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Substantiality: A Construct Indicating Research Excellence to Measure University Research Performance

Masashi Shirabe1†, Amane Koizumi2   

  1. 1Institute for Liberal Arts, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Oookayama 2-12-1 W9-77, Meguro, Tokyo 152-8550, Japan;
    2Center for Novel Science Initiatives, National Institutes of Natural Sciences, 2nd Floor, Hulic Kamiyacho Building 4-3-13, Toranomon, Minato, Tokyo 105-0001, Japan
  • Received:2021-03-03 Revised:2021-07-04 Accepted:2021-07-06
  • Contact: Masashi Shirabe (E-mail:

Abstract: Purpose: The adequacy of research performance of universities or research institutes have often been evaluated and understood in two axes: “quantity” (i.e. size or volume) and “quality” (i.e. what we define here as a measure of excellence that is considered theoretically independent of size or volume, such as clarity in diamond grading). The purpose of this article is, however, to introduce a third construct named “substantiality” (“ATSUMI” in Japanese) of research performance and to demonstrate its importance in evaluating/understanding research universities.
Design/methodology/approach: We take a two-step approach to demonstrate the effectiveness of the proposed construct by showing that (1) some characteristics of research universities are not well captured by the conventional constructs (“quantity” and “quality”)-based indicators, and (2) the “substantiality” indicators can capture them. Furthermore, by suggesting that “substantiality” indicators appear linked to the reputation that appeared in university reputation rankings by simple statistical analysis, we reveal additional benefits of the construct.
Findings: We propose a new construct named “substantiality” for measuring research performance. We show that indicators based on “substantiality” can capture important characteristics of research institutes. “Substantiality” indicators demonstrate their “predictive powers” on research reputation.
Research limitations: The concept of “substantiality” originated from IGO game; therefore the ease/difficulty of accepting the concept is culturally dependent. In other words, while it is easily accepted by people from Japan and other East Asian countries and regions, it might be difficult for researchers from other cultural regions to accept it.
Practical implications: There is no simple solution to the challenge of evaluating research universities’ research performance. It is vital to combine different types of indicators to understand the excellence of research institutes. Substantiality indicators could be part of such a combination of indicators.
Originality/value: The authors propose a new construct named substantiality for measuring research performance. They show that indicators based on this construct can capture the important characteristics of research institutes.

Key words: Substantiality, Research excellence, University research performance, Accumulation of excellent players