Pay for performance in academia

Last week, I linked to two papers, one showing that students prefer to enroll in highly ranked universities, and another one showing that a generalization of the Hirsch index partly explains who gets tenure where.

Brian Lucey led me to another paper, by Daniel Hamermesh, to be published in Economic Inquiry. Hamermesh links remuneration to performance, showing that more prolific authors earn more (but this effect levels off). The relation between citations and pay is more intriguing. At the lower end of the pay range, the total number of citations matters. At the higher end, the most cited paper dominates. This makes sense: Prizes are given for the one paper that changed everything.

What has this to do with Ireland? In the USA, academic contracts are individual. In Ireland, contracts are collective. Pay is set by grade and seniority. This implies that only the more productive and more influential Irish academics can get a competitive offer from the USA. Recent cuts in net pay have priced a larger fraction of Irish people into the international market. Irish universities thus run the risk of losing their best people, and we have seen some of that already.

91 replies on “Pay for performance in academia”

1. “In the USA, academic contracts are individual”
Wrong. There are collective pay scales. Progression is not automatic, it’s based on performance. That is the only change we need to make here. Protect the junior staff with automatic increments up to the end of the basic lecturer scale. Lecturer above the bar/SL/AssPro and Profs all need to get on pay for performance scales asap.

2. “Pay is set by grade and seniority”
As it is in Ireland.

3. “Recent cuts in net pay have priced a larger fraction of Irish people into the international market.”
Really? As someone with an offer on the table from a US university I can assure you that the US negotiators are shocked by my net pay in Ireland. They have put $150k gross on the table which would lead to about a 10% increase on my net pay in Ireland. Not enough to tempt me out of the cosy world of Irish academia. And living in the US is not cheap any more. Let’s not even mention the reaction of a UK university to our pay levels.

2. “Pay is set by grade and seniority”
As it is in Ireland.

Apologies – misread your OP.

Living in the US is not cheap anymore?! I suppose it depends where, but outside of NY, Boston, SF and a couple of other cities, the cost of living in much of the US is significantly cheaper. I just spent a few months in a very liveable west coast city and I estimate I could have a better standard of living there than I do here for roughly half what I make here.

Take the offer, Johnny.


Variable pay-for-performance is a folly

Bruno S Frey & Margit Osterloh, 26 September 2011

There are four major arguments against variable pay-for-performance:

•In a modern economy, it is practically impossible to determine tasks that are to be fulfilled in the future precisely enough so that variable pay-for-performance can be applied. In a society continually faced with new challenges, superiors oftentimes find it impossible to fix ex ante what an employee will have to do in the future.
•It would be naïve to assume that the persons subjected to variable pay-for-performance would accept the respective criteria in a passive way and fulfil their work accordingly. Rather, they spend much energy and time trying to manipulate these criteria in their favour. This is facilitated by the fact that employees often know the specific features of their work better than their superiors. The wage explosions observable in many sectors of the economy can at least partly be attributed to such manipulations, eg when managers are able to contract easily achievable performance goals.
•Variable pay-for-performance results in employees restricting their work to those areas covered by the performance criteria. In the literature, this is known as the ’multiple tasking’ problem. This may induce employees to spend considerable time and energy during their work trying to find a better-paid job with another firm. They therefore neglect their tasks insofar as they are not contractually fixed by the performance criteria.
•Variable pay-for-performance tends to crowd out intrinsic work motivation and therewith the joy of fulfilling a particular task. However, such motivation is of great importance in a modern economy because it supports innovation and helps to fulfil tasks going beyond the ordinary.

No Comment. Discuss, with specific reference to the inefficient markets hypothesis & the thundering silence within the academy in the throes of a great depression.

$150k gross would be $116k net.

Compare $116k to your 2011 take home pay, and to your 2008 take home pay.

My take home pay is 32% below its 2008 peak.

There is anecdotal evidence that UK universities match Irish salaries (gross) pound for euro (for top academics).

tweaking the other hand ….

Our work (Bryson and Freeman (2008), based on nationally representative workplace data from the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey, finds positive effects of share ownership on workplace productivity variously defined, with the effects being much more pronounced when shared capitalism schemes are deployed in combination. Among the single schemes, share ownership has the clearest positive association with productivity, but its impact is largest when firms combine it with other forms of shared capitalist pay.

Discuss with reference to the illusions of methodological individulism in the irish context: hint the collective citizenry heaped with debt – upper-echelons individuals only do profit-taking – debt is for the leetle peeple.

“•In a modern economy, it is practically impossible to determine tasks that are to be fulfilled in the future precisely enough so that variable pay-for-performance can be applied. In a society continually faced with new challenges, superiors oftentimes find it impossible to fix ex ante what an employee will have to do in the future.”

Yes bu they can have generic targets. The rest of the argument boils down to the suggestion that the employees would fiddle the system and lose motivation. As if they wouldn’t fiddle with the system with no targets.


> There is anecdotal evidence that UK universities match Irish salaries (gross) pound > for euro

This is what happened to me when I left UCD for St Andrews — and it was a good deal, given the differences in costs of living.

— Simon

@Dom K

Trick for upper_echelon fiddlers is to ensure that they sit on each others’ remuneration committees – then they set their own targets in their own interests. Then they send the bill to the citizen_serfs who need to be bailed out by troikas who are to be paid back by future citizen-serfs; of course, none of them do/did ‘anything WRONG’ and are fully protected by the richly rumunerated legal branch of the fiddler-fraternity, who also send their bills to the citizen-serfs. This kleptocracy is quite simply riddled with fiddlers who coin it on the way up – and who coin it on the way down. The Aesthetic Turn – and what an award winning Performance.


there was an interesting letter in the FT a few years ago on the subject of “pay for performance” and US middle class wage stagnation (now in its record breaking 30th year) .

