedicated peer researchers, and you should provide the same service for others. Finally, when you review a manuscript for a journal, please be clear and specific when providing constructive criticism.

If you have doubts or comments, please always feel free to reach out to the editors. Welcome to the process of becoming an academic author and reviewer!

This blog post relates to a series of events that the BERA ECR Network hosted in 2022. The events explored peer review in journal publishing through in-depth case studies presented by the editors of leading international journals. Jim McKinley, co-editor of System, and Malcolm Tight, editor of Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, have also contributed BERA Blog posts related to the events. Read Jim’s post here and look out for Malcolm’s post publishing this Friday.

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