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Conceptualizing academic intellectual capital: definition and proposal of a measurement scale

Jesús de Frutos-Belizón (Department of Business Management, Universidad de Cadiz, Cadiz, Spain)
Fernando Martín-Alcázar (Department of Business Management, Universidad de Cadiz, Cadiz, Spain)
Gonzalo Sánchez-Gardey (Department of Business Management, Universidad de Cadiz, Cadiz, Spain)

Journal of Intellectual Capital

ISSN: 1469-1930

Article publication date: 3 April 2019




The purpose of this paper is to describe the development and validation of an instrument for measuring intellectual capital in the academic research context. The current research context describes a new paradigm of scientific production characterized by interdisciplinarity, heterogeneity and the intensification of the relations between the generators of knowledge. In this scenario, traditional measures of intellectual capital do not capture all the variables that make up the environment in which the research activities are carried out. This transformation of research processes suggests the need to bring theories of organizational behavior, more appropriate to an organizational context, to the study of scientific context. Thus, the paper contextualizes the intellectual capital approach, thereby explaining how the different attributes that build it influence scientific productivity and providing a measurement instrument to evaluate relative levels of intellectual capital in an academic research context.


The scale was designed through a double qualitative–quantitative scale development process. The literature on intellectual capital does not provide strong theoretical support for the definition of a specific set of items to be applied in the specific academic research context. Consequently, the scale constructs and observable variables were initially conceptualized through a Delphi panel. This initial set of indicators was empirically validated through a second quantitative stage to a sample of 1,798 Spanish academics. Given that no prior published studies have examined the construct validity of the proposed scale, and the proposed scale is not based on other previously validated scales, the authors used exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis to assess the internal consistency, using Cronbach’s α to determine reliability.


Drawing on the evidence obtained from a double qualitative–quantitative process, a scale consisting of 47 items was proposed to measure the three dimensions of intellectual capital, namely, the researcher’s human capital, as well as the nature of the social capital and organizational capital of the team in which the scholar is integrated. The process of identifying and validating indicators of intellectual capital allowed the authors to identify certain intangible elements that are key in the research process and that, therefore, determine scientific productivity. Thus, the proposed scale contributes by conceptualizing new variables that could be used to deepen and broaden the study of the determinants of research performance. The contextualization of intellectual capital approach can also help to assess the value of intangibles, offering an external reporting tool and making universities’ social contributions more visible to public and private stakeholders, justifying the efforts made by societies in the generation of academic knowledge.

Research limitations/implications

The empirical analysis was carried out with an initial sample of 1,798 Spanish scholars. The validation of the scale should therefore be confirmed in different national contexts, with larger data sets. Likewise, the use of longitudinal data sets could help to study the effects of intellectual capital in academic research, thereby contributing to the ongoing debate on the determinants of research performance.


From a practical perspective, the instrument could be considered both as a management and an external reporting tool, providing a self-assessment instrument of the levels of intellectual capital. As a management tool, a specific measure of intellectual capital in an academic context could help to identify training needs, the implementation of practices that encourage the capability for building research networks and the development of reports with intellectual capital-related inputs for the justification of the resources received. At an institutional level, the proposed set of indicators also identifies the attributes of scholars linked to higher scientific performance, and the scale could be used as an instrument for selection processes in academic institutions, to develop practices related to the distribution of workload or the publication of intellectual capital indicators of its researchers in a healthy exercise of transparency.



The authors appear in alphabetical order and have contributed equitably to this work. No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors. This study has benefited from financing from the Research Project ECO2014-56580-R of the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitively, and the Research Projects P12-SEJ-1810 and P12-SEJ-1618 from the Andalusia Government (Spain) and PR2016-018 (Research Projects University of Cadiz).


de Frutos-Belizón, J., Martín-Alcázar, F. and Sánchez-Gardey, G. (2019), "Conceptualizing academic intellectual capital: definition and proposal of a measurement scale", Journal of Intellectual Capital, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 306-334.



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