@Richard Tol
“$150k gross would be $116k net.”

Eh? Which libertarian paradise is that? Somalia? My offer is from a University in California – I’d be lucky to take home 90k. Health insurance, state taxes, pension, etc etc. It’s not a low-tax State.

I deducted federal income tax only.

It’s hard to judge an offer like that without knowing more. Is it in the cheaper or the more expensive parts of California? Does the uni provide housing? Is free tuition valuable for your kids? What would your spouse do?

I don’t expect you to divulge this information in public.

… and the great Irish under-class who generally don’t get to class …

The virtuous equity-efficiency trade-off in educational outcomes

Our finding that educational outcomes show a virtuous equity-efficiency trade-off supports policy interventions that aim primarily at helping students in the lower part of the distribution, such as possibly early childhood education programmes focused on disadvantaged children. Since books in the household presumably reflect various aspects of non-school educational resources, it directs attention at policies that seek to increase family resources that complement formal schooling. An interesting possible experiment would be to provide free books to families, as the Chilean government did (The Economist 2007), particularly those with lower incomes, and to see how that intervention would affect the accumulation of human capital and the distribution of test scores.

@Johnny foreigner
Health insurance and pension contributions are discretionary payments. Count yourself lucky that you don’t have to make them to the same level in Ireland…


Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on ‘Lost Decade’ NYT Sept 14th (we had this earlier … still waiting for Kevin Denny response )

WASHINGTON — Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it.

More and more of the cake going to the top 1% in the US. Think I prefer Berlin to Boston – the beer is also much, much, much better – education & training system ain’t bad either. Oktober Fest anyone?


58% of all income growth in the US between the 1976 and 2007 went to the top 1% of the population. The top 0.01% or 15000 households had 1.7% of all income in 1976 and 6.04% by 2007. By 2004 the top 1% of wealth holders in the US held 42% of all financial and real assets, the most unequal distribution since the 1920s. The top 20% held 93% of such assets

It’s one big circus and the main trick for prolonged enjoyment at the circus is to have a poor memory.

And how about this from Neil Postman

One way of looking at the history of the human group is that it has been a continuing struggle against the veneration of crap

Health insurance is discretionary in the US if you don’t mind dying or seeing your family die. Pension contributions aren’t discretionary.

@Richard Toll
“I deducted federal income tax only”
Go to any payroll calculator for the US and look at the deductions. After FICA (Medicare and SS), Federal income tax, state tax, your pension, your health insurance and lots of other stuff you go home with 60% of your income. Sometimes less.

The details of the offer are not that relevant. The main point I’m making is that net pay on an Irish professorial salary is still plenty in dollar terms and people are unlikely to be tempted from Ireland to the US for extra pay alone. Irish academics are still very well paid compared to their international peers. The fact that they are paid less than they were 3 years ago doesn’t make this untrue.

Far bigger motivating factors for emigration in my opinion are:
1. Funding environment is poor.
2. The sclerosis in HR is irritating, having to watch lazy overpaid colleagues coining it year in year out.
3. The treatment of junior staff is disgusting especially given the engorgement of the top lads.

Your factors 1-3 are surely important. Some departments shrunk so small that the teaching and administrative load must be unbearable.

This may not be the case in your field, but foreign universities now compete for Irish economists and engineers on salary too.

Going back to the Hamermesh paper, the average full professor in the top 17 economics departments of PUBLIC universities in the USA is now at $191,000 per 9 months (median $186k, range $80k-355k).

@Johnny and Richard
and don’t overlook city property taxes – about 1% of the value, more in a posh suburb. If you live a the inner area of a city such as San Francisco or Los Angeles – we won’t mention Oakland – you should also factor in the cost of private schooling for the kiddies and then the cost of a four-year college, which even in California is now pretty steep.

I’m with David O’Donnell on this.

In a system where an academic is trying to succeed as an entrepreneur, trying to write a bestseller etc while maintaining a full-time academic post what suffers?

Also, the reality of pay in organisations is that special incentives for some result in pay escalation for everyone else.

We have plenty evidence in recent years that well–paid people may in fact be duds. People who were paid more than peanuts were in fact monkeys.

There are few Steve Jobs in any sectors of work and brilliant people like him can be great successes, failures or both.

If people want to try their luck elsewhere, do so,

Charles De Gaulle reputedly said: “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”

@Johnny Foreigner
“The main point I’m making is that net pay on an Irish professorial salary is still plenty in dollar terms and people are unlikely to be tempted from Ireland to the US for extra pay alone.”
Sorry, that was the point I was trying to make too about ancillary benefits in Ireland – the Health Service here, for all its faults, doesn’t *require* insurance; even if you feel insurance is required here, it is relatively cheap.

Likewise with pension, I presume that a pension scheme in the US would be defined contribution? After twenty years of defined contribution payments at maximum levels, I am (less tax) down on the amount I’ve put in and I am by no means a risky investor.

PS I would be surprised if a package on offer from the US didn’t include 401k and health insurance on top of salary. Sadly the opportunites open to Rand and Hayek aren’t open to us all

To hoganmahew

Sorry, realised after that was what you were getting at. Most universities in the US are moving from defined benefit to defined contribution – I think the place I’m dealing with is still just the right side of that switch. I think it’s very rare for a US university to pay your health insurance/401k, maybe the Nobel winners get it.

