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Research-teaching relations: general


The Overview document of the Research-Teaching Theme provided some background to the relationship between the roles of staff as researchers and as teachers. A UK government White Paper published in 2003, The future of higher education, argued for a concentration of research in universities that could compete at international level, while others would become 'teaching-only' universities. The overview suggested that the government's position was a misreading of the international research evidence on research-teaching relations. Certainly the government has since moved away from that perspective to, in effect, both value the graduate attributes that student involvement in research-based teaching can develop (see the bullet point, below), and to point to the importance of the curriculum in realising those attributes (Rammell, 2006). In England, evidence of this change of heart is provided by the work of the Higher Education Funding Council two major initiatives directly relevant to this agenda. In 2006, £40 million was allocated over three years to fund 'research-informed teaching' (RIT), allocated in inverse proportion to an institution's research funding. Institutions could, in negotiation with HEFCE, spend that money on:

  • keeping the curriculum up-to-date and active, effectively supported by appropriate learning resources linked to recent research
  • enabling staff to engage with developments in their field and link to developments in their teaching
  • ensuring that courses are designed in ways that support the development of learning outcomes appropriate to the knowledge economy, including appropriate pedagogy - that is, students experiencing research and developing research skills
  • embedding research-informed teaching in institutional structures, including human resources strategies and quality assurance processes.

In addition, of the 74 Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs), five are focused on enquiry and research-based learning. Each CETL received up to £2.35 million capital and £0.5 million recurrent expenditure per year for five years. Edited from the Research-Teaching Linkages overview booklet where further details of the work of the CETLs can be found.

In Volume 1 of the sector-wide discussion booklet, the focus was on taught programmes and how, at institutional and programme level, links between research strategies, activities, outputs and processes could support student learning and enable the development of key research-oriented graduate attributes.

At undergraduate level potential illustrations of such attributes included:

  • critical understanding
  • awareness of the provisional nature of knowledge
  • how knowledge is created, advanced and renewed
  • an ability to analyse problems and issues, and to formulate, evaluate and apply evidence-based solutions and arguments
  • an ability to apply a systematic and critical assessment of complex problems and issues
  • an ability to appropriately deploy techniques of analysis and enquiry
  • familiarity with advanced techniques and skills
  • inventiveness and creativity in formulating, evaluating and applying evidence-based solutions and arguments
  • an understanding of the need for a high level of ethical, social, cultural, environmental and wider professional conduct

At master's level the illustrative list of desirable attributes included:

  • conceptual understanding that enables critical evaluation of current research and
  • advanced scholarship
  • originality in the application of knowledge
  • the ability to deal with complex issues and make sound judgement in the absence of complete data

Modified source:  Reserach-Teaching Linkages Sector-Wide volume 1 booklet 

This list includes possible master's level attributes and the characteristics employees must display if they are to be effective members of the 'knowledge economy'.  In comparison, a list of international/intercultural competences is provided and the contrasting ways in which the Scottish HE sector has responded to the idea of graduate competences and attributes are discussed.

The overview booklet indicates an extensive international literature on research- teaching relations (for example, Jenkins, 2004, Brew, 2006, Trowler and Wareham, 2007). In brief, that research points to:

  • the complexity of teaching research relations, including how they vary by discipline and institutional type;
  • the conflict for academic staff between teaching and research time, and the degree to which institutions reward these activities and their potential linkages;
  • a view often expressed by students that too often the (undergraduate) student experience is of being 'at arm's length' (Brew, 2006) from the worlds of university research;
  • the need for explicitly planned research-teaching linkages that are supported at course team, departmental, institutional and national levels - as through the work on this Enhancement Theme.

Further information and in depth analysis of the issues raised by linking teaching and research in departments and possible strategies for developing policies and practices.

To progress research-teaching linkages, course teams, disciplinary communities and institutions need a 'language' or framework from which to investigate and enhance current practice. The Sector-Wide document (volume 1), identified what the authors termed the 'Seven Dimensions of Readiness which might assist the effective furthering of research-teaching linkages. These were identified as:

  • Procedural/structural  - The structural mechanisms, such as course approval procedures, that are in place to encourage and monitor research-teaching linkages.
  • Contractual/reward mechanisms - The incentives or reward structures that are in place to encourage staff to become involved in developing research-teaching linkages.
  • New policies/strategies - The institutional policies and strategies that are in place to drive the development and embedding of research-teaching linkages.
  • Engagement - How is the HEI drawing attention to, and encouraging staff and student engagement with, research-teaching linkages and their assessment.
  • Organisational direction - To what extent research teaching-linkages go with the current 'direction of travel' of the institution, in terms of its vision, plans and aspirations.
  • Enhancing graduate attributes - Whether the HEI is developing policies and strategies for the development (and assessment) of graduate attributes distinctive to the HEI, and the degree to which there are potential synergies with the development of research-teaching linkages.
  • Disciplinary Cultures - The extent to which disciplinary cultures within the HEI might foster or inhibit the development of effective research-teaching linkages.

