Balancing university teaching with research – what is the challenge?

For an academic career to be successful, it needs to be rewarding; there has to be passion, dedication and commitment. These elements need to be concomitant with a fine balance between teaching and research. This is surely an expectation and a principle of academic life.

Publishing research material is now considered an essential academic activity for a university academic. Furthermore, for this to be effective, research output needs to make an impact and be available for assessment. However, it may be argued that as a result of this, academic performance has now become balanced on an uncertain fulcrum whereby career progression depends on research as a core element.

Has the value of academic teaching been relegated against this growing culture of research assessment? Does the balance need to be re-addressed? Involvement in research has certain rewards and incentives which can be contributory factors in tipping the balance of priority. There is the availability of grants and a greater chance of promotion and recognition. Tutors may be drawn to the elevated status which deeper academic knowledge can bring. In addition, a higher investment in teaching gives rise to a reduction of funds for other activities; conversely, spending more budget availability on research projects can be self-fulfilling or possibly result in profit.

So could universities be denigrating the role of teaching to something that is necessary – but not worthy of quite so much attention? Of course, this would be preposterous: universities depend on excelling in their teaching for funding and recognition. However, a lecturer who is engaged in academic research must also be engaged in good teaching; this should be a balanced equation.

When universities offer schemes for promotion with research as a contributory element is it surprising that younger members of teaching staff are tempted away from teaching in favour of high levels of research activity? Do the older members, for whom research was not an integral part of their early career, feel compelled to join them?

It would be more prudent to encourage older staff to take research more seriously with the aim of raising teaching standards. Similarly when excellent teaching standards are recognised, this must be linked to reward. Institutions need to think laterally about ways of attracting new investment. Separating careers into teaching or research is not conducive to academic excellence: lecturers must be involved in research in order to teach.

With the introduction of higher fees, quality of teaching will increasingly determine the choice of institution for student study. However, a reputation of excellence in teaching does not constitute an academic career. The vast majority of university lecturers do take research as a balanced part of their teaching role and this is to be applauded. However, is it not time to reassess the balance?

To conclude: choosing an academic vocation means dedication towards research assessment at a critical and intelligent level, exploration and discovery of untapped knowledge – and achievement in scholastic excellence.

9 comments

  1. All too often, within the research circle, you would hear the warning, “if you don’t produce results and publish, you’re gonna end up teaching”. Here’s some thought. How are we going to produce the next generation of researchers and top quality academics, sentiments like these exist? Or is this no longer the case?

  2. I totally agree with BT. The word “teaching” is now being commonly used to put researchers under pressure to produce work and publish. It is a common practice in many universities in Europe and North America especially in the clinical units. My question, why clinical academics think that teaching is irrelevant to their carrier progression?

  3. In the clinical specialities, deaneries are asking trainees to undertake research and publish papers as part of their training programme. The minimum now is 2 articles per year in peer reviewed journals. Despite the fact that these clinical specialities do not provide training in research and that the trainees were never told of this before applying for these programmes, these activities continue which increase the ongoing pressure on these trainees who may well end up publishing some research but the quality of research itself is debatable!!!

    1. I disagree with this point. If full-time clinical trainees stop undertaking research during their training years, this will lead to serious implications. If a doctor cannot understand research and cannot interpret the findings from a research study, then how do you expect them to implement and promote evidence-based practice? Furthermore, how do you expect them to train their juniors (when they become seniors) in evidence-based practice? Your statement, in fact, is concerning.

  4. Many clinicians show interest in teaching at their very early career, some say to boost their CVs. Unfortunately this interest goes away after few years.

  5. Like all public services, universities are slowly being privatised. They are now starting to look at making profit. I really don’t see how they can do so without collaborating with the commercial sector.

  6. Universities have to make money. By associating themselves with the commercial sector, they can use research to create products we can use in our daily lives. That seems like a good thing.

  7. Why don’t people enjoy teaching? Surely imparting your knowledge on to others is one of the most enjoyable things you can do? Research can be a drag – the endless referencing really gets me down.

  8. I actually think the current balance is quite good in universities. Most lecturers don’t have more than 10 hours per week of contact time. They spend the rest of the time on their own projects. Honestly, there isn’t an issue that I can see.

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