Education and Research

A twitter discussion this morning with Ian Hopkinson (@smallcasserole) Rory Duncan (@HardyDuncan) and Mary Wombat (@little_mavis), led me to try to formulate what I think about the relationship between education and research. There is a very good case that these should not be required to be together. Any academic knows cases of researchers who did well and did teach even though they really should not have been unleashed on the students. Equally talented teachers, perhaps because they spend more than the minimum time working on their teaching, can often struggle with jobs or promotion. The government have also talked about some of this as a cost cutting measure. But…

[Edit 25/1/11: Another, interesting opinion from David Colquhoun (@david_colquhoun) on the need to separate the two, though I feel that this runs into the eliteism issues raised by Stephen Curry (@Stephen_Curry)]

Education subsidises Research

Universities in general receive more money to educate than do research. Yet in many departments the staff do more research than education. Of course things are muddied by the fact that the research will take over all remaining time! Education does not pay for time spent on research over the weekend. The research money given out, therefore, goes further as it does not have to pay the full cost of the researchers. Even if the teaching is bought out this will normally pay for someone to come in, or a teaching fellow position to cover the teacher at much less than the researchers salary.

[Edit 15/10/10: Apparently at Ediburgh income from research is now >40% I would be interested in other statistics that people have on this. Both the percentage of income and the percentage of staff time on research]

[Edit 25/1/11: A more informed version of this argument, and how higher fees might just go to research can from John Holmwood]

On the other hand…

Research subsidises Education

A big attraction for me of the academic career was the freedom and time available. I am lucky that I am a mathematician and so not having a research grant does not make research impossible. Most people completing a PhD have a wide variety of jobs available. Many of which pay a lot more than academic ones. The thrill of research, the freedom and the ability to be part of a vibrant international community all make up for the lack of cash. Take this away and it would be harder to attract the best into academic teaching. Is having a PhD too much? Firstly I think that the comment (of other jobs) would apply to anyone who you would want teaching at this high level. Secondly, although it is not necessary to be research active in order to teach a particular subject, being research capable (~having a PhD) could be. You need teachers who have seen beyond the limits of the material they are putting forward if they are to truly inspire with the ideas.

In conclusion, even if they are not logically combined, the historical situation that has linked teaching and research should be unpicked carefully!