Higher education institutions the world over depend on the work of their academics in operations, leading what positions they hold in university rankings or log standings. As a result, universities have a set of performance indicators for their academics to guide their productivity over a certain period. While the core activities of academics are teaching, research and community services or engagement, there is enough evidence that suggests that research matters most in determining whether academics and universities are successful or not. It is therefore the research work of men and women who have dedicated their lives to research that uplifts the standings of higher education institutions. In addition, research work has been used as a yardstick that indicates those academics who are underperforming and therefore unsuccessful, or those who meet the bare minimum requirements for them to survive in the system. The latter are many in higher education institutions across the world.
The numbers or percentages of research-active academics indicate how serious academics and universities take research in their operations.
Universities that have a strong research culture are the ones that always come top in university rankings. Such universities avail huge funds to their academics who in turn use the funds to undertake productive research in their fields of specialization. The impact of that kind of research is that it provides solutions to the problems bedeviling society. It is pleasing to note that some academics in local universities have teamed up with industry in researches, which have resulted in products that are being used in our society today. In this case, the university-industry relationship bore fruits; this must be encouraged. Related to research of this kind is the issue of patents and licences the research universities get. Again, it is the industrious academics whose researches earn universities patents and licences in various fields such as pure sciences, technology, humanities, social sciences, agriculture, economics and education, to list only a few areas. I know of a leading scientist at a local university who conducted researches in malaria and earned his institution a number of patents because the products of his research were internationally recognized. Patenting research discoveries has benefits for the institution and the researcher. According to Geuna and Nesta (2006) “researchers may now even be granted a portion of the royalties derived from their patented discoveries, even though the patent may legally belong to the institution in which the discovery was developed.” When this happens, the researchers become motivated to continue with their innovations. There is therefore great need for universities to strengthen their research and development portfolios if they are to be counted among successful world-class universities. Most universities have innovation and research divisions whose major aim is to enhance the development of innovations and patents for these institutions. Literature shows that while other institutions have excelled in this area, there are some innovation divisions that are yet to live to their expectations. It is argued that there is need for greater innovation-orientation competencies in some of these divisions worldwide.
Tied to research is the successful application for research funds that academics make. Income that comes to the university through grants and other types of funding is crucial to the operations of the university. Local and international grants are always available for research-active academics, and the more of these funds one attracts, the more successful one becomes in academia. Consequently, the university benefits because of the research enabled by grant holders. There are academics who have attracted millions of dollars for their universities through research grants.
The number of publications in renowned peer-reviewed journals is also crucial to academics, not only for promotion, but for their reputation and that of their universities in higher education circles and society. There are devoted academics whose lives revolve round research and publications. These passionate academics have produced copious literature in the form of quality research articles, books and book chapters in their areas of specialization. These academics derive pleasure from long hours of research and creating knowledge and documenting it for the benefit of academia and society. Related to these is the number of journals that universities publish. Academics who involve themselves in editorships of journals play a critical in the creation of knowledge.
A proliferation of journals in higher education institutions is healthy as long as the publications are well managed and indexed internationally. Citations of these academics’ work are crucial for them as international researchers. Needless to mention, scholarly communication is one of the criteria that is used to rank universities on a global scale. Universities are also ranked according to their postgraduate research output, especially at doctoral level. Therefore, academics who supervise postgraduate research are crucial for their universities. These academics invest many hours in guiding and directing students in their researches. They produce substantial number of theses and dissertations over a period of time. This is in addition to their own research work. In some universities, supervisors are handsomely remunerated after successfully supervising doctoral students. However, it is not surprising to find academics who have not supervised postgraduate work despite the fact that they have the requisite qualifications to do so.
The academic distinctions and accolades that academics get locally and international play an important role in the ranking of universities. Included in these are special awards for academic research excellence that academics get from various bodies in their research areas.
Overall, research is the mainstay of higher education institutions. Academics who excel in research become successful in their academic endeavours.