To Richard Toll

A few other important observations.

1. My own salary has gone down by about 12% over the last 3 years. Why so little compared to you? I’ve had increments to offset the pension levy and tax rises. I guess you are at the top of your scale hence the larger whack. My point is that the range of net pay cuts for academics is substantial and some have had it far worse than others.

2. The regulation of side deals in Irish universities is surprisingly lax. Plenty of work on consultancies/book deals/private business/other nixers is done on university time and they are only now cracking down on the tax avoidance that went on in the past. I know a lot of people who make a lot more than their basic salary.

3. The 9 month contract angle you mention (which I admit is a great attraction – 3 months off every year – it’s like working in Ireland!) only applies to the Arts/Humanities. If you work in a STEM field you are more likely to be on a 12 month contract. No disrespect to the arts/humanities but my sense is that most of the Irish academics likely to be headhunted come from the STEM field.

4. Weather, politics, religion and general incompetence aside, Ireland is a cracking place to live and bring up a family.

“Recent cuts in net pay have priced a larger fraction of Irish people into the international market. Irish universities thus run the risk of losing their best people, and we have seen some of that already.”

That is an interesting observation. You could take from it that median academics in Ireland were priced out of the (international) market – or, that Irish universities were and to some extent still are the premium employer.

Such employers are usually expected to attract lots of foreign talent.

Anecdotally, the posts in Ireland overwhelmingly seem to be occupied by Irish nationals. Is this correct? Are the figures?

If so, it would suggest either that Irish universities are internationally regarded as i bit duff to work for, or that they have a selection bias when making appointments.

Another if – if the latter then the argument for having premium pay rates in the first place would be rather undermined.

What is the reality?

I recall one of top teachers in TCD saying he didn’t believe you could be a good teacher and a good researcher at the same time. He believed in taking time out for research and while teaching, devoting himself to that task. It seems a shame that the system for rating academics seems to be solely on publications, even though this work must surely distract from teaching duties.

“Is DC not the biggest wealth transfer mechanism in the history of finance ?”
Certainly is – I’m sure I’ve made some spotty fund managers rich as I’ve gotten (net) poorer.

David O’Donnell

“Trick for upper_echelon fiddlers is to ensure that they sit on each others’ remuneration committees – then they set their own targets in their own interests. Then they send the bill to the citizen_serfs who need to be bailed out by troikas who are to be paid back by future citizen-serfs; of course, none of them do/did ‘anything WRONG’ and are fully protected by the richly rumunerated legal branch of the fiddler-fraternity, who also send their bills to the citizen-serfs. This kleptocracy is quite simply riddled with fiddlers who coin it on the way up – and who coin it on the way down. The Aesthetic Turn – and what an award winning Performance.”

What you describe is a crony system which can only come into existence where the ownership and targets are muddled by politics. Exactly for this reason clear targets on financial and operational performance are a must. I don’t see how the problem you describe is helped by removing targets on any level as you suggested earlier. If you infer that the targets should not be in place because of this upper-level cleptocracy, then I would point out that two wrongs do not make a right.

Pay levels in Irish academia suggest we should have top-notch performance too. But we don’t so something needs to be done – the academia either has to step up to the mark or have their pay cut to the levels that correspond with the actual performance.


” Exactly for this reason clear targets on financial and operational performance are a must.”

But how do you set a target on good teaching? You can’t necessarily say x% of students to get a first. Some subjects are easier to excel in than others. In TCD I remember failing students getting calls from lecturers and a lot of work going into rescuing students who some of the time, were failing out not because of lack of academic ability but to personal troubles or mismanagement. This might lead you to set a target on X number of students passing; but that encourages grade inflation.

And as for international ratings – well, how does that take account of my degree, History, where a good deal of Irish history is taught? Does that rank?

I’m not defending the pay levels as I don’t know enough about them, but I’d be wary of the effort to corporatise assessments. Even publication is flawed as a method. It’s well known in the sciences that its easier to get published if you come up with some controversial counter-intuitive theory, even if turns out to be BS in the end.

Sarah, that “top teacher in TCD” lied to you. Of c ourse you can be good (or bad) at both. Sounds like someone is making excuses.

Don’t think any Irish economist stands even a slight chance to be hired by a US top 19 econ dep as tenured fac.


I am not an expert in education KPIs but surely there is a set of measurable targets and mechanisms to ensure the system is reasonably tamper-proof. The trouble is that academia and teachers by their liberal nature resist any attempt to implement competition at any level. This is now even being reflected on primary and secondary school pupils who are being protected from comparison and competition. We are heading into a disaster as we will not be able to compete against Asians who take education seriously and do not subscribe to this liberal anti-competition nonsense.

The research vs educating argument never ends. In some places the educators confine their research to summer stints and a one year sabbatical every seven years is quite common.


I don’t think international students is at all relevant to the point, it is % of academic staff of Irish nationality that is.

The Irish population is small in relation to the rest of the educated world. You would objectively expect that if there were no reputational disadvantage Irish universities (or other providers of Irish professional posts) had to compensate for, or if there were not a significant bias toward awarding posts to Irish nationals, then a pay premium would have resulted in a high – and why not majority – % of posts being occupied by non-nationals.

In contrast the US population is large, so it would not be surprising if the vast majority of academics at US universities were US nationals.

Does anybody know what the %s are and has any analysis of the data been done?