These seven dimensions were used as part of an audit tool to help institutions gain some understanding of their level of readiness in terms of awareness and capacity to embed research-teaching linkages within the curricula.

In volume 1 of the Sector-wide discussion document, a number of challenges were identified. These were:

  • Diversity of interpretation of 'research';
  • Understanding the role research plays in learning and teaching;
  • The 'oxygen' issue - staff attitudes to graduate attributes;
  • The 'silo' problem;
  • Rewarding levels of engagement by staff;
  • Recognising the accumulative progression of attribute development from level 7 to level 10 (years 1 to 4);
  • Dilemmas of leadership;
  • Imperative fatigue;
  • Evaluation and assessment; Resourcing;
  • Staff development;
  • Research capacity building.

Krause (2007) warns against the dangers of polarisation between research and teaching. She argues for the need to acknowledge emerging conceptions of knowledge transfer, 'third stream' activities and notions of 'public scholarship'. This is in keeping with the influential work on changing modes of research, including a contemporary shift to publicly commissioned, team-based, applied and shorter duration 'mode 2' research by Gibbons et al (1994). In contrast, the concept of 'public scholarship' has received less debate in the UK. Krause refers to public scholarship as occurring when universities engage 'in reciprocally beneficial ways with communities at local, national and international level' (p 5).

It is more commonly discussed in the USA where it has grown out of 'service learning' and is related to Boyer's concept of the 'scholarship of engagement' (Boyer 1990). Krause's paper, as well as her project website for this area of enquiry (Krause 2008), emphasises the need to recognise the wide range of activities in which many academics, and their students, are engaged in the twenty-first century.

"If knowledge transfer is to become embedded in national and institutional policy, then there is an imperative to ensure that the theory and practices associated with knowledge transfer and third-stream activities promote, rather than impede, the integration of teaching, research and scholarship in higher education".

Modified source: Research-Teaching Linkages Sector-Wide Volume I booklet

The vexed issue of carrying out meaningful research at undergraduate level in 'cumulative' subjects like pure mathematics and pure computer science is addressed head on by Professor Chris Budd of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Bath is quoted. It was entitled 'Whoever tells you that teaching and research don't go together is talking rubbish'.  In the same document Research-Teaching Linkages - Information and mathematical science, key findings and recommendations were made. Those these were formed as a result of a study into Information and Mathematical Science, they have a wider relevance.  

Drawing on the research evidence, Griffiths (2004) and Healey (2005) have developed the widely used frameworks outlined below to describe categories of the research- teaching nexus.

Research-led: 

  • The curriculum is structured around subject content.
  • The content selected is directly based on the specialist research interests of teaching staff.
  • Teaching is based on a traditional 'information transmission' model.
  • The emphasis is on understanding research findings rather than research processes.
  • Little attempt is made to capture the two-way benefits of the research-teaching relationship.

Research-oriented curriculum:

  • The curriculum places emphasis as much on understanding the processes by which knowledge is produced in the field as on learning the codified knowledge that has been achieved.
  • Careful attention is given to the teaching of inquiry skills and on acquiring a 'research ethos'.
  • The research experiences of teaching staff are brought to bear in a more diffuse way.

Research-tutored curriculum:

  • Emphasises learning focused on students' writing and discussing papers or essays supported by academic staff drawing consciously on systematic inquiry into the teaching and learning process itself.

Research-based curriculum:

  • The curriculum is largely designed around inquiry-based activities, rather than on the
  • acquisition of subject content.
  • The experiences of staff in processes of inquiry are highly integrated into the student learning activities.
  • The division of roles between teacher and student is minimized; the scope for two-way interactions between research and teaching is deliberately exploited.

Modified source:  Research-Teaching Linkages Sector-Wide volume I and Reseach-Teaching Linkages Overview

These are ideal types - much teaching and course design may combine these different perspectives. But they provide a framework to consider how course teams, disciplinary communities and institutions in Scotland are shaping and enhancing research-teaching relations. In particular they can be combined with research content, research processes and problems, student-focused or teacher-focused approaches to provide a link as described in the following diagram:

curriculum design

Figure 1: curriculum design and the research-teaching nexus. Source: Healey (2005, p 70)

Though this diagram may appear to provide clear guidance it is not without controversy itself, particularly the terminology, which is considered confusing by some and the distinctions between the different types, artificial. For a more detailed examination of these criticisms see the Engineering and the Built Environment booklet.