Time bomb with a longer fuse

March 3, 2000

The article "Research 'time bomb' is a threat to teaching" (THES, February 25) argued that consumer students want a degree to do a job, not to do academic research. But for many of us, there is a strong connection between research and teaching, only it is not as direct as expecting learning outcomes to correspond to lecturers' research results.

This naive view ignores crucial connections between teaching and research. If the purpose of teaching is to convey information, there has been no need to teach students ever since the book was invented. However, the purpose is to convey information and so enthuse students that they teach themselves and become critical thinkers and doers. They might even become lifelong learners.

If we did not do research, we would not need to think and we would certainly not need to think deeply. In particular, we would not know if we were fooling ourselves and our students. That is one reason for research: to be part of a community that hones our thinking. Without research, what standards would we have? How would we know, say, that we were out of date?

If research is disconnected from teaching, then enthusiasm is disconnected. It is no wonder there are reports of dismal job satisfaction among university teachers ("Stark warning of staff crisis", February 25). For staff no longer need enthusiasm to do the job as defined by people who do not know what that job is. Research provides excitement, communicating that excitement is a powerful reason for putting up with the rest of the job. Soon teachers will be replaced by computers and universities will deliver e-courses that require no personal involvement. There is no need for universities if all students want is jobs.

In a world attracted by distance learning, we should not forget that it can work both ways. When quality falls, when teachers become bored with their subjects and start to convey to students the imposed triviality of their timetabled lives, students will turn to international suppliers.

Harold Thimbleby Department of computer science Middlesex University.

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