I suppose I can only go on my experience of being taught whereas most contributors here are the teachers!
Some lecturers were natural and passionate teachers, and some were doing it to fulfill their obligations while writing their books (or opting out altogether and working their up the corporate/university ladder). I’d be concerned that the passionate teacher was losing out on recognition if the basis of ranking is publication.
No doubt some can do both, but the dedication by some to the teaching process, and the obvious disdain in which others held that aspect of the job should be taken into account.

Irish university graduates, when discussing Ireland’s competitive advantages during the expansion to the East never failed to mention that Ireland had a better educated work force. I made myself quite unpopular by pointing out to them that more world class Applied Science, Pure Science and Mathematics graduates were coming out of universities in Sofia, Bulgaria and Bucharest, Romania than all the higher institutes of education in the whole of Ireland. Another source of world class graduates was Iran. I have worked with these people and they are second to none. Irish people are known for their verbal abilities which accounts for their success in Law, Politics and Broadcasting. At one time we had beady eyed, grasping bankers who could not go bankrupt if they tried. Such was the depth of their conservatism. Then we joined the EU and later the EZ, prosperity struck and we turned into irresponsible spendthrifts. Some would try to confine it to Bankers, Developers and Politicians but the whole culture was infected with feelings of superiority and fantasies of never ending prosperity.

Actually, Dom K, the problem is not with teachers who resist competition. The problem is with the sort of ideologues who think unrestrained competition and Market forces are the answer to everything. After what the country has been through thanks to that ideology, you’d think they’d be just the tiniest bit humbled by the experience. But no….

“After what the country has been through thanks to that ideology, you’d think they’d be just the tiniest bit humbled by the experience. But no….”

Here we go again with common misconceptions about the role of the free market in Ireland’s predicament. Cheap Euro, tax policy, Galway tent – nothing to do with the free market. Exactly the opposite.

Of course. Since we know [i]a priori[/i] that market forces are not just the best way of determining the value of anything but the only way, there can be no such thing as a market failure. So it must be government policy.

Yeah, that’s the ticket: the Galway tent. That’s what caused Lehman Brothers and the Irish property bubble.

Never mind the question at hand, which is whether it is appropriate or wise to allow market forces to govern an institution that predates capitalism itself, thereby elevating one branch of one pseudo-science (Economics) into the role of Queen of the Sciences, before which all other ways of seeing the world must bow.

@Sarah, Kevin
Research brings global recognition. Teaching brings local recognition — if that: some department heads reward teaching, some do not care; some universities carefully track students’ progress, some do not.

One problem is that teaching quality is harder to measure. The collective effort surely can be measured (time to find first job, wages, corrected for intake quality) but is hard to attribute to a single professor.

There is some progress on measuring the quality of research supervision, but there is little traction on this paper as the data are not there. (published in Scientometrics in 2009; 1 citation; 0 applications)

Interesting paper, but surely only applicable to cases where phdstudents all go into academia? Not thefore applicable in majority of cases?

A slightly cintentious point but a paper only gets published if it matters to other academics. A paper only gets cited if it matters to other academics. But what if all the academics are wrong? Let’s face it for all their PhDs etc none of them saw the bust coming. My dad did – “nobody in their right mind would pay 300k for that tiny place”. Now the only citation he’ll get is here but he was more correct in his analysis than many of those the state has invested money in to be right.
Steve Jobs was not an academic. The guys who made Google were not academics. Academia needs to take it’s head from inside it’s own posterior. Being an academic does not necessarily equate to making a real contribution to society no matter what fellow academics have said.
Now I’m all for research but let’s recouple research with tangible results. This business of measuring citations is in some ways a convenient, self-serving but inaccurate proxy measure of usefulness.

Drifting off topic now. Universities produce skilled alumni, who power business. Successful universities are also at the core of innovation ecosystems (Silicon Valley is where it is because of Stanford) in a way that is hard to measure and harder to replicate. The relevant profs are duly rewarded through grants from alumni.

@Richard Tol

To say “teaching quality is harder to measure” implies that measuring research quality is somewhat easier. Yet it is a brute but uncomfortable fact that none of the measurable, quantitative proxies for “research quality” provide any measure whatever of the thing. Number of publications merely tells you who is prolific, but surely there’s a difference between prolificacy and quality. Citations tell you who gets attention, but don’t distinguish between the researcher who gets lots of attention because he’s everyone else’s whipping boy and the researcher who gets lots of attention because she’s made a recognised breakthrough. Furthermore, there is quality research, possibly even earth-shattering research, that doesn’t get cited simply because it has been lost in the “noise” of all those busy beavers churning out the measurable make-work.

Conclusion: None of what really counts is measurable and we do a disservice to all involved and pervert the entire enterprise by pretending that it is.

@ Richard Tol
Isn’t that a more healthy feedback loop. University teaches well. Very skilled students bring their talents to local industry and this reinvests in the University.

The other healthy feedback loop is through repayment is student loans. Better teaching -> better graduates -> better jobs -> better rate of repayment. And have loans repaid to depts, not the whole university.

That feedback loop allows for emigration and means that the rewards of good education feed back into the system

It does, actually. Most economists would argue that it is better to measure imperfectly than not at all.

There are unrecognized geniuses out here who will be missed by any contemporary measurement. Is that a reason not to measure? Only if the unrecognized geniuses are a large fraction of the population. History shows that that is not true. Geniuses are few and far between, and unrecognized ones are fewer and further apart still.

I therefore happily classify someone as a dud researcher, knowing that the chance is rather slim that she is in fact a genius.

