[OUTLOOK]An absurd academic system

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[OUTLOOK]An absurd academic system

Korea’s universities have long been making their evaluations of professors’ research works more intense, in order to promote academic research activities. The Korea Research Foundation promotes and supports academic research activities using taxpayer money. This foundation evaluates the academic journals of research groups and select “registered journals” or “candidate journals.”
Universities use academic papers published in these journals as references when hiring new professors or evaluating professors’ achievements. Thus, the Korea Research Foundation needs to make strict and careful judgments when evaluating academic journals. However, this is not always the case.
The field I have specialized in has many research groups and many registered or candidate academic journals. There are countless academic societies, all of basically the same kind but under slightly different names: the Korea Association of Japanology, the Japanese Language Literature Association of Korea, the Japanese Culture Association of Korea, the Japanese Language Association of Korea, the Japanese Language and Culture Association of Korea, the Society of Japanese Language and Literature, Japanology, the Association of Japanology in East Asia, the Korea Association of Japanese Education and the Korea Japanese Teachers’ Association, and this a not even a complete list.
The development of an academic field should lead to ramifications in specialized and detailed research areas. Academic societies need to have specialties in their research, but this happens very rarely. The only differences between all these societies are where their members live and how close they are. Increases in the number of academic societies that deal with much the same studies hinder normal academic activities and block the creation of competitive academic societies.
Because there are plenty of academic groups, each group has difficulty obtaining speakers for their conferences or seminars. They cannot be picky about the quality of papers that are presented. Whether good or bad, a society has to collect as many papers as possible to make a conference happen. In most cases, anybody can publish and present a paper, regardless of its quality, as long as he or she applies for it.
As a considerable number of academic journals are registered, it is not difficult at all to have a paper published in one of those journals. Researchers do not need to choose a journal that has high standards. Yet universities acknowledge papers published in registered journals as evidence of the author’s research prowess. They also give credit for social service to professors who work as the heads or directors of academic societies. These are used in evaluating professors for promotion. Universities also give research funds and other incentives to professors who write many papers. Professors often have to compete in quantity of papers, rather than in quality.
As there are a lot of academic societies, there are also so many researchers who are chairmen or directors that they have hardly any authority or respect. In some fields, it’s best not to have a journal registered with the Korea Research Foundation. For foreign studies, it is better to support researchers conducting academic activities in the countries that they specialize in and the publication of their papers in respected journals in those countries.
For professors at some of Korea’s universities, publishing their papers in many Korean journals is a better way of gaining credits than having one paper published in a respected Japanese journal. This does not make sense. For Korean studies, Korean journals are world-class, of course. For Japanese studies, prestigious journals in Japan have authority.
If we are going to have academic societies at all, we should keep only those with historic or symbolic value; one journal or two for each special field would be enough to be officially acknowledged. At least one society would then be competitive.
Promoting and supporting research and academic activities is an important task in enhancing the country’s competitiveness. However, the wrong system will only allow countless academic societies to be founded and lower the quality of their research. Researchers will also take academic works lightly and think only about their own interest in their jobs. This will not serve as a good plan of support for academic activities, but will instead waste taxpayer money.
It may not be easy to run a system that deals with academic activities, which cover plenty of detailed specialties. However, if the Korea Research Foundation is determined to fulfill its duties, it will be able to normalize the activities of academic societies and present a blueprint and a framework for academic development.

* The writer is a professor of Japanese studies at Inha University. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.

by Mo Se-jong
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