Students at research-intensive business schools receive about 75 per cent of the academic attention enjoyed by their peers at teaching-focused colleges, a new study suggests.
The research, thought to be the first of its type, analysed how much staff time was expended teaching students and producing journal papers at 465 US institutions endorsed by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Co-author Keith Houghton said that universities were expected to “create knowledge as well as distribute it”, but they needed to determine the optimal mix of these activities.
“It’s a question of structuring organisational units to get the best outcome for the taxpayer or student dollar,” said Professor Houghton, a former Australian National University business dean, now chief academic strategist with the Higher Education and Research Group, an Australian firm.
The findings, to be presented at the American Accounting Association conference in August, illustrate the different emphases at institutions with different missions. Under AACSB rules, institutions nominate their primary purpose as research, teaching or an equal measure of both.
The study found that research-focused schools invested an average of 1.6 per cent of an academic staff member’s time on each undergraduate, compared with 2.1 per cent at education-focused schools. Master’s students consumed 3.6 per cent of academics’ time at research-intensive institutions and 4.6 per cent at teaching-focused colleges.
And 20.5 per cent of a faculty member’s time was expended teaching a PhD student at research-intensive schools, the only institutional category with enough doctoral students to enable a valid analysis.
Professor Houghton said that some students chose universities on brand name while others wanted “the best possible education”. While there was “a market for both”, students incurring steep fees at big-name business schools were likely to be paying extra to bankroll high salaries or to cross-subsidise research in other disciplines, rather than to support better learning experiences.
“At a teaching-only university, a phenomenon we don’t particularly have in Australia, you might get more time from your professor than you would in research-intensive institutions,” he said. “As more is demanded from taxpayer dollars, the whole notion of specialisation needs to be considered.”
Co-author Nancy Bagranoff said US-style “striation” worked well for students and academics alike. “There are faculty who are less skilled at research but very good educators,” said Professor Bagranoff, dean of the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
“In my university you would have 20 students in a classroom with a great teacher-scholar. At many research universities in the US and Australia they are more likely to be taught by a doctoral student rather than a tenured faculty member, in lecture halls with 400 students.”
The study also found that, on average, institutions expended between 1.4 and 1.9 person-years per author to publish an article in one of the 24 most prestigious business research journals, making such research a costly endeavour. Professor Bagranoff said that producing peer-reviewed papers was expensive in US business faculties, which attracted little research funding, particularly at teaching-focused institutions lacking doctoral students to help support research efforts.
She said that most business school academics were involved in scholarly activities, but not necessarily basic research published in journals. Case studies, for example, had “a lot of value” in business research.
Professor Houghton said that the findings suggested that universities should be allowed to “trade to their comparative advantage”.
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