We need to revolutionise academia - and here's how we can do it

It’s high time us academics took a step back from navel-gazing just for a second to really glance up and around us. At present, we can’t see the wood for the trees. We’re too busy chasing that next grant, boosting our citations and writing that next journal article to reflect on what we’ve become.

So what are we? Simply, we have become money-making machines for universities and journals. We are no longer here to teach students, to improve society or to make the world a better place. We have become commoditised by the exploitative incentive system within academia that only promotes you if you bring in cash. For some sickening, potentially neo-liberal reason, we have forgotten why we are all here in the first place. To create positive change.

We have been confused and misguided by the amorphous “Faculty” and lured into paying exorbitant fees to publish our work, despite practically every other professional writing careerist actually being paid to write. Somehow, we have forgotten that this is not OK.

Our writing is stuck behind paywalls, indecipherable language and lengthy, incomprehensible prose so that most of society will never read it. Our grants are only for the prestige of bringing in the money but we then forget that we actually need to deliver on what we promised we would do. Our poor students are left wondering why on earth they’re paying all this money to be treated like annoying distractions. Society, as taxpayers funding much of our research, look to us with a glazed expression, unsure of why we are here or what we are doing.

It’s time we started a revolution.

So put down that grant application, step away from your manuscript for a second and take a deep breath. Ask yourself: “why am I here”? Is it because you want to become the most cited author in your discipline, the most prolific writer in your School or the moneybags who brings in the most cash? If so, fair enough – do continue with your quest for egotistical self-gratification. But if you came into academia because you had a thirst for knowledge, you were curious to learn more and to impart that knowledge on the wider world so that we could help make society a better place, read on.

We need to challenge this broken, parasitic system.

To start with, we need to question the REF and the ironically-named “impact” factor. Have you ever stopped to think how much real-world impact a journal article has? How many policies have been changed by one journal article alone? How many noble causes have been fought and won by a journal article? How has society really benefitted from a journal article? Notwithstanding the medical field, which may be alone in academia for actually helping to improve healthcare, how is the rest of academia really helping to create positive change, besides making journal publishers even wealthier?

We must start to create real impact on society and, for that, we cannot continue using the public as “stakeholders” to “study” and then “disseminate” on – we must integrate them as valuable and crucial advisors who can help make our research more applicable and impactful. Get down from your ivory towers and start engaging – truly engaging, not just as a donor tick-box exercise – with the people you’re studying. Ask them what change they would like to see in the world, find out their thoughts and feelings on academia and discover how they too can play a part in knowledge creation.

So if your answer to why you are here was not for egotistical purposes, join me in this revolution. Fight back against the commodification of academics. Go and talk to the general public to find out how you can help them, not the other way round.

Oh and please do not forget about your students.


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