Time for change report

Understanding global trends in academic culture

Our third global academic culture survey gathered views on change during July and August 2021; more than 2,000 academics, librarians and students within Emerald’s literati community participated.

Topics covered attitudes to research evaluation, cultural challenges within academia, openness and transparency, and the evolving role of the publisher. A new theme introduced this year was on the widening inequalities within academia.

Use the 'On this page' and 'In the report' links to jump to content you're interested in, or you can download the report as a PDF if you'd prefer.


Over the last few years, parts of the academic community have become frustrated and disillusioned by the norms within research culture that are holding back progress. The academy’s tie to impact metrics and citations, a trend towards insecure contracts, and a lack of diversity, are among the issues that have come to the fore. COVID has compounded these concerns, leading to greater insecurity and deeper disparities.

Despite the ongoing problems within academic culture, there are signs in some disciplines and countries that the research industry is beginning to take note of the issues and explore ways to transform the system. Some funders are looking at ways to make research culture fairer and more inclusive, and to foster an environment where diverse contributions and outputs are recognised and celebrated. Another significant move is the drive towards open and rapid publication. Response to the pandemic has been a force for good in this space, with publishers making research available via open access journals and platforms and providing free and open access to COVID-related research.

Now in its third year, Emerald’s Time for change report 2021 explores the challenges within academic culture and gauges interest for change. Themes include research evaluation, academic culture, openness and transparency and the evolving role of the publisher. In addition, we consider the impact of COVID-19 on the research community, the widening disparities that it has left behind and the pressing need for research into societal challenges. By reporting academics’ views and lived experiences, we aim to create momentum towards a fairer and more inclusive environment where impactful research can thrive.

The report is based on the findings of a global survey of literati that we conducted during July–August 2021. Here, we present the results of the survey and actions for change.

About the survey & demographics

Emerald’s academic culture survey was an online questionnaire of open and closed questions that was open to 211,452 academics, librarians and students within Emerald’s academic community during 13 July – 25 August 2021. A total of 2,128 literati participated. Topics covered attitudes to research evaluation, cultural challenges within academia, openness and transparency, and the evolving role of the publisher. A new theme introduced this year was on the widening inequalities within academia.

The report presents the key results of the survey and largely focuses on global perspectives, but regional specific breakdowns have been added where there are significant points of difference. We also present comparable results from our academic culture survey 2020.

Regional breakdownRegional breakdown


Region % #
UK 6.6 140
Australasia 4.4 93
Asia 12.1 257
India 9.1 193
Latin America 3.6 77
Middle East and North Africa 7.4 157
North & Western Eu excl UK 5.0 107
North America 13.1 278
Southern & Eastern Europe 12.2 260
Sub Saharan Africa 5.9 126
Provided no location 20.6 440
Total   2,128


Gender % #
Male 49.0 1,042
Female 27.7 590
Other gender 0.5 10
Provided no gender 22.8 486
Total   2,128


Ethnicity % #
White 37.7 801
Black or African American 4.3 92
Asian 21.2 452
American Indian/Alaska Native 0.2 5
Middle Eastern or N African 3.1 67
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 0.1 2
Other 7.2 154
Provided no ethnicity 26.2 555
Total   2,128


Position % #
Head of department 9.2 196
Research manager 1.9 40
Impact officer 0.4 8
Researcher 16.1 343
Faculty/teaching 42.0 892
Student 3.2 68
Librarian 0.9 20
Other 5.9 126
Provided no position 20.4 435
Total   2,128


Career stage % #
Student 5.3 113
1-5 years post PhD 13.6 290
6-10 years post PhD 13.2 281
11-15 years post PhD 12.3 261
16-20 years post PhD 6.5 139
20+ years post PhD 23.0 487
Not applicable 5.7 122
Provided no career stage 20.4 435
Total   2,128


Organisation % #
Academic institution 71.8 1,527
Funding body 0.5 10
National or local government 1.6 33
A not for profit organisation 1.0 22
A commercial organisation 1.2 25
I am retired 1.8 39
Other 1.7 37
Provided no organisation 20.4 435
Total   2,128


In response to COVID-19, academics have made radical changes to the way they work, teach, collaborate and research. However, at a time when academia should be thinking about making further changes to help tackle the biggest societal issues we’ve seen in decades, their appetite for change appears to have stalled and, in some areas, may have declined.

