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Why does the devil have all the good tunes? How researchers continue to put one over teachers in the HE promotion stakes

James Derounian

The Higher Education Academy (HEA, 2013) published research on Rebalancing promotion in the HE sector: is teaching excellence being rewarded? is appropriately authored by academics from ‘GENIE’ – a Centre of Excellence in Teaching & Learning. Appropriate, in the sense that their research well and truly lets the genie out of the bottle: In an age of £9,000 per head/year undergraduate tuition fees, it comes as no surprise to hear that encouraging staff “by rewarding and recognising teaching activities is central to obtaining an excellent student experience.” But read on, dear reader: 2009 evidence from the HEA showed – surprise – “that teaching and learning activities are often not recognised or rewarded in contrast to subject-specific research”.

The traditional, research-based elite will replicate itself through promotion panels.

The HEA research (2011) has good news……and bad: “Clear routes for promotion in relation to teaching and learning are increasingly evident across a range of institutions” (huzzah!)….”but their acceptance and implementation seems to be lacking. Effective recognition will require a change in the culture of institutions; and this will include mentoring of staff and management and support for the development of promotion panels.” In short – wasn’t it ever thus? And traditional, research-based elite will replicate itself through promotion panels.

But in 2015 I would argue that not only is this ossifying, backward looking, myopic pedestrianism of the lowest order; it actually runs counter to so many priorities, criteria and buzzwords of our time. Let’s start with the bottom line – the money. What is it that contributes in majority to university coffers? THE IMPACT OF UNIVERSITIES ON THE UK ECONOMY, from Universities UK, elevates teaching income 2011–12 over that from research: with tuition fees, education grants and contracts accounting for 35% of university income, whilst research generated just 16%. And from the United States (2014, page 3) FINANCES OF RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES, shows that even in such research-based institutions, tuition fees still made up 23% of total income.

The Russell Group Paper (2010) Staying on top: The challenge of sustaining world-class higher education in the UK, reinforces this message, in terms of income by source (2007–08): 20% came from tuition fees and the like; whilst research grants and contracts totalled 27% of Group income. And yet, the published message translates into the fact that the “existing system of higher education funding is failing to provide sufficient resources to sustain a cadre of world-leading research-intensive universities.” Research 1 v Teaching 0. In spite of the fact that “benefits derive from institutions excellent in both teaching and research” (2010, page 10). As Walter Mondale – a former Democratic Presidential nominee – observed, “where’s the beef?” Talk is cheap.

A 2011 HEA report highlights (& cites work by Altbach and Musselin 2008, p. 2) that without “a career structure that attracts quality, rewards productivity…universities will fail in their mission of high-quality teaching, innovative research”. To me this emphasis on “high-quality teaching” & “innovative research” cannot be faulted in principle.

But to mix metaphors the proof of the devil is in the pudding! In that researchers continue to put one over teachers in the HE promotion stakes. Talk about back to the future: According to a Government White Paper, The Future of Higher Education (from as far back as 2003), teaching has for too long been the Cinderella of higher education. “It has been seen by some institutions as an extra source of income to support the main business of research. This is a situation that cannot continue. Institutions must properly reward their best teaching staff….”

It’s biblical: red hot research without effective communication of this through teaching & communication; or teaching that is vacuous are as incomplete as eachother, in being a “reverberating gong or a clashing cymbal” (Bible, 1st Letter to the Corinthians). Time for a genuine sharing of good tunes across the academic community.



Altbach, P. G. and Musselin, C. (2008) The Worst Academic Careers – Worldwide. Inside Higher Education, 15 September

Cashmore, A., Cane, C. & Cane, R. (2013) Rebalancing Promotion in the HE Sector: is teaching excellence being rewarded?

Council on Governmental Relations (2014) FINANCES OF RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES

HEA (2009) Reward & Recognition of Teaching in Higher Education, Higher Education Academy

HEA (2011) Shifting academic careers: implications for enhancing professionalism in teaching and supported learning

Oxford, E. (2008) A lesser breed? Times Higher Education, 31 January

Russell Group Papers (2010) Staying on top: The challenge of sustaining world-class higher education in the UK, Issue 2