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Research-teaching linkages

The 'Overview' document produced by the Research-Teaching Linkages Theme offered the following key findings, areas for development and key recommendations: 

Key findings

There is strong evidence of a wide range of examples of individual courses that have established effective ways of linking teaching and research to enhance graduate attributes. Such good practice is evident across the broad range of institutional types, is strong in final years of undergraduate study and to an extent is evident in the introductory years. See, for example, the Faculty of Health, Life and Social Sciences at Napier University, which runs a 60 credit research project module in the final year of the honours degrees in all biological sciences.

Such good practice is clearly attuned to the particular concerns of the disciplines, but is also capable of being adapted to other contexts. A report based on an interesting discussion of the variations between subjects that have a high 'science context' and those with a 'humanities context'.

The Engineering and the Built Environment report argues that:

 '…the literature does not show a natural link between research and good teaching - rather, it shows that the links need to be explicitly created'.

Source: Engineering and the Built Environment report

Disciplinary programmes are working hard to ensure that the student voice and experience is central to discussions and the development of policy in this area.

Areas for development

While there are wide-ranging innovative examples of practice and policy in all institutions, much of this is implicit and not systematically developed or supported. See, for example, the University of Aberdeen's college level staff survey.

While the evidence was strong of effective examples of practice at final-year level (for example, some form of research project), institutions, departments, and schools need to ensure that these research attributes are developed systematically through programmes in a structured manner from year one. An example, sequential nature of the development of graduate attributes is one programme where this method is used.

The challenges of enabling research from the start of a programme in traditionally sequential subjects, such as physics and chemistry and ways round them are discussed in the Physical Sciences publication.  This notion is taken further in the document by investigating what it actually means to be a 'scientist'. In that context, research is a sine qua non.  As it says, 'this 'research ethos' or mindset is at the very heart of what it means to 'do' science.' The report highlights further discussions and recommendations.

There is a sense that the issues were better understood and supported by staff heavily engaged in teaching, and not really understood or supported by those with a major focus on research.

Attention needs to be given to ensuring that students are aware of, and understand the importance of, research-based attributes for their future employability and success as lifelong learners. Course teams need to develop ways that support students' understanding of these attributes and their belief in how they can aid their future employment and involvement in civic life.

On courses that contain a number of disciplinary perspectives, course teams and institutions need to consider how to support students' understanding of the disciplinary research attributes delivered across a range of programmes (Jenkins, 2009).

Profession-based courses should build on the strong links with relevant professional bodies so as to support relevant employment-focused research attributes (see, for example, the University of Edinburgh' Master of Architecture programme, which are a central feature of all programmes; and where particular issues, for example ethics and research governance, 'threaten' the full realisation of research-teaching linkages, such barriers should be minimised.

It is worth examining the example of Health and Social Care where increasingly stringent ethics committees have all but eliminated primary data collection for students, even at honours level. Discussions have taken place within the health care and social academic communities about the need for a student research ethics committee which recognises the nature and focus of student projects in order to deal with ethical approval in a more timely and appropriate manner.

It is suggested that programme teams collectively need to lobby appropriate authorities more actively in order to facilitate the setting up of research ethics committees that only deal with student projects. Read more about the conclusion and recommendations of research-teaching and the current barriers to research-teaching linkages.

A slightly different perspective on the role of professional bodies can be found in the report by the Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine group. In Medicine at least, the professional body was helping to inject a research ethos by stipulating that core teaching should take up two-thirds of the time and one third on Student Selected Components where research thinking can feature prominently. This trend was not universal, however, as the students in dentistry and veterinary courses showed. For more details see curriculum level coverage of research-teaching links.

In Engineering and the Built Environment report it was argued that:

'There is an increasing awareness of the importance of linking research and curriculum from the professional bodies that accredit and support the courses and employers. This study suggests that since the development of graduate attributes associated with 'research' is comparable to the graduate competencies required for professional registration, both should be considered together.'

Source: Engineering and the Built Environment report

Where there are strong disciplinary 'high level' researchers or research groups operating in the academic environment, thought needs to be given as to how that research can be effectively integrated in undergraduate programmes from year one (see above in this section). (These 'areas for enhancement' are enlarged further and focused for the benefit of disciplinary course teams.

