Which higher education journals have the highest “prestige”?

Please tell us about any important factors influencing your decision to submit to the journal:
Specifically, it is indexed as a 1st quartile journal in the relevant field in Scopus. This factor is paramount.


As Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, I like to know why authors choose to submit research to our journal. The journal publisher, Taylor and Francis, surveys authors and reports results to me and Associate Editor, Carroll Graham; the above quote came from the most recent report. Had our journal not been in the top quartile of all Scopus journals in Education (Q1), based on Scimago Journal Rank (SJR) “average prestige per article”, we would have never received this author’s submission. So why would an author restrict themselves to Q1 journals and what other Q1 options are there for “higher education” research?

Why publish in Q1 journals?

Research careers generally depend on having one’s research read, and preferably cited, by others. It feeds into one’s H-index, a crude metric for quickly determining how highly cited one’s research is, which can be readily compared and ranked against other researchers. High H-indices provide an edge in job applications, research funding and promotions. Publishing in widely read, high impact journals increases the likelihood of higher citations for one’s papers. While many journals publish research on higher education, there are relatively few higher education specific journals.

The Q1 journals in higher education

To explore the relative impact/prestige rankings of higher education journals, I ran a quick search on SJR and Tweeted the results for the top-20 journals with “higher education” or “tertiary education” in their title. The top-20 contains a mix of the familiar broad journals with primarily international audiences (Higher Education, Studies in Higher Education) and USA-focused audiences (Journal of Higher Education, Research in Higher Education), as well as specialised journals (Internet and Higher Education, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education). While the rankings tell us something about the state of higher education research, more relevant and thorough analyses have been conducted by Malcolm Tight (see here, here and here). The full results for all 37 higher education journals are at the bottom of this post.

Why impact and relevance matter to editors

Journal editors also want published research to be downloaded, read and cited. It indicates whether the journal is influencing the research community and is a proxy for prestige. Increasing the prestige of a journal helps editors when negotiating with journal owners (in our case the Association for Tertiary Education Management and the LH Martin Institute) for additional resources to manage the ever-increasing number of submissions.

While I am proud to edit a journal that has high “average prestige per article”, increasing the journal’s ranking is not our highest priority. We aim to publish high quality and practically relevant research for the higher education management and policy community. The SJR probably correlates with quality and relevance for the research community, but I am doubtful there is a strong correlation with what is read by policy and management practitioners. That is not to say that top-ranked journals do not influence policy – practitioners do read articles in these journals – but it is unlikely that the same articles which are highly cited by researchers and contribute to SJR are those that are sought out by practitioners.

Our editorial decisions today will likely have an impact some time in 2022 onwards in SJR, and while it would be great if some of these articles were highly cited in future, our primary aim is to inform policy and practice through publishing research that is relevant to this audience. This is indicative of our journal’s previous Best Article award winners and runners up, articles which all addressed highly relevant and contemporary challenges to universities. Occasionally this also means we desk-reject high quality papers, some of which are later published in even more “prestigious” journals than ours.

Final reflections

When I was employed as an academic researcher, I didn’t have much knowledge of journal indicators and certainly not SJR. My supervisors usually suggested a suitable journal for my (or our) research and I followed this advice. This is probably still the best source of advice for most junior researchers, but for those who may not have that support, simply looking at the journals one cites is a very strong indicator of which journals (and editors) the paper may be of interest.


Table 1. 2018 Scimago Journal Rank for “higher education” journals.
2018 Scimago Journal Rank for “higher education” journals.
Source: Scimajor journals with “higher education” or “tertiary education” in title. Green highlight for improvements in 2018 rank vs 2017 rank, red for going down. Link.

Peter Bentley is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management. He works as a Policy Adviser at the Innovative Research Universities and is an Honorary Fellow at the LH Martin Institute for Tertiary Education Leadership and Management, The University of Melbourne. You can follow him on Twitter.


Image by rawpixel from Pixabay.

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