Research 'time bomb' is a threat to teaching

February 25, 2000

Britain's universities need to examine the impact research has on teaching standards now that students have become consumers, a group of leading academics and policy-makers has urged.

The issue was described as a "time bomb" by Roger Brown, principal of the Southampton Institute, organiser of last month's seminar in association with the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

It is hoped that any outcomes will be incorporated into Hefce's fundamental review of research funding and policy.

"People have started to realise that research can damage teaching quality and that this

problem has to be tackled. The seminar also recognised that because there is not enough strong evidence to show that teaching and research complement each other, more work needs to be done," said Dr Brown.

"Now that the balance of power has shifted to the student, institutions need to look at what they want. Most students come to university today to get a degree to get a job, not to carry out academic research and the agenda has to shift accordingly. How do they know that Dr X's research will benefit them?" he added.

Dr Brown said he hoped the discussions would prompt a radical rethink of funding and policy strategies. "The general view is that universities can't go on competing with others for every research initiative. We need to unpack the research agenda and find ways to get policy-makers to pay attention to teaching."

David Pilsbury, head of research policy at Hefce, said the seminar had been useful as a listening exercise. "We are trying to look at the role research has in improving teaching and how teaching can facilitate people's research ideas," he said.

More than 30 people participated in the seminar, including members of a teaching and research group that was set up by Dr Brown a year ago to highlight the problems with the teaching and research relationship.

A full report of the meeting will be published later this spring.

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