Iron out waffle over research 1

July 25, 2003

If there were a prize for pompous waffle, it would surely be awarded to the debate on "the iron link between the quality of teaching and research".

It is not even much of a debate because every university contributor and Barry Sheerman, chairman of the education and skills select committee, knows that this link has been tried and tested ("MPs savage white paper proposals", THES, July 11). Unfortunately, I'm not aware of it, nor are my half million colleagues teaching quite competently in schools. So why not let us into the secret? How does studying the love life of the earthworm make you a brilliant communicator and motivator?

Let's start by defining teaching and research because it helps shallow minds like mine understand the case. If by "research" you mean "thinking about what we are doing and how we are doing it", I know lots of quite ordinary people who do that - for free. If you are thinking of the support for research-degree students, then perhaps education secretary Charles Clarke has a case. If your affection is for "basic research", there's a lot of it about - even outside those universities that teach brilliantly.

Of course, you may have in mind "research into the effectiveness of your teaching". I can see the possibility of some correlation between this and teaching performance. But is there much research of this kind, and does it rate with those who are required to teach undergraduates?

In the search for enlightenment, I am willing to sacrifice both slogans and platitudes.

Bryan Sutton

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