An extension of this is the issue identified by the Business, Management, Accountancy and Finance group, thus:

'It is, perhaps, this dual focus that positions business schools simultaneously in two lines of critical fire, the first claiming that business school research is 'too abstract and irrelevant to the needs of practising managers' identified by Ivory et al (2006, p 8), the second that its focus on applied approaches to issues in business and management practice reduces the competitive standing of business and management in particular, within formal research (for example, DfES, 2006, p 8 and CIHE, 2006, p 13).'

Source: Business Managing, Accountancy and Finance report

In the document produced by the Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science groups, a desire was expressed for more educational research to be carried out and applied to the teaching and learning environment. The document went on to argue that in some senses problem-based learning was a highly effective way of developing graduate attributes.  Read more about instilling graduate attributes using research-teaching linkages.

Key recommendations

Course teams, departments and schools should consider how to best develop explicitly a structured approach to developing research-type attributes across the curriculum.

Departmental and school policies should be developed to promote systematic linking of research and teaching throughout degree programmes.

Attention should be given to ensuring that the final-year's focus on research based attributes is effectively underpinned by structured interventions from year one.

Particular attention needs to be given to year-one courses that support student introduction to disciplinary and professional communities of practice and develop students' 'research mindedness'. Upon graduation (and before), students need to be able to apply this 'research mindedness' to employment and their wider roles in society.

There is the potential, and indeed the need, to progress this agenda through the use of assessment regimes that help students in developing and articulating these research- based graduate attributes. These assessments need to be recorded in ways that support graduate employability and make more transparent to employers the research knowledge and skills students have developed in higher education.

The Scottish Government and Universities Scotland should consider developing policy to better ensure that funded research is fed into the undergraduate curriculum in a demonstrable manner, thus supporting enhanced learning for students in higher education and promoting knowledge-exchange to key stakeholders. (Edited extract from Research-Teaching Linkages overview.

In two review document written for the G21C Enhancement Theme entitled Maintaining research-mindedness in Scotland's universities in a time of sector-wide change and What is topical/emergent in Research-Teaching Linkages? Vicky Gunn confirmed that the original work undertaken for the Research-Teaching Enhancement Theme still stands.

A key lesson from that Theme is that enhancement works very effectively when done through the disciplines, though there can be a tension as students may value research mindedness in teaching staff on the one hand, but may also resent it if they perceive a loss of personal attention as a result.

Gunn argues that linkages are best formed bottom up rather than being imposed from above. Such an approach inevitably results in diversity - even within institutions - but such diversity is part of the Scottish HE culture and part of its strength.

The paper explores this diversity in more depth. It makes the point that where students have a wide range of options within a programme, mapping the student pathway through a whole degree in terms of their research attributes becomes an enhancement imperative. Without such a comprehensive mapping, the sense of disciplinary and interdisciplinary coherence, as well as progressively becoming research-minded, is difficult to achieve. The paper suggests ways such mapping might be achieved.

Another challenging area is that of partnership working, which is 'hard' but necessary. The challenges are detailed on page 1 of the paper What is topical/emergent in Research-Teaching Linkages? but it also offers a map for considering how to build partnerships to work on the integration of Enhancement Themes on page 2.

Gunn argues that civic / community engagement as a way for students to learn and engage in both knowledge transfer and what is termed 'knowledge mobilisation' with respect to their development as researchers. These relationships with a given university's wider environment (be that on a local or an international scale) also expose the students involved to work-related learning.

Furthermore, the external organisation can themselves become part producers of new knowledge, and the students can respond to the perceived need for Scottish graduates to be able to resolve a range of unforeseen as well as foreseen futures. That said, she offers some warnings about, as well as plus points to the internationalisation of the research-teaching nexus, and suggests that it too is dependent on partnership working with all the advantages and challenges that that brings.

Gunn analyses the changing nature of the research environment, which, she argues, relates to a refocusing of teaching away from research as content to research as offering, through its processes, an effective environment in which students can develop a range of attributes. She suggests two areas that are having and will continue to have an impact: one, that of global and disciplinary dilemmas on what we teach and the second, that of technology on how, where and when we teach.

Also see Vicky Gunn's presentation entitled Enhancing undergraduate learning through the development of research-teaching linkages.

Ideas concerning research for the 21st century can be found in a presentation by Ian Diamond entitled Graduates for the 21st Century - Perspective from Research.

For an interesting perspective on the role of universities as a community, see the presentation given by Pall Skulason The Ideal of Humanization and the Role of Universities.