EAST ASIAN STUDIES IN SPAIN JEOPARDIZED BY NATIONAL ACADEMIC ACCREDITATION AGENCY (ANECA)
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We, the lecturers and researchers in the area of East Asian studies at the Autonomous University of Madrid and the undersigned East Asia scholars from universities and research institutes in Spain, the rest of Europe, and overseas, wish to express our great concern and misgivings regarding the standards of evaluation applied in Spain to accreditation of faculty at tenured and non-tenured ranks in our discipline at public universities.
The area of East Asian studies in Spain, despite its recent origin, minuscule size and limited infrastructure, has delivered pioneering research that stands up to international standards for our field. Over the past years, however, it has become increasingly clear that these same international standards are not those applied to the evaluation of our teaching and research performance corresponding to the respective career ranks of a researcher and lecturer in a public university in Spain.
In the most general terms, the typical requirements for the corresponding ranks in first-league universities internationally include: good university degree in relevant specialisation at both pre- and post-graduate level complete with a doctoral dissertation marking an original contribution to the studies of the field; proven sound knowledge of the area under study and proficiency in the relevant Asian language or languages necessary for reading primary sources and carrying out field work; a record of publication and presentation of original research in academic venues deemed respectable and authoritative by the peer consensus of the field. In a typical situation, the perusal of the relevant documentation proving these qualifications is accompanied by a talk given by the candidate for promotion to the respective rank followed by an interview with other faculty members and peer experts in the candidate’s field.
The standards for accreditation currently implemented by the Spanish National Agency for Academic Evaluation and Accreditation (ANECA) however completely fail to reflect these de facto international criteria of our field and its specifics. None of the existing standards reflects the ability to work with primary sources; none acknowledges the value of the actual mastery of the present and historical registers of the relevant Asian languages. The years of full-time commitment necessary for acquiring the proficiency in a non-Indo-European language, which clearly set apart Asian studies from other philological humanities and social sciences, are not taken into account.
Instead, the requirements applied in terms of teaching and research experience, research and teaching stays abroad, or administrative work are absolutely out of proportion to the specific situation of the field. Often, they are by definition impossible to satisfy. For example, the stipulation that faculty accredited at the rank of tenured lecturer must possess experience in teaching and supervision at the post-graduate level makes little sense under the circumstances when, due to the chronic shortage of staff and straitened resources, there does not exist a single MA programme in East Asian studies in the entire Autonomous Community of Madrid and no full-fledged and internationally compatible MA programme in East Asian studies proper anywhere in the whole country.
ANECA adopts the JCR-ranking of scholarly journals as the main yardstick of international visibility and quality of research in sciences and humanities alike, without distinguishing among disciplines. Ostensibly embracing this as valid international standard, the public body in reality sheds responsibility for ascertaining what standards actually obtain in respective fields and outsources the tricky task of quality assessment to a handful of for-profit US-based companies that compose these rankings and charge journals hefty fees for inclusion.
This is a problem for East Asian studies in particular. There exist barely a dozen JCR-indexed journals in the field of East Asian studies overall, most of these oriented on international relations and contemporary politics. There is not a single JCR-indexed journal devoted to literary or historical studies of East Asia. And as much as we recognise the centrality of English language as the lingua franca of contemporary academia, we cannot fail to note that the JCR-indexing perpetuates a heavily West-centric and Anglo-centric bias and systematically underrepresents scholarship in other languages, especially non-European. To publish with a recognised journal or academic press in Japanese, Chinese, or Korean may represent a major achievement in the career of an East Asian studies researcher in the eyes of his or her peers in the international community, yet it will merit almost no attention in the ANECA review.
At the same time, the actual criteria in the ANECA review place a disproportionate emphasis on purely perfunctory attendance of various courses of further education or participation in projects of so-called teaching innovation, neither of which is linked to any assessment of whether they are in fact conducive to any qualitative change.
The current criteria of evaluation and the whole system of ANECA accreditation, far from raising the quality of research to international levels and making Spanish universities internationally competitive and capable of attracting talent domestically and from abroad, paradoxically produce the precisely contrary effect. They isolate the Spanish system from the international academic market. By raising a formidable hurdle of red tape, the ANECA accreditation makes it extremely difficult for academics who pass even a part of their career at institutions of academic excellence abroad to qualify for a ranked position in Spain.
Combined, all these factors not only leave individuals striving to pursue a professional academic career in our field in a precarious situation, but put in jeopardy the very institutional survival and reproduction of Asia-specific expertise in Spain.
We understand and take very seriously our responsibility as publicly funded researchers and lecturers. We do not ask that we should be exempt from quality evaluation or that less stringent criteria should be applied to assessing our performance. We only demand that the requirements for evaluating our progress through the academic career should correspond to those applied to academic excellence in our field in the rest of Europe and that they should be compatible with those actually obtaining internationally.
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