The role of Web of Science publications in China’s tenure system


Tenure provides a permanent position to faculty in higher education institutions. In North America, it is granted to those who have established a record of excellence in research, teaching and services in a limited period. However, in China, research excellence (represented by the number of Web of Science publications) is highly weighted in the tenure assessment compared to excellence in teaching and services, but this has never been systematically investigated. By analyzing the tenure assessment documents from Chinese Universities, this study reveals the role of Web of Science publications in China’s tenure system and presents the landscape of the tenure assessment process in Chinese higher education institutions.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. 1.

    In this study, China refers to mainland China, which is the geopolitical area under the direct jurisdiction of the People's Republic of China, excluding Hong Kong and Macau.

  2. 2.

    Double World-Class is a Chinese national research program to comprehensively develop a group of elite Chinese universities and individual university departments into world-class universities and disciplines by the end of 2050. (See


  1. Alperin, J. P., Muñoz Nieves, C., Schimanski, L. A., Fischman, G. E., Niles, M. T., & McKiernan, E. C. (2019). How significant are the public dimensions of faculty work in review promotion and tenure documents. eLife.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. American Association of University Professors. (1940). 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure (with 1970 Interpretive Comments). Retrieved December 9, 2018 from

  3. American Society for Cell Biology. (2013). San Francisco declaration on research assessment. Retrieved December 9, 2018 from

  4. Archambault, É., & Larivière, V. (2009). History of the journal impact factor: Contingencies and consequences. Scientometrics,79(3), 635–649.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Chait, R. (2002). Why tenure? Why now? In R. Chait (Ed.), The questions of tenure (pp. 6–31). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Diamond, R. M., & Adam, B. E. (1998). Changing Priorities at Research Universities, 19911996. Retrieved December 9, 2018 from Syracuse, NY:

  7. Gardner, S. K., & Veliz, D. (2014). Evincing the ratchet: A thematic analysis of the promotion and tenure guidelines at a striving University. The Review of Higher Education,38(1), 105–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Gong, F., & Qu, M. (2010). Nan jing da xue ge an: SCI ying ru ping jia ti xi dui zhong guo da lu ji chu yan jiu de ying xiang (A case study of Nanjing University: The influence of introducing SCI into assessment system on the quality of basic research in Mainland Chinese Universities). Higher Education of Sciences,2010(3), 4–17.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Gravestock, P., & Greenleaf, E. G. (2008). Overview of tenure and promotion policies across Canada. Retrieved December 9, 2018 from

  10. Harley, D., Acord, S. K., Earl-Novell, S., Lawrence, S., & King, C. J. (2010). Assessing the future landscape of scholarly communication: An exploration of faculty values and needs in seven disciplines. Berkeley: The Center for Studies in Higher Education.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Hicks, D., Wouters, P., Waltman, L., Rijcke, S. D., & Rafols, I. (2015). Bibliometrics: The Leiden manifesto for research metrics. Nature,520(7548), 429–431.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Larivière, V., & Sugimoto, C. R. (2019). The journal impact factor: A brief history, critique, and discussion of adverse effects. In H. Moed, U. Schmoch, E. Thelwall, & W. Glänzel (Eds.), Springer Handbook of Science and Technology Indicators. Berlin: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Larivière, V., Macaluso, B., Mongeon, P., Siler, K., & Sugimoto, C. R. (2018). Vanishing industries and the rising monopoly of universities in published research. PLoS ONE,13(8), e0202120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Lou, Y. (2015). Wo guo gao xiao fei sheng ji zou zhi du de he fa xing fan si (on the legitimacy of up-or-out system in China’s universities). Higher Education Research,36(6), 21–32.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Lozano, G. A., Larivière, V., & Gingras, Y. (2012). The weakening relationship between the impact factor and papers’ citations in the digital age. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology,63(11), 2140–2145.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Mcculloch, S. (2017). Hobson’s choice: The effects of research evaluation on academics’ writing practices in England. Aslib Journal of Information Management,69(5), 503–515.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. McKiernan, E. C., Schimanski, L. A., Nieves, C. M., Matthias, L., Niles, M. T., & Alperin, J. P. (2019). Use of the journal impact factor in academic review promotion and tenure evaluations. PeerJ[preprint],7, e27638v27632.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Ministry of Education of China. (2000). Introduction to the Project 211. Beijing Retrieved December 9, 2018 from

  19. Ministry of Education of China. (2017a). List of higher education institutions. Beijing Retrieved December 9, 2018 from

  20. Ministry of Education of China. (2017b). Scientific Statistics in Higher Education Institutions-2017. Beijing: Higher Education Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Moher, D., Naudet, F., Cristea, I. A., Miedema, F., Ioannidis, J. P. A., & Goodman, S. N. (2018). Assessing scientists for hiring, promotion, and tenure. PLoS Biology,16(3), e2004089.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Mohrman, K., Geng, Y., & Wang, Y. (2011). Faculty life in China. The NEA 2011 almanac of higher education (pp. 83–99). Washington: National Education Association.

    Google Scholar 

  23. National Bureau of Statistics of China. (2016). China statistical yearbook. Beijing: China Statistics Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Quan, W., Chen, B., & Shu, F. (2017). Publish or impoverish: An investigation of the monetary reward system of science in China (1999–2016). Aslib Journal of Information Management,69(5), 486–502.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Rice, E., & Sorcinelli, M. D. (2002). Can the tenure process be improved? In R. Chait (Ed.), The questions of tenure (pp. 101–124). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Seglen, P. O. (1997). Why the impact factor of journals should not be used for evaluating research. BMJ: British Medical Journal,314(7079), 498.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Tang, J., & Yang, C. (2008). Over 10 billion yuan to be invested in “211 Project”. Beijing: Xinhua News.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Trower, C. (2002). What is current policy? In R. Chait (Ed.), The questions of tenure (pp. 32–68). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Wang, L. (2013). Mei shi zhong shen jiao zhi: zhan hou bian ge yu zhong guo shi jian (tenure track in American institutions of higher learning: Its post-war change and practice in China). Journal of higher education management,7(3), 83–89.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Wang, Y., & Li, L. (2015). Gao xiao ke yan Ji yao yang wang xing kong geng yao jiao ta shi di. Chinese University Technology Transfer,2015(7), 4–7.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Yang, H. (2014). Gao xiao fei sheng ji zou ren shi zhi du gai ge tan xi (exploring the personnel system reform in college). Research in Educational Development,34(11), 81–84.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Zhang, J. (2014). Developing excellence: Chinese university reform in three steps. Nature,514(7522), 295–296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Zhao, Y., & Pan, C. (2014). Ju jiao fang yan hua he tong dao qi bu zai xu ping shi jian (tenure story of Yanhua Fang) Qinghua News. Retrieved July 21, 2014 from

Download references


This study was partly supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada [75620190196], Youth Program of National Social Science Fund in China (15CTQ035) and China Scholarship Council (ID: 201906845042).

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Fei Shu.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Shu, F., Quan, W., Chen, B. et al. The role of Web of Science publications in China’s tenure system. Scientometrics 122, 1683–1695 (2020).

Download citation


  • Web of Science
  • Tenure Assessment
  • China
  • University
  • Publication