A Comprehensive Framework to Study Factors Influencing Academics’ Research Engagement and Productivity

Image: Heng, Hamid and Khan (2020)

Heng Kimkong
Cambodian Education Forum
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
October 04, 2020


Research productivity of academics has been a topic of research interest for many years. Numerous research studies have examined factors that influence research engagement and productivity of academics or researchers; however, most of these extant studies have focused on academics based in developed countries, commonly referred to as academics in the Global North (Heng, Hamid, & Khan, 2020).

Previous studies examining factors or determiners of research engagement and productivity have generally employed a theoretical or conceptual framework that categorized different factors into two main groups: personal or individual and institutional or environmental (Heng et al., 2020).

Factors of personal/individual nature may include age, gender, academic rank, discipline, research knowledge and skills, research orientation, motivation, collaboration and research self-efficacy, while institutional/environmental factors consist of such factors as institutional research policies, research infrastructure, research culture, research rewards and incentives, opportunities for research collaboration and professional development, availability of mentoring system and research leadership, among others (see Bland, Center, Finstad, Risbey, & Staples, 2005; Heng, et al., 2020).

With a few exceptions (e.g. Bland et al., 2005; Tien, 2016), most previous studies that investigated academics’ research engagement and productivity did not use a more comprehensive framework of factors which have potential influence on the level of research engagement and productivity of academics, particularly those operating in the context of developing societies or the Global South (Heng, et al., 2020). In these societies, commonly characterised by resource-scarce environment, academics face numerous challenges that prevent them from fully engaging in research and publication activities (see Altbach, 2003; Canagarajah, 2002).

To address this knowledge gap and offer insights into factors that influence academics’ research engagement and productivity from a developing countries perspective, Heng et al. (2020) conducted an extensive review of literature on factors associated with academics’ research engagement and productivity. The aim was to develop a comprehensive framework of factors that influence research engagement and productivity of academics.

Based on a review of 65 empirical studies conducted in different contexts, the authors found that “the majority of studies on this topic have been carried out mainly in Western, developed contexts or emerging economies such as South Korea and China.” Moreover, the various factors that influence research engagement and productivity can be categorized into “three broad levels: individual, institutional, and national” (Heng et al., 2020, p. 968).

Factors at the individual (micro) and institutional (meso) levels are the same as those mentioned above. However, factors at the national (macro) level are generally excluded in past studies, most of which dealt with researchers or academics based in developed countries. These national-level factor include national research policies, politics, culture, academic freedom, government support or investment, and support from the private sector, development partners and donor agencies (Heng et al., 2020).

In their article, entitled “Factors influencing academics’ research engagement and productivity: A developing countries perspective,” Heng and co-researchers developed a framework of factors influencing academics’ research engagement and productivity, as seen below.

Source: Heng et al. (2020)

This comprehensive framework, the authors noted, may be best employed to understand the relationship between different factors that have influence on research engagement and productivity of academics who are based in developing societies.

Overall, Heng et al. (2020) concluded that the results of their review pointed to the North-South inequalities in knowledge production that leave Global South scholars underrepresented in top international journals and in the global academic community. The authors called for further research that employs in-depth interviews, large sample sizes, longitudinal methods, or mixed methods approaches, to provide deeper insights into the contextual realities in which periphery scholars live and work.

As these South-based scholars are trying to contribute to the international academic community despite the many constraints facing them, Heng et al. argued that “the uniqueness of contexts, perspectives, and local knowledge coming from researchers in the Global South” should be accorded greater recognition and appreciation (p. 976).


Altbach, P. G. (Ed.) (2003). The decline of the guru: The academic profession in developing and middle-income countries. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9780312295912

Bland, C. J., Center, B. A., Finstad, D. A., Risbey, K. R. & Staples, J. G. (2005). A theoretical, practical, predictive model of faculty and department research productivity. Academic Medicine, 80(3), 225-237. https://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/fulltext/2005/03000/a_theoretical,_practical,_predictive_model_of.6.aspx

Canagarajah, A. S. (2002). A geopolitics of academic writing. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. https://muse.jhu.edu/book/27073

Heng, K., Hamid, M. O. & Khan, A. (2020/in press). Factors influencing academics’ research engagement and productivity: A developing countries perspective. Issues in Educational Research, 30(3), 965-987. http://www.iier.org.au/iier30/heng.pdf.

Tien, H. (2016). Vietnamese academics’ research capacity in tertiary contexts. Unpublished PhD thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. http://hdl.handle.net/10063/5141

The Author

HENG Kimkong is a PhD candidate in the School of Education at the University of Queensland, Australia. He is a recipient of the Australia Awards Scholarship and a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. He is also a co-founder of Cambodian Education Forum, an online publication platform dedicated to education-related topics.

Suggested citation:

Heng, K. (2020). A comprehensive framework to study factors influencing academics’ research engagement and productivity. Cambodian Education Forum, 1(16), 1-5.

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