Russell Group chair: teaching is 'raison d'être' of universities

Sir Anton Muscatelli says that education, not research, is the main way in which higher education institutions can have a positive impact on society

October 24, 2017

Teaching – rather than research – is the "main raison d'être" for universities, according to the new chair of the Russell Group.

Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said that he believed it is through high-quality teaching that institutions can best make a positive impact on society, and said that Glasgow has endeavoured to ensure that student experience is not considered secondary to research performance.

"I strongly believe being a research intensive [university] and actually being excellent at teaching is something which is symbiotic," Sir Anton told Times Higher Education. "Sometimes there's an impression out there that research intensive universities spend rather more time to think about the research context rather than the student context. We don't believe that, and Glasgow is not like that."

Sir Anton was speaking ahead of next year's inaugural THE Teaching Excellence Summit, which will be hosted by Glasgow. Hosting the summit, Sir Anton said, is an "important way" to emphasise the vital role of university teaching. 

"Universities have huge impact through various channels for the public good, and of course research is important," he continued. "But actually, the major channel whereby we impact on society is through our students, through the skills they gain but also through the other qualities which go beyond their subject matter."

Among the other qualities he pointed to to are critical thinking, and an ability to understand how students will impact on society. "From my point of view, the reason why we need to focus on teaching is that it's...our main raison d'être. It's the reason why we impact so greatly on society."

Sir Anton also hopes the summit, taking place in July next year, will allow his university to showcase its drive for teaching excellence. "I do think Glasgow is unique among the Russell Group of universities in the UK in terms of having this fantastic student experience, as well as being a great research intensive [university]," he said.

Video: interview with Sir Anton Muscatelli

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