Teaching-research link valuable

December 11, 1998

In arguing for splitting research from the assessment and funding of teaching in all post-compulsory education, your editorial is taking us further along the path of reinventing the binary divide ("Paying parents take up the fight for better teaching", THES, December 4).

Although you cited our recent study at Oxford Brookes as evidence that students have an ambivalent attitude to research by academic staff, our project actually concluded that the teaching-research link was a valuable one. We found direct and indirect benefits for students, although the link needs to be properly managed if the right balance is to be achieved.

National policy for research and teaching should be seeking to achieve this balance across the sector. There may be a case for highly concentrated research funding in some special areas, but for many other areas the benefits of selectivity beyond a certain threshold (such as a 3b?) are unclear and the disadvantages increasingly apparent.

Universities are special places because they combine research and teaching. We should not opt out of getting this synergy right when a crucial benefit is to generations of students. One thing we found from using focus groups is that it is necessary to get beyond simple teaching-versus-research arguments and to get to grips with the complexity of universities and what they stand for. The problem with the performance management approaches we have is that they tend to be reductionist, driven by vested interests and not led by values.

Given that accountability and transparency is now rightly expected in all public services, the answer may simply be to require evidence in the research assessment exercise about how research contributes to teaching and learning, and evidence in teaching quality assessments about how teaching contributes to research. Beyond a certain threshold of acceptable quality in teaching and research, there is little rationale for steep differences in funding as the norm.

Tim Blackman Deputy head, school of social sciences and law Oxford Brookes University

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