Top researchers don’t make better teachers, study finds

Dutch study finds students do not get better grades if they are taught by leading scholars

June 2, 2018
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Having “good” researchers teach undergraduate students does not improve their grades, according to a study.

The paper, produced by academics in the Netherlands and published in the Economics of Education Review, also found that students rated highly cited researchers as poor teachers.

The researchers analysed the grades and teacher evaluations of thousands of students from the University of Maastricht’s School of Business and Economics, where students are randomly allocated teachers on a particular course but are given the same exam at the end. The study then measured the research quality of teachers by their publication records.

It found that having teachers with a large number of publications or articles in highly respected journals did not result in students getting better grades or in those teachers getting high ratings.

The only exception was that master’s students were found to get better grades when they were taught by teachers with high-quality publications, although the study found that the master’s students did not in turn rate them as good teachers.

Overall, bachelor’s students gave lower than average scores to the teachers with strong publication records, the report says.

The findings will lend weight to criticisms of proposals from the UK's Department for Education to use the seniority of academics involved in teaching as a measure of quality in the next iteration of the country's teaching excellence framework.

Roel van Elk from the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, one of the report’s authors, told Times Higher Education that they had been unable to find a link between high-quality researchers and good-quality teaching, particularly at undergraduate level.

Addressing the relationship between the research quality of academics and their teaching performance is important because it can help universities distribute resources more efficiently, he said. For example, if leading researchers are asked to do teaching, it may be better to allocate them to master’s courses.

Dr van Elk said that it made sense that master’s students would get better results from high-quality researchers who are experts in their subject “as master’s courses are more specialised in the interest areas of teachers and taken by fairly motivated students, whereas undergraduate courses are more generalised”.

He added that the fact that master’s students achieved better grades with highly cited researchers but did not rate them well demonstrates “that the two measures – grades and student evaluation – don’t capture the same thing”.

It shows that students value teachers on aspects other than grades, such as how well they liked their personality, he said, and therefore both measures are useful when it comes to rating teaching quality.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Students regard top researchers as poor teachers, study finds

Reader's comments (1)

So much potential endogeneity. Are student expectations related to their place of study? Do highly cited academics mark more severely?

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