Credit officers were/are paid on performance. I’d hazard a guess that their performance was measured on how much they lent out…. That performance-criteria was and is imperfect.

Bank CEOs were measured on how much they could grow balance sheets.

->Imperfectly measuring performance can definitely be worse than not measuring performance at all.


That might be the worst argument I’ve ever heard. You should’ve stuck with the prior ad hominem.

The issue is not whether you can measure quality “imperfectly.” It’s whether you can measure it at all.

Your argument amounts to saying it is better to pretend to measure something than not to measure it at all.

Not just prolific. Well-cited too: over recent years, I have consistently outperformed Nordhaus and Weitzman (who may be in the news on Monday) combined (536+640 v 1326 for 2009-2011). Surely, the hundreds of people that quoted my work are all mistaken.

Dream on, mate.

As I argued in the opening post, the best will be the first to leave Ireland. We won’t turn off the light and leave you in the dark.

Richard, Sarah. My own experience as a student & academic in several universities is that the best researchers were generally good teachers & the research inactive ones tend not to be good teachers. To teach advanced material you need to know what is happening research wise. But its not just that. As a graduate student I went to some of Sen’s Principles lectures which were illuminating. Of course there are exceptions to this trend.
People who are really committed to their subject are generally happy to talk about it. They will generally not be keen about filling in all the damn forms and all the bureaucratic nonsense that comes with teaching though- because there is a high opportunity cost to their time

@ Richard Tol

I must say I find this all very interesting.

In the arts world there’s various attempt to deal with the knotty problem of funding artistic excellence, for example “Weighing Poetry”.

In your own paper with Frances Ruane: “Centres of Research Excellence in Economics in the Republic of Ireland”, you scrupulously footnote:

“IDEAS/REPEC presents rankings for the number of publications and the number of publications corrected for author number. The rank correlation is 76.9%, for the top 5% of the world. Note that four Irish authors rank higher on the author number-corrected score (Patrick Honohan 391 rather than 488; Philip Lane 310 rather than 474; Kevin O’Rourke 392 rather than 474 (Lane and O’Rourke are tied); Peter Neary 86 rather than 95), and one lower (Richard Tol, 231 rather than 74). That is, Neary and Tol switch rank, and Honohan and O’ Rourke switch rank. Still, the rank correlation is 65% for these five authors.”

I take it that is, there’re some authors who have solo authored a lot of papers and some who have co-authored a lot, and ranking can be skewed according to which kind you ar:, and the way the ranking system reflects this.

You also note the reasons why senior authors may choose to co-author, rather than solo author:

“It is to be expected that names are not assigned to papers unless there is a contribution from each of the authors, and while the contribution of each might not be equal in terms of time effort, it may be the case that a person’s relatively minor input in time is in fact highly valuable. It also happens that a senior author could have written the same, or even a better paper, in a shorter time period, but prefers to co-author with less experienced researchers as part of their education and professional development. We recognize that this is a limitation in our analysis, while at the same time noting that any simple correction for author number may, arguably, be quite arbitrary.”

Perhaps it would be worth adding: it may be that senior authors, knowing that their careers and incomes depend on citations, might influence younger researchers to add their names to a paper.

As, for example on this blog, you have elided citation ranking with ‘best’, it is interesting to read you, again to your credit, discuss the issue of self-citation:

“On the one hand, Bernadette Andreosso-O’Callaghan does not appear to have ever cited her own papers and Brendan Walsh appears to cite himself only in every 10th paper. On the other hand, Peter Neary’s self-citation rate is on average 4.2 times per paper, and self-citations make up 22% of his total citations. Richard Tol cites himself on average 3.4 times per paper, with self-citations accounting for 47% of his total citations. Brian Nolan is more modest,
citing himself only 1.2 per paper, and self-citations at 19%. Because of this lower rate of self-citation, Nolan passes Tol when correcting for self-citation.”

If you’re seriously suggesting there is a link between the number of papers, the number of citations per paper, and actual contribution to human understanding, how do you suggest the system copes with academics who are tempted to:

(a) Reference themselves a lot as a habit, and

(b) Make sure all their research students credit them?

Difficult issues, but not beyond us: (since published in JASIST) (since published in Scientometrics)

The two main databases, Scopus and Web of Science, correct for self-citations. Self-citations are perfectly legitimate if you build on previous research.

Little can be done against fake authors. Besides abusive advisers, there are friends who put each others’ names on their papers. You’d need an advanced pattern detection algorithm to detect that.


“the best will be the first to leave Ireland”.

Unfortuantely a lot of this thread belongs in a work place canteen. (Or, if you prefer, common room)

If the “best” are really going to leave Irish Academia perhaps I could suggest an “amicable agreement” involving 20% pay cut for any academic earning over 45000 Euro and introduction of a 12% pension levy subject to 20% tax relief effective from Summer 2012 .Hopefully Karls car lease will be paid off by then:)

The terms would be very amicable with 3 options:

1) Accept new terms and continue with the job at hand.

2)Take statutary redundancy and seek employment, in “the lucrative” private sector, or early retirement thus making room for other academics/researchers (including ones who have already emigrated and must now presumably come under the category of “the best”) further down the food chain.

3)( Apparently only applies to “the best”) :

“Leave Ireland” with the assistance of a six month relocation grant so that they can join fellow impoverished Medical Consultants, who are apparently “forced ” to make similar considerations, in whatever “utopias” we hear so much about but never seemed to be identified.

As many of these impoverished souls struggle to survive on the “few pennies” they earn in Ireland I am sure no one would begrudge them a six month relocation grant (in lieu of redundancy) as they take up excellent positions abroad in countries which are apparently so much more better than Ireland.

