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The case of a higher education journal: Assessment and evaluation in higher education

Malcolm Tight, Professor of Higher Education at Lancaster University

I’ve edited Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, or AEHE for short, for a decade now. Before that I edited Studies in Higher Education for a similar period, and before that Higher Education Quarterly, Open Learning and Teaching at a Distance. I’m also editor of a book series, International Perspectives on Higher Education Research, and co-editor of another one, Theory and Method in Higher Education Research. I’m on several journal editorial boards and review articles for numerous journals if I have the time.

So, you might say that I have ‘form’ so far as academic editing is concerned – I’ve been doing it throughout my career, and it also relates to my research interests: how higher education research has developed as a field.

AEHE is a particular sort of academic journal, and this is something – as an actual or potential contributor – you need to be aware of and consider carefully before you submit an article anywhere.

AEHE is particular in two ways. First, it is a highly selective journal – we currently receive about 800 new submissions each year and can publish about 80, so you can easily work out the overall odds of publication. It’s what is referred to as a quartile 1 or Q1 journal, the kind that many institutions and departments would prefer their employees to publish in.

This means that, as its editor, I spend a lot of my time looking for reasons to reject submissions as promptly as possible. It’s not practical to send 800 articles out for review each year as we don’t have enough good referees, and the ones we do have would get fed up if we overused them. This also means that, even if a submitted article makes it through to the minority that are sent out for review, the most common eventual editorial decision is rejection. So, I also spend quite a lot of time explaining why.

The second particularity of AEHE is that it is a specialised journal. Its only interest is in assessment and/or evaluation as they are practised or experienced in higher education. Any submissions that do not fit this specialisation are, of course, immediately rejected.

If you’re unsure about whether a journal you have considered might be the right one to submit your article to, I have two suggestions. First, have a look at your reference list: does the journal you are considering feature in it at least a few times? If not, why not? If it is an appropriate journal for your article, you might, after all, expect it to do so, or else why are you submitting it there?

As a journal editor, I get irritated when articles are submitted that do focus on assessment and/or evaluation in higher education, and so in principle might be of interest, but make little or no reference to material that has been published in AEHE. At one level this seems simply rude, at another a crucial oversight. Why on earth would you submit something to a journal that you don’t appear to have ever read?

My second suggestion is to contact the editor directly if you are unsure, provide some details of your proposed submission, and ask them if they think it’s worth submitting. They won’t be able to guarantee you any special treatment, but they should be willing to give you some advice. If the editor’s email address is not provided on the journal website, or they do not reply to your query, that tells you something else that should be useful. Do you really want to submit your article to what might be a journal black hole?

If you really want to get an editor thinking positively about you, email them and offer to act as an article reviewer, telling them what your particular interests are. Editors like me are always looking for good and reliable reviewers.

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 Jisun Jung, co-editor of Higher Education Research & Development, have also contributed BERA Blog posts related to the events.