Younger researchers are hungry for change. But the elder academicians rule the faculty

Female, research and teaching assistant, 1–5 years post PhD, Turkey

Many academics appear to have ‘change fatigue’ and want to maintain the status quo; however, others are keen to transform the system. Those wanting change are concerned over the future of academia, they see widening inequalities and divisions between groups. They are worried about the way citation-based systems disadvantage academics living in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), the effect of remote working on research (particularly among women academics), and the impact of the digital divide on academics in the global south.

Furthermore, they see growing divisions among groups, including the inequalities between men and women, early career researchers and established academics, and the global north and south.

More quotes from the survey

'I think my academia would like to change the way researches are cited to encourage researchers especially the LMIC gain more funding for quality publications. It would be interesting if the academia is enlightened about their rigid consideration for main journal publications by improving the values of open access journals in the Institution.'
(Provided no demographic information)

'No evidence that academia [in India] want change. The academia mostly consists of individuals who were good at ‘rote-learning’ and duplication of ideas than originality and creativity. Most of them are rigid, functionally fixed, lacking any creative sensitivity to the world.'
(Female, researcher, 20+ years post PhD, India)

'Yes, academia really want change as the world itself has changed drastically post the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. Digitisation became a must to be able to build an academic network and communicate with other countries on the academic level. Chosen academic topics changed as well due to the change happened in all our lives’ aspects (political, economic and social aspects).'
(Female, head of department, 11–15 years post PhD, Egypt)

'Asian communities are less preferred in high impact factor journals. Rigorous quantitative analysis is preferred than qualitative one. English fluency decides the likelihood of publication in good journals. All these need change for change to happen.'
(Female, head of department, 16–19 years post PhD, India)

Key findings

Ten key findings emerged from the Time for change survey 2021 on the issues of widening inequalities, research evaluation, academic culture, openness and transparency, and the publisher's evolving role.


Growing gender gap

Nearly twice as many female (40%) than male (22%) academics agree that COVID-19 has made the gender gap even wider in their institution or region.


Almost half want new metrics

47% of academics, want to introduce metrics beyond citation metrics, this is marginally up from 46% in 2020, but still behind 51% in 2019.


Impact factors remain strong

70% chose journal citations and impact factors as the main way research impact is currently measured, marginally down on 2020 (71%), but up on 2019 (58%).


Three main barriers to change

55% believe that incentives for career progression still aligned to traditional impact metrics is the key challenge to changing the way research impact is measured, followed by difficulty of tracking impact beyond academia (51%) and lack of clarity on what other measures could replace rankings (49%).


Support for open access

46% of academics globally are willing to publish open access and share links to supporting datasets, followed by 43% who say they would consider publishing non-traditional content if the rewards mechanisms were in place.


Boost collaboration

60% of academics believe that more opportunities for collaboration with industry and practice is key for driving change. Next important is having more publishers make research open access (50%).


Quitting academia

1 in 5 (19%) women versus 12% of men consider leaving academia all the time. Unhappiest academics live in Australasia, with nearly 1 in 3 thinking about leaving, followed by 1 in 4 in North America.#


Personal toll of academia

Around 1 in 10 academics say their job has had a large negative affect on them personally, impacting their career ambitions (8%), relationships (8%), mental health (9%), physical health (10%) and sleep patterns (12%).


Challenges to open

74% of academics globally say funding is the top barrier to open publishing. There are also concerns over the open sharing of sensitive data (53%) and security around the reuse of data (47%).


Publishers should act

60% of academics believe publishers could improve academic culture by offering different options to publish, and 48% think they should provide more support for post-publication promotion.

In the report

Dig into the detail on our five report pages.


Role of the publisher

Publishers have responded to calls for change and many now offer a range of publishing options and support services, including fully open access or 'hybrid' journals and platforms. But do these changes go far enough?


Break the norm

The Time for change report forms part of our Break the norm campaign which challenges the status quo to tackle social inequalities together.

Find out more about the campaign

Download the report as a PDF

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