Thank you for bringing up this topic it was very informative despite resembling a “work place” canteen discussion at times. It is an indication of the excellent calibre of this site that such a topic would be introduced.

Best…L 🙂


The tag words for this thread include the word “migration”.

It would not surprise me if “Irish Professors forced to emigrate” will start appearing in some of the foriegn and international language media.

Worse still such implications may even indirectly find itś way into research papers elsewher in Europe. This has already happened, possibly, because of (to quote JTO) some “rubbish” “spouted” by certain academics who most certainly do not inclulde Richard Tol or Karl Whelan . However I must admit I am a little worried about whether Karl can keep up payments on his car:)

It is important Irish Academics (and everyone else) do not forget this excellent site is followed very closely elsewhere in Europe. That can be useful when we are trying to get policy makers in Europe to pay attention but detrimental if we are trying to portray the fact that Ireland is actually far from being a basket case.

@ Richard Tol
Reading between the lines it looks like you’re thinking of heading off. If you are, it would be a pity and it would be our loss.

I think a lot of people need to wake up and realize that Ireland is a small country drawing on a small talent pool and it takes very very little for that talent pool to be reduced to zero.

Academics working in universities are dealing with stresses that you wouldn’t find in other countries and a growing resentment in the mob that must make flight to another country irresistible. Ireland had better be careful.

So if you are thinking of going – the best of luck in whatever choice you make – but countries like this need people like you. What happens here resonates!

Thank you for the kind words. Not everyone agrees.

Batista, Delaney, O’Rourke and Vincente have left already, Hutson and Kearney are leaving, and there’ll be two more announcements shortly. Eight Dublin economists gone.

@ Richard Tol

That’s sad.

I don’t know a good few of the names there but I know that this is not a good thing at all.

Wherever you go (if you go) I hope you don’t end up thinking too badly of this country. I’m Irish. I like the place alot. I hate the way it’s so easy to turn the people against each other, though. Still – such is life.

The issue is not whether you can measure quality “imperfectly.” It’s whether you can measure it at all.

No. Richard is correct. In a 1979 paper Bengt Holmstrom actually proved that contracting on a noisy signal is better then nothing. Its a widely cited result in the incentive contracting literature. I think its in the Bell J. of Economics or maybe JPE. Hugely cited paper.


If you go please allow me to wish you the best of luck and that you find the experience personally enriching and rewarding in in many different ways.


You make a valid point (re. turning people against each other) but while it may not seem like it right now there is actually an evolving sense of national solidarity which is gradually emerging from the crisis.

@Eureka and Richard

If the “stresses” are unacceptable than IMHO a change is a the right antidote.

After all “working abroad” is in our DNA which had dissappeared for about 15 years. The generation (mine) which came of age in the mid 80`s experienced emigration but while it felt like emigration at the time in hindsight it had to redefined as “working abroad”.

I agree there is “resentment” but in hindsight we may realise lot of it was “fuelled” and “manipulated”by various shortsighted vested interests . Fortunately in my experience the Irish “mob” is actually comparatively quite sophisticated and the two elections this year have/are provid(ing) necessary outlets for resentment.

Anyone (who has not done so before) contemplating moving abroad should be aware that there is a large neo-liberal dark side to many destinations which may appear alluring at first but must be approached with eyes wide open. Do that and your “Irishness” will be a major asset.


Your points are as ever very well made. But I would point out that migration is generally measured in net flows, not gross flows.

This is something no Irish journalist can ever get their head around. See but there are multiple examples.

The year to April 2011 was probably the worst (news-wise) for Ireland since the 1980s. Yet the number of Irish nationals measured returning home in this period actually increased, which struck me as interesting.

There is a recruitment ban in the universities, so net migration = gross migration.

In this case, people release their personal stress but increase pressure on the system.

At the moment, many young people emigrate upon graduation. If the universities deteriorate, young people will start emigrating at a younger age, and their ties to Ireland will be weaker.

@ Richard
“If the universities deteriorate, young people will start emigrating at a younger age, and their ties to Ireland will be weaker”
…and the people left behind will be thicker….

There’s a lot of rigid thinking going on at the moment. Im starting to think that the embargo on staff should be replaced with a state backed student loan scheme. This would reduce university costs 5 years into the future and radically alter (and improve) student culture at Uni. It needs a lot if working out but it’s an idea….

The current emigration pattern isn’t good. It takes talent and demand from the domestic economy.


I’m afraid your citation of that article begs the question at hand. Are measurements of the quantity of publications and citations “noisy” or imperfect measurements of the quality of academic research? Or are they completely unrelated? I say the latter. The fact is, we have no way of measuring quality (if we did, we’d use that instead of these useless proxies) and we all agree that quality is the only thing that matters.

You might as well be proposing to use researcher head diameter as a proxy for quality of research on the pretext that “it’s better than nothing.”

As I argued before, your mindset is that of times past, when universities where the playground of the rich and idle.

The rest of the world has moved on. Universities are now large institutions, charged with mass education and basic research.

@Richard Tol

You haven’t “argued” anything of the kind. You’ve merely asserted it.

As for what that little non sequitur has to do with what you’re responding to, anyone have a guess?

The upshot of your assertion that quality cannot be measured and that productivity should not be measured, is that academics should be left in peace to think deep thoughts.

I have no problem with that if academics pay their own way. They do not, however. They are paid by the taxpayer, who rightly demands something in return other than private thoughts.

