Should degrees be taught mainly by research active staff?* is one of the many questions being asked in the “New models of tertiary education” issues paper released for comment in February of this year.
Looking at the various regulations currently embedded in New Zealand there appears to an assumption that degrees benefit from being taught by research active staff. For example, New Zealand’s Education Act states of universities that
“their research and teaching are closely interdependent and most of their teaching is done by people who are active in advancing knowledge”
Also, NZQA states in its Guidelines for Degree Approval and Accreditation states that
“most staff teaching on the degree programme will be engaged in research, in a field that supports the delivery of the degree programme and underpins its theoretical framework.”
However, in practice does being research active enhance one’s teaching? After all, teaching and research require very different skill sets. Or does the demand to research actually diminish the time and motivation lecturers have to commit to good teaching practice? I’m sure many of us have experienced lecturers whose teaching practice was poor due to it being a low priority in an environment where “publish or perish” dominates.
That is not to say that there aren’t excellent tertiary teachers who also do research, I have met some excellent lecturers who excel as both educators and researchers, but if we were to ask them I suspect many will say they have to work extremely hard to do both, and perhaps if they had the chance they would prefer to make a choice. In most cases I suspect they would choose research as this is where the most kudos lies in universities. The Tertiary Education Union has commented that in New Zealand “research remains king in terms of academic prestige” while an Australian commentator has stated that “teaching is still widely talked about as a kind of punishment for not being a competitive researcher.”
So is it time that these regulations were changed to allow staff who enjoy and excel at teaching to take on a greater teaching role, and to free up those who excel at research to do research while still supporting those that can do both?
I’m sure there are many readers and contributors here who have experienced both sides of this – as lecturers deciding where to put their energies, or as students dealing with uninterested lecturers? Perhaps some institutions have dealt with this by employing teaching only staff? I would be interested in finding out how this works. My impression is that such roles are typically fixed term and given lower status compared to research active staff?
What would be the benefits if we disconnected teaching from research? For one, assuming we got the resourcing right, I suspect we could reduce the number of students who dropped out of university.
* Note for the purpose of this blog I have simplified the actual question from the paper which states
“What are the benefits and disadvantages, in terms of students’ learning outcomes, of bundling together research and teaching at universities in New Zealand?”
Featured image: Flickr CC, Marijn de Vries Hoogerwerff.