Higher Education

, Volume 64, Issue 5, pp 693–708 | Cite as

The how and why of academic collaboration: disciplinary differences and policy implications

  • Jenny M. Lewis
  • Sandy Ross
  • Thomas Holden


This paper examines how and why academics in different parts of the academy collaborate. In this paper we argue that: (1) There is a useful analytical distinction to be made between collaboration (fluid and expressive) and Collaboration (concrete and instrumental); (2) These two are not mutually exclusive and their use varies between disciplines; and (3) This distinction is an informative one for policy making that aims to encourage collaboration. Two interview based studies were used to explore the differences in collaborative practices across disciplines. The first was small and confined to a single university (n = 36) and the second was a larger study conducted in three countries (n = 274). Cross tabulations and analysis of open ended questions demonstrated many differences across the humanities, sciences and social sciences in collaboration. The C/collaboration distinction proves useful in understanding different disciplinary approaches to research, and in pointing to implications for research policy and funding. Attempts to increase collaborative research through Collaboration only, may well have deleterious effects on both collaboration and Collaboration. Research policy and funding should bear these differences in mind when seeking to stimulate collaborative research, so as to gain better outcomes across a range of disciplines.


Collaboration Research policy Humanities Sciences Social sciences 



This paper draws on data from two research projects. The first, in 2007 was supported by a small research grant from the University of Melbourne. The second is supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant (DP0877973). We would like to thank Peta Freestone and our teams of interviewers at each of the universities, and all those who agreed to be interviewed. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the International Research Society for Public Management annual conference in Dublin in April 2011.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Society and GlobalisationRoskilde University DenmarkRoskildeDenmark
  2. 2.School of Social and Political SciencesThe University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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