You, for example, appear to be tenured faculty at UCD. If so, you are paid to spend two days a week teaching for six months per year, and perhaps a day more in committees. The rest of your time, the majority, you are paid to do research. By the taxpayer. By arguing that that part of your job cannot possibly be evaluated, you draw the convenient conclusion that you can do whatever you like.

It’s lazy. It’s elitist. It’s pro domo.

I had a colleague once who argued just like you. He spent his days hunting. At least he had the balls to reveal his identity.


The upshot of your feeble arguments here amounts to this: “well, we can’t measure quality of research and that is, of course, the only thing anyone cares about, so let’s pervert the entire enterprise of research by measuring something else that we can measure and declaring that THAT is the really important thing. And it so happens, that I, Richard Tol, have shown myself to be quite good at gaming that newly-redefined really important thing. Therefore, I, Richard Tol, am a genius.”

(Parenthetically: Do you think that the number of times you have been cited might have something to do with your apparent denial of the gravity of global warming? I’m sure you’re just the sort of convenient whipping boy that gets cited in every paper as an example of iconoclastic idiocy: there aren’t that many of you deniers out there–since virtually every scientist on this planet disagrees with you–so chances are you’re going to get cited a lot. Robert Faurisson gets cited a lot, too.)

Yes, I asserted that research cannot be evaluated without having been read by those doing the evaluating. It certainly cannot be evaluated by totting up numbers of publications and citations. This isn’t a “convenient conclusion” but rather in the very nature of what scholarship is. You can try to wish it away because it doesn’t suit you and your productivist ideology. And that is all it is: an ideology, based in nothing. That you choose to deny what scholarship is in order to replace it with something more tractable makes you nothing more than a philistine.

Nobody is served by turning universities into sweatshops with hundreds of little Richard Tols churning out the busywork at a rhythm that rules out saying anything of any depth or profundity. We aren’t making widgets.

As for the constant misplaced snark about who you presume me to be: I am quite confident that my research record is a solid one with publications by the very best university presses. Perhaps not at the same rhythm at which you churn out the incremental flat-earthism in the Journal of Hydrocephaly, but we can’t all be what are appropriately known as “tools.”

@Johnny Foreigner

You are indeed a very upfront honest academic. Thanks for your honesty.

The usual rubbish we get from Academics is that they are working every hour that God sends them on research. A small number do but the vast majority are very happy to sit on their butts, work the minimum hours per week, take three months hols, any amount of nixers, guaranteed employment tenure, incremental salaries and unfunded defined benefit pensions. UCD for example in their last accounts for 2009 filed on their website show that their Pension Fund deficit been taken over by the mugs who are Taxpayers was €442 million The average cost per employee in the UCD 2009 accounts for Staff Remuneration was €70,000 up €4,000 from the previous year.

@ Livonian

Ireland is a basket case for those in the Private Sector who are spurned and allowed to have their livelihoods decimated but not for the Sheltered Sector that are still in receipt of pay rises – Incremental Salaries etc etc ..

Yes this country needs Pay for performance in Academia ……….. and Urgently. What does that jingle say “people in glasshouses should not ………”

If you were proud of your record, you would reveal your identity.

You lament the loss of the university of old. Tough luck. The year is 2011.

The university of old, by the way, was lost when access to education became universal. What a bad decision that was.

Oh, and by the way, you’re misinformed about workloads at UCD, at least in my discipline. I teach 8-10 hours a week, spread over 5 days, not 2 (since timetabling is controlled by the central administration). Each of those hours requires additional time in preparation, correction of work (since we’ve moved to using much more continuous assessment), etc. That teaching load takes up, by far, the majority of my time during the weeks of term. There has also been a tendency, at the same time that (centralised) administration have increased their numbers and the proportion of staff that they represent at the university, to shift administrative work to lecturers. I spend a good many hours every week doing work that used to be done by administrators affiliated with my school: photocopying, scanning, dealing with enrolments, and more. But the administrators have retired and have not been replaced and demands on lecturer time can always be increased with impunity.

So we have a burgeoning central administration and too few low level administrators in the units themselves. Result: I’m spending roughly 40 hours per week in term between teaching, correcting, preparing, administrative tasks, committees, etc. Frankly, in these conditions, it’s a wonder I’m able to produce any research at all in term. Yet I do.

Stating that “it is 2011” is not an argument.

What universal education has to do with churning out the makework is beyond me.

Enlighten me, genius.

As for my identity: I work in a place with a notoriously vindictive central management team. I write on a blog where I don’t mince words about them. That is why I use a pseudonym. Simple as that.

Universal access turned universities from small playgrounds of rich white men into large institutions, which look less kindly on dossers and snobs.

Where I work, support staff has been replaced with computers. I don’t do hand-outs. I put links on the internet. It’s less work that instructing an assistant to make N copies.

@ Richard Tol & Ernie Ball

Good bare knuckle stuff, but the argument is more interesting than the abuse.

“small playgrounds of rich white men”

I’m pleased to say I came across a photo recently of my Dad boxing for TCD in 1952. He’s Jewish and he grew up in Cabra. On that team various nations and religions were represented, I believe Nigerian, Iraqi, Thai and possibly others. And of course, Trinity gave degrees to women, first in British Isles I think. Of course the campus was not free from racism, and there were good resaons for the international aspect, but it was not the playground for rich white men that is often assumed.

Read Noel Browne’s ‘Against the Tide’ for a good flavour.

