Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Teaching-Research Nexus Does Not Exist

A quick skim would suggest the Australian Productivity Commission's review "Shifting the Dial" (2017), into the Australian economy, has much to say about vocational education, but not much on universities. However, buried down under a bland sounding recommendation (3.4) that consumer law apply to universities is "The teaching-research nexus".

The teaching-research nexus

The commission notes that:
"Part of the rationale for universities undertaking both research and teaching functions is the ‘teaching‐research nexus’ — the theory that close proximity to world‐class researchers makes students more engaged, develops their critical thinking, aids their research skills and keeps them up to date with the latest research findings."
This was part of the reasoning behind the late 1980s Dawkins reforms, merging the colleges of advanced education with universities. As the Commission point out, there is a lack of evidence that research helps with teaching and the opposite is the case: research being detrimental to education.

The Commission stops short of recommending action, but observes "There is no compelling policy rationale for requiring high‐quality providers to conduct research in
order to be able to label themselves as a ‘university’." This may be correct in a very narrow technical point of view, but I suggest shows a lack of understanding of today's global education marketplace.

Australian universities are a major export industry. This industry attracts international students, partly based on the research reputation of the universities, as measured by international ranking systems. These ranking systems have little, if anything, to do with the quality of the education provided by the universities. However, students and their parents use these rankings to select universities and employers judge the quality of students partly based on these rankings. Australian universities are understandably reluctant to do anything which will jeopardize their research rankings.

As it is, Australia has some universities with a research focus and some education. The Australian Government has encouraged universities to pair up to learn from each other, an example is the Digital Future project undertaken by USQ, ANU and UniSA, under the Collaborative Research Networks (CRN) program (Murphy & Farley,  2012).

Rather than suggest teaching-only universities, or the reintroduction of pre-Dawkins colleges of advanced education, the Commission suggests work relevant "... skills and attributes can be nurtured by high-quality teaching-only academics as well...". However, I suggest teaching-only academics will not necessarily improve the quality of education, what is needed are academics with teaching skills and attributes. Academics who spend part of their time as a researcher can still make excellent teachers, but they need to be trained in how to teach. We can teach academics to teach quickly and efficiently on-line.

 ACS  Certified Professional and Technologist, plus Cybersecurity Specialism
One simple way to improve the quality of teaching at Australian universities, I suggest, would be to encourage (or require), academics who teach to be qualified to teach. This could begin with a qualification at the level of a vocational education teacher: a certificate  (graduate certificate). Specific disciplines may have their own forms of certification, such as the Australian Computer Society's Certified Professional, which could have a teaching specialism added (as Cybersecurity was recently).

I will be discussing this at  the EdTechPosium 2017
educational technology conference, UNSW Canberra on Monday.


Murphy, A., & Farley, H. (2012). Development of a framework for evaluating the impact and sustainability of mobile learning initiatives in higher education. In Proceedings ASCILITE 2012: 29th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education: Future Challenges, Sustainable Futures. Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE). URL

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