Divided perks of teaching and research

November 15, 1996

Your editorial highlighted the trend for rewards in both the private and public sector to become concentrated in the hands of a small number of individuals, while others enjoy no perks or even paid holidays.

As a part-time lecturer at the bottom of the university food chain, it is curious to observe the high esteem afforded the few who often do very little teaching. Fortunately many "fat cats" appear uninterested in having much contact with students and anecdotal evidence suggests that some of our best collectors of research data are not always gifted communicators.

The amusing if unkind article you published this summer headlined "Couldn't teach a dog to sit" highlighted the frustration of students receiving teaching that was not presented with the energy, enthusiasm and commitment they rightly deserve. This matters in a free market where the student is the customer and should be treated accordingly.

If universities are to compete in lucrative foreign markets and provide courses for business, the place to allocate resources is at the point of delivery. Where secure employment is linked to the achievement of a "research profile", it is understandable that lecturers will be tempted away from teaching.

It is odd that a normally cost-conscious Government would be willing to spend so much money tempting universities away from focusing on teaching. This is not a criticism of the universities since it is hardly surprising that these under-funded organisations will grab anyone who can attract a handout, A friendly colleague advised me that the way to a successful career in higher education today was to be robed with a long research record. Like the little boy in the fairy tale, dare I shout out that the emperor is naked?

My other job as a consultant provides useful insights into what people in organisations great and small are doing and thinking. This adds a practical dimension to lectures which is appreciated by the students.

Before a Government minister rubs her hands in glee at such value for money it is worth pointing out that the temporary contract market is a two-way street: standing in front of a group of business people presenting similar material pays more. It would be constructive if those who enjoy teaching had the same status as those concentrating on other aspects of university life. If a little money could be redistributed to reward competent staff for teaching and offer "perks", such as paid holidays, to part-timers, it might retain the interest and motivation of a large group of hard-working lecturers without the risk of a fat cat beginning to look lean or even naked.

Michael L. Nieto.

Management consultant and part-time lecturer at Westminster University and Roehampton Institute, London.

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