KNAW: University teaching and research can’t do without one another

17 December 2018

The interwoven nature of teaching and research – the core of university education – is under pressure. That’s because of the keen competition in the research field, the fact that research enjoys higher status than teaching, the increasing number of students, and the workload of academic staff. These are the Academy’s findings in a position paper published today.

The strength of the university has long been the way it combines teaching and research. All students are taught about scientific method and about recent insights generated by research. As a result, they develop an enquiring and critical attitude. This is also valuable for graduates who take jobs outside the academic environment where they must be able to utilise the latest scientific information (“evidence-informed” work). Conversely, but to a lesser extent, university researchers also benefit from teaching about their recent research and getting students involved in it.

The following factors are putting pressure on the unified nature of teaching and research:

Competition

More than half of university research is financed from funds outside the university, and competition for funding is intense and time-consuming. Moreover, researchers are increasingly focusing on broad themes, which are distant from the discipline in which students are being trained. In the view of the Academy, grant applications should pay attention to the transfer from research to teaching. The basic principle must also continue to be that everyone – including researchers who are successful at attracting research funding – should make a contribution to teaching. Just how much they teach can vary per person and the stage of their career.

Higher status

The difference in perceived status between teaching and research has recently been the subject of wider discussion. Traditionally, the tasks of teaching and research have been combined in the positions of professor and lecturer/senior lecturer. But in practice, research achievement is far more important for their career development. The Academy advocates greater career differentiation. That requires indicators for measuring teaching performance and greater attention to the performance of research groups rather than individual researchers.

Student numbers

Student numbers are increasing and the state’s contribution per student is falling, whereas the number of university posts is growing less rapidly. This is leading to an increase in the proportion of academic staff with only teaching duties. From the point of view of the interwovenness of teaching and research, this is not desirable, but it is acceptable if lecturers are given the opportunity to become acquainted with the latest developments in research. The Academy welcomes the recent plans by the universities for further professionalisation of lecturers.

With its position paper Spagaat of duet – verwevenheid van onderwijs en onderzoek aan Nederlandse universiteiten [Doing the Splits or Dancing a Duet - Interwovenness of Teaching and Research at Dutch Universities], the Academy wishes to encourage discussion of how we can maintain that interwovenness in our university system in the long term. In any case, the Academy will be organising a number of discussion meetings about higher education in the course of the coming year.