Linking teaching & research

King's / Globe Theatre Text & Playhouse MA - A Case Study

King's / Globe Theatre Text & Playhouse MA - A Case Study

“This programme presents a tremendous example of the interplay of teaching and research both for students and for established scholars.”

Introduction

The relationship between research and teaching is a complex one, and one that the English Subject Centre takes very seriously. While the relationship might seem a matter of the merest common sense to most colleagues in the subject, there are urgent contemporary pressures – not least the increasing concentration of research funding in fewer universities – which require us as a subject community to spell out what amount to a set of values, and to articulate the consequences that follow.

Entering into a process of dialogue, either student or researcher engages with a perspective different from their own. By entering into interaction with ideas … new perspectives, which are neither the one held already, nor the one the other person or text held, new understandings are created [sic]. There is, in this conception, a very real link between the process of research and the process of learning. (Quoted in Angela Brew, ‘Research and Teaching: changing relationships in a changing context’ Studies in Higher Education 24.3 [1999])

Teaching fed by knowledge

The view taken of a University in these Discourses is as follows: – That it is a place of teaching universal knowledge …. This implies that its object is … the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than its advancement. If the object were scientific or philosophical discovery, I do not see why a University should have students …. (John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated… 1852)

A widely shared understanding across the English spectrum might be put like this: whatever writers from Cardinal Newman to Graham Gibbs might think, you cannot actually prise apart research and teaching. Scholarly activity, and creative, critical or analytical writing are the oxygen which subject specialists breathe. Their teaching (and their ideas about learning) will be informed by this context. Their teaching is fed by knowledge which is constantly refreshed. In turn, their understanding of how knowledge is generated derives from active participation in the process. Their experience of writing and re-writing (even the experience of rejection or critical review) underpins their empathy with students doing a version of the same thing. How does this position fare in the contemporary world?

Response to the White Paper

“For 35 years, there has been a sense of drift on the definition of a university. We need to identify much more clearly the great research universities, the outstanding teaching universities, and those that make a dynamic, dramatic contribution to their regional and local economies. The funding system flows from the conclusions”.
(Charles Clarke quoted in THES 6 December 2002)

When the White Paper The Future of Higher Education was published in January 2003 many people in universities saw in it a propensity to drive even further apart research-led from teaching-led universities. A powerful critique of this aspect of the White Paper and the commentary from the DfES that followed was that the model of research adopted was one based on the funding needs of ‘Big Science’ rather than those either of the Humanities, or for that matter R&D with local communities and economies.

“By restricting research to an elite, you will sever the umbilical cord through which research nourishes and sustains teaching in all our universities …. Your proposals would condemn thousands of students to a dumbed-down educational experience, based on secondhand knowledge in a second-tier sector of teaching institutions relying on hand-me-down learning from a closed shop of wealthy research universities”. (Bernard King, Principal of the University of Abertay, open letter to Charles Clarke, THES 13 December 2002)

The underlying assumption was that UK HE needed to be made competitive in a global knowledge marketplace, and that therefore research concentration in a few major institutions would be the model for the future.

Humanities people among others argued that such concentration – at least as far as their subjects were concerned – would be disastrous; that while there is an obvious advantage to having the Bodleian Library on your doorstep, significant research can nevertheless be undertaken in small communities lacking massively capitalised resource; and that research concentration would lead to a drying up of the reservoirs of new researchers and new talent. There was in fact a democratic, ‘widening participation’ dimension to the debate on research which the ‘global marketplace’ argument overlooked.

Research Concentration

It remains to be seen whether the future that the critics feared will come about. The signs are that – within the English subject group anyway – the drive to concentration may not be quite as fierce as many people feared in the immediate aftermath of the White Paper. Nevertheless, the pressures of the RAE and subsequently the REF, and above all the interpretation of research assessment frameworks by institutional managements, together with pressures towards concentration of research training seem to be leading towards the consolidation of a league of ‘big players’.

A Contradictory Situation

Should we enable more of the best researchers to focus on research, and develop a more professional teaching force for Universities, specialising in teaching? Will pressure for such distinctions grow if universities spend more on hiring top researchers?(DfES Issues for Higher Education November 2002)

From the point of view of the English Subject Centre this leads to a somewhat contradictory situation. Academics in English would presumably not wish to complain about their subject achieving the resources to pursue the finest scholarship. Such resources are likely to be concentrated in those institutions that have the critical mass (of colleagues, of research students, of library and archival resource) to sustain serious programmes of research. Yet in this competitive situation we need as a community to hold in view the reciprocal. That is, that as more universities position themselves as ‘teaching-led’, there will be a growing number of colleagues whose situation (rising SSRs, urgent institutional imperatives, lack of access to AHRC or any other source of sabbatical leave, lack of support for conference attendance) militates against having the time or energy to do the very research on which we collectively believe our subject teaching to be based.

Many colleagues are already experiencing a downward spiral of lack of research funding, rising student numbers, and the drying up of such postgraduate admissions as they once had. Yet such colleagues will want to go on reading and debating their subject. That is what humanities academics do, though of course they largely do it in ‘their own’ time.