Overall I’m all for free third-level education for all, partly so that people are equipped for decent jobs (plenty of complaints here that companies can’t get quality Irish workers), but mainly so people can life fuller, richer lives informed by the experience of third level education. Much of the actual factual knowledge people gain will date rapidly, but the ability to think creatively, work in groups and have a curious and engaged experience with the world around them will continue to stand them in good stead. On the whole, a good third level experience opens people up.

Dear Richard,

You really have no sense of the reality of being an academic, do you. Perhaps those years of being cosseted in the ESRI (since you mentioned “small playgrounds of rich white men”) must have insulated you. Your portrait of workloads at UCD may have been true in 1991 but, may I remind you, this is 2011.

In any case, your picture of the recent evolution of the university really leaves a lot to be desired. You think elitism has no place in the modern university? Has anyone informed Harvard or Yale? Funny, I should mention those places since they are among the very best universities in the world, by any reckoning, and yet do not go in at all for the sort of productivism you think is so up-to-date.

The fact is, universities are elite institutions, by definition. We don’t let in everyone who wants to go and we don’t hire everybody who wants a job there. But there is nothing undemocratic about this idea. The idea of “merit” is as democratic as they come.

I don’t do handouts either, Richard. I also put links on the internet. I still have to scan the stuff. Or do you no longer read books? Too 20th-century for someone as right up to date as you are, I imagine. Or is it that the only things you assign are your own writings, so there’s no need to scan. Increases the citation count, you know.

You’re free to apply at Yale. You’re at UCD, though. Get used to it. Mass universities play by different rules. You should count yourself lucky, as UCD is small and unbureaucratic by most standards.

Unless the public purse is unlimited (it is not) then what is on display here is a competition for limited resources.

This Dilbert comic is about the private sector but:

The ones arguing for the winner takes it all might have difficulty in getting help if solidarity is ever needed.

This could be read as an ultimatum. The government was elected to make tough decisions. Would a government elected to make tough decisions look tough if they gave in to these kind of demands?

Would future possible employers like to have employees making this kind of demands?

I’m not sure if the original post will have any effect except lowering the chance of salary increases and getting new job offers.

@ Richard Tol

Sorry, aren’t you the great believer in “league tables”? Isn’t the goal of every university in the league the same as that of every team in the premiership: to get to the top? If so, shouldn’t they–all of them–be emulating the universities that are universally acknowledged to be the best? Or is mediocrity good enough for the hoi polloi?

A final comment:

I have to laugh at the likes of Kevin Denny insisting that good teaching and good research are compatible when the School of Economics in which he teaches is notorious for only offering lectures and no tutorials of any kind. They have a “drop-in centre” staffed by postgrads.

Students taking economics are lectured to 300 at a time and the lecturers might teach 3-4 hours (of the same lectures they’ve been giving for years) per week. How these antediluvian methods constitute “good teaching” I’ll leave for Kevin Denny to explain. No doubt he’ll give us all kinds of shuck and jive about “new technologies” (apparently, they have “online tutorials” which are videos from a few years back of some guy giving another lecture).

Frankly, if I had the workloads they do in the UCD School of Economics, I’d be able to churn out the pointless make-work at levels approaching that of Richard Tol. But I wouldn’t deign to give lessons to others about how “good teaching and good research” are entirely compatible.

I never argued that everyone should be on top or even try to be. Quite the opposite. People should maximize their return to their ability (rather than pretending that they have talents they don’t have).

In fact, you claim above that every university is elite (which is patent nonsense) and you seem to think that you are entitled to the same privileges as people at top universities (for which you are clearly not qualified).

Oh, Richard. There you go talking authoritatively of things about which you know nothing. Hardly bodes well for your scholarship. But, then, flat-earthism has always been a hard sell.

I do note that you are also not at a top university, the VU Amsterdam being ranked tied with UCD for 159th place in the THE rankings. So I guess, by your own piss-poor logic, you’re not qualified to be in a top university either.

I’ll let others decide who is the real elitist: the guy who thinks all universities should raise all who are qualified to a level where they can think meaningfully about the most profound issues that humans face and have faced in the past (me), or the guy who thinks mediocrity and assembly-line/sweatshop education are good enough for the rabble (Richard).

Vrije U is too small to feature in the top, so we specialize. Vrije U is world class in selected areas: paleo, theoretical chemistry, linear statistics, operation systems, environmental economics, transgender.

I remember being in negotiations involving a union representing Technologists and Engineers and the employer, a Gov`t Department. The main reason given by the Union to justify increased wages was “The best people will leave.`The response was and if they do the private sector will benefit so any loss to the public sector will be a wash with the benefit to the private sector.

Even more disconcerting was data on several wage freezes (politically motivated) over many years that showed little attrition due to wage freezes. In areas of the country where wages in the PS were not competitive the productivity of the supposedly less than bright employees was as high as in areas where PS wages (national rate) were more than competitive.

One could argue that wage freezes in the PS occur during recessions when the politicians are under pressure to punish the PSs` and also that the PSs`see past the 2-3 years at most to regaining the loss. It is also more difficult to switch jobs during a recession. The employer had a policy of paying the average going rate (nationally) in the 27 largest cities. A condition of employment was that an employee could be transferred anywhere in the country. The flat pay rate made this easy although it created a few problems in high wage areas (no system is perfect). I might add a Defined Benefit pension plan helped enormously, this was known internally as the golden handcuffs and was a big help in labour negotiations.

Based on my own personal experience of seeing stars come and go I saw little difference in performance. The best and the brightest are quite close in capability to the next tier down. The doom, gloom and failure predicted if the super star leaves rarely occurs after their departure.

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