Balancing between attractions and repulsions: reflections on a workshop about research and teaching nexus

On 20 June 2018 a workshop was organised by FHERC and our partner, the Center for International Higher Education Studies. The aim of the workshop was to better understand the relationship between teaching and research. Conceptual and theoretical problems were raised and several practical issues were also touched upon in the presentations.

The academic literature of research and teaching nexus considers the two categories not as exclusive ones but rather as activities that are mutually support each other. A shared experience derived from the presentations is that integrating research and teaching in higher education is beneficial for all the stakeholders.

Students can gain new knowledge and skills (e.g. analytical skills, problem solving skills) through participating in the research process which increases their competitiveness. Research can also deepen their knowledge in a specific field, and students’ set of knowledge may become more focused.  Participation in research requires agency and ownership, so by practicing them students may become more independent in their learning processes too. Last but not least, research as a group exercise can foster personal relationships and bring university professors closer to their students. As the project from a Hungarian university presented in the workshop proved, self-organised research groups consisting of graduate, undergraduate and PhD students can provide students with experience that prepare them to choose research as a career later. In case students choose a different career from research, the practical knowledge gained through the research process can also be beneficial. They can learn, for instance, how the relevant institutions of their field operate. If higher education institutions are open to collaborate with external actors (businesses, civil society organisations) it can increase the universities’ embeddedness and help them to complete their third mission.

Research can not only benefit the students: empirical research proved that practising research and teaching simultaneously can have a positive impact on lecturers’ performance. It is important to note, however, that this positive relationship exists only if the research activity is not too intense and professors can still devote sufficient time to teach.  Being actively engaged in research will deepen professors’ expertise in a topic and staying connected to the research field will keep their knowledge updated. Research routine has the advantage too that it can help professors to train students to become the researchers of the future. Sadly, everyday reality is that conducting research and teaching simultaneously at a high level is a tough job. Professors are expected to find a balance between their tasks and roles and they often fail to maintain the balance between work and life.

How could it be avoided that the intense involvement in teaching should result in poorer research performance? How to make students value research more and become more involved in research?

If the integration of research and teaching can both serve students and professors needs, it is in the interest of higher education institutions to improve the relationship between the two activities. As it has been said in the workshop, maintaining the research teaching nexus is a political question too. Are our HEIs prepared to do the job and do they really understand the importance of integrating research and teaching? If they do, what tools are at their disposal to motivate actors?

Delivering knowledge on the nexus between research and teaching and the sharing of good practices may help institutions to realise the integrated approach. Therefore, our research centre is committed to participating and shaping the discourse on this topic.

by Fanni Bársony