Balance between teaching and research essential to success of UK higher education but remains some way off, finds the British Academy

29 Jun 2022

A close and positive relationship between teaching and research will be essential to the success of the UK’s higher education (HE) sector but workload burdens and higher education policies have made it difficult for academics to do both well.

These are the findings of a new British Academy report, The Teaching-Research Nexus, which summarises the findings of a study into the nature and value of the relationship between teaching and research in the current higher education landscape.

Of the academics and students interviewed for the study, 94% agreed that there is a relationship between research and teaching. However, many believe that while the two activities can positively impact each other, several factors are straining the relationship and making the concept of an ‘ideal’ balance between teaching and research, a ‘nexus’, unrealistic.

These factors include workload burdens, higher education policies that place disproportionate emphasis on research assessment and the continuing trend towards monocultural contracts for either teaching or research – which particularly impacts early career researchers, women, and those academics from Black, Asian, or mixed ethnicity backgrounds.

The report explores several ideas for nurturing a closer and more positive relationship between teaching and research. For instance:

  • The Research Excellence Framework (REF), the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) could adopt a holistic approach in their reporting and criteria to better represent the benefits of excellent teaching and research for institutions, for students, and for society
  • Institutions could develop or clarify promotion systems and criteria to create greater parity between teaching and research. This could incentivise and reward academics for bringing research into their teaching or for letting teaching influence their research
  • Research funding bodies could consider making impact on teaching one of the key criteria in research grants, both at the application and reporting stages
  • Government and the Higher Education sector could take a broader, sector-wide approach to policy development, engaging with balanced and teaching-focused universities to provide a more realistic picture of the teaching-research nexus, rather than relying heavily on the views from research-focused institutions.

Professor Simon Swain FBA, the British Academy's Vice President for Research and Higher Education, said:

“A close positive relationship between teaching and research will be essential to the future sustainability of higher education and to realising the Government’s ambition of making the UK a ‘science and research superpower.’ It is possible to overcome entrenched positions about the separation and relative values of teaching and research in a way that allows students, academics, institutions, and the wider sector to thrive. If acted upon, the opportunities highlighted in this report could facilitate a relationship between teaching and research which more closely resembles a nexus; offering an example of good practice to the higher education sector globally.”

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