Friday 25 October 2013

Research and teaching balance – what universities are all about

Financial considerations
Recently the government announced that there should be more teaching in universities and less research. Yet because of cuts in funding, universities have had to make redundancies and in order to deliver any sort of meaningful programme, staff have had to take on extra teaching, leaving little time for any research.
My research is my writing. It is becoming more of a struggle to find the time, the energy and the brain-space to fit that in. We’re not quite at the stage of “those who can’t, teach” but we’re heading that way. Some very strict self-discipline and a bit of bloody-mindedness on my part are keeping the ball in the air but there is little if any leeway left.
A simple sum
I’m reasonably typical of an averagely paid lecturer. The amount of money I bring into the university – multiply the number of students a year by the what they’re paying in fees and divide by six, as they all study on six modules a year and you get almost twice my salary after you’ve taken off 60% to go to central services – the library, estates, buildings etc. I have a significant admin role – the paperwork for which drives me nuts but the interaction with student and colleagues it also demands delights me. That means I have a little less contact time in the classroom than some of my colleagues though I spend much of the working day interacting with students and colleagues. That absorbs some of the surplus. It’s harder to get enormous grants if you’re in creative writing, but we certainly attract plenty of students.     
When is a university not a university?
When it becomes a training college. The whole point of a university is that it spreads the new knowledge through tis teaching and finds new information all the time through its research.  Consequently, the course I teach, for example, on Children’s Literature, will vary from year to year, and from similar-looking courses at other institutions as I find out more. There is no HE National Curriculum and neither should there be. Universities, wherever they are in the hierarchy, are in the business of adding to the knowledge and skills bank.
I can’t help thinking that those in the government who make these remarks have somehow lost sight of what universities are all about.       

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