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From the roadmap for action report

Strategic Choices: Quantitative vs. Qualitative Metrics

While institutions may not be ready to abandon the usage of quantitative metrics to evaluate their faculty, they should consider engaging in a genuine debate on the relative weight that they place on quantitative vs. qualitative assessment.

2 mins read

A second critical set of debates that are necessary is around the metrics that academic institutions use for evaluation. This debate often focuses on the issue of faculty evaluation. Most universities argue that they promote their faculty at all levels through a thorough process of evaluation of each individual, looking both at their intellectual achievements and at their personal contributions to teaching and the life of the institution. Nonetheless, a recurrent complaint is the overbearing impact of publications records and journal impact factors (at least in the disciplines and institutions in which this metric is relevant).

Some institutions are already critically reevaluating how they use quantitative metrics. The University of Ghent in Belgium announced in December 2018 that it would change how it evaluates its faculty. In the announcement, Rector Rik Van de Walle wrote:

“No more procedures and processes with always the same templates, metrics and criteria which lump everyone together” and “The model must provide a response to the complaint of many young professors that quantitative parameters are predominant in the evaluation process. The well-known and overwhelming ‘publication pressure’ is the most prominent exponent of this. Ghent University is deliberately choosing to step out of the rat race between individuals, departments and universities. We no longer wish to participate in the ranking of people”.

More broadly, the the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and the Leiden manifesto provide additional valuable frameworks on how to think about research assessment and should be viewed as a valuable starting point on how to transform and enrich the assessment process of faculty and researchers. It may be necessary to also define appropriate metrics to address the complexities of interdisciplinary work, which often are not recognized through traditional metrics.

The debate over metrics also extends to evaluation in other areas of campus life, including academic programs, grading, and return on investment for campus programs. While academic institutions may not be ready to altogether abandon the usage of quantitative metrics to evaluate their faculty, they should consider engaging in a genuine debate on the relative weight that they place on quantitative vs. qualitative assessment, and whether the quantitative metrics they use are representative of the objectives of the institution or just happen to be convenient because they are easily available and easily comparable.

About the authors

Portrait of Claudio Aspesi

Claudio Aspesi

A respected market analyst with over a decade of experience covering the academic publishing market, and leadership roles at Sanford C. Bernstein, and McKinsey.

Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition

SPARC is a coalition of academic and research libraries that work to enable the open sharing of research outputs and educational materials in order to democratize access to knowledge, accelerate discovery, and increase the return on our investment in research and education.