Elite journals, publishing as prestige-generation, and implications for academic careers

Publications in top journals tend to influence three fundamental dimensions of academic life: (1) securing an initial academic job; (2) the speed of promotion and attaining tenured positions; and (3) access to competitive research funding. Strategic journal choice is key to surviving in the current impact-oriented and resource-seeking academic environment. The reputation of journals plays an overriding role in gaining attention in science and is an important part of science signal systems: who publishes where matters. However, the prestige game in science is predominantly played by research-intensive universities and their research-focused scientists. Higher education as a field of study is not immune from these global pressures. The present research focuses on the higher strata of global higher education journals. In total, 6,334 articles published in six elite journals (HE, SHE, HERD, RevHE, ResHE, JHE) during the period 1996–2018 were studied in the context of 21,442 articles from 41 core journals. Two research questions were addressed: (1) How is the global higher education research community stratified in terms of the intensity of engagement in publishing in elite journals? (2) How is the geography of country affiliations changing in elite journals? For the vast majority of 27,000 academics, higher education is not their prime research interest. The publishing core of the global higher education research community is about 3.3%; 80% of academics remain on the publishing periphery, having authored or co-authored a single article. The global higher education research community is highly stratified; few scholars publish intensively, and many publish just once. Wider processes affecting the global community include the relative weakening of the field in the US and its relative strengthening in Continental Europe, East Asia, and elsewhere. While the three American elite journals (JHE, ResHE, and RevHE) remain strongly American, the global profile of the other three elite journals reflects the global increase in non-Anglo-Saxon authorship affiliations.