Ex-OfS head: ‘more transparency needed’ on research-teaching link

Single department or minister should cover both teaching and research elements of universities, says Nicola Dandridge

七月 20, 2023
An artwork consisting of strips of synthetic, industrial curtain called Arcadia on London's Southbank to illustrate Ex-OfS head: ‘more transparency needed’ on research-teaching link
Source: Getty Images

There should be more transparency on the relationship between teaching and research in English universities, while having a single government minister covering both aspects would bring more coherence, according to the former head of the sector regulator.

“The lack of transparency about the relationship between teaching and research within the sector, and the lack of shared understanding between sector and government, risk undermining coherence and effectiveness in policy development and implementation,” impacting on areas of policy “such as the size and shape of the sector, funding strategy, institutional cross-subsidies, civic engagement, and articulation between further and higher education”, writes Nicola Dandridge, now professor of practice in higher education policy at the University of Bristol, in a report published by the Higher Education Policy Institute on 20 July.

The shift to a “single tertiary model” of regulation – as has taken place in Wales and which could be likely in England under a Labour government – “would inevitably require consideration of the appropriate allocation and funding of teaching and research activities between institutions”, it adds.

Ms Dandridge, a former chief executive of the Office for Students and Universities UK, told Times Higher Education: “Although teaching and research are each generally very strong, my concern is that the relationship between the two lacks transparency – both within the sector and between the sector and government.

“This can have significant negative consequences if, for instance, research activity and reputation obscure a proper focus on teaching quality, or if the benefits of research-informed teaching are undermined, or if the dynamics of a regulated student market do not align with strategic national R&D priorities.”

She added: “We are also seeing increasing separation of the two activities within and between universities. This has upsides and downsides, but either way we need at least to be better sighted on the consequences.”

The report looks at academic papers on the relationship between teaching and research, many of which “evidence the ways in which research-informed teaching can have a substantial and positive impact on students’ learning experience”, as well as student views on the issue, the impact that the government has had with policies such as the Teaching Excellence Framework, and the growth of teaching-only contracts in universities.

In government, “structural and policy divergence…reached its culmination” with the split in responsibility for teaching and research into different departments in 2016, the report observes – with universities’ teaching funding the responsibility of the Department for Education and research funding now the responsibility of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

Initially, there was a universities and science minister straddling both departments, but there have been separate ministers for higher education and science since 2020, the report notes.

Ms Dandridge said: “In terms of the way forward, I think we need more discussion involving both the sector and government about the relationship between the two activities, and about the consequences of increasing separation. More specifically, bringing teaching and research into one government department, or at least having one minister responsible for both teaching and research, would assist in ensuring strategic coherence between the two activities at national level.”




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