Re­search-led teach­ing is the ul­ti­mate in im­pact, say Vince Mitchell and Wil­liam Har­vey

Uni­ver­si­ties should fo­cus on their teach­ing mis­sion to make an im­pact, say Vince Mitchell and Wil­liam Har­vey

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Vince Mitchell is pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney Busi­ness School, and Wil­liam Har­vey is as­so­ciate dean (re­search and im­pact) at the Univer­sity of Ex­eter Busi­ness School. Their ar­ti­cle, “How prefer­able and pos­si­ble is man­age­ment re­searc

This year’s launch of Aus­tralia’s first na­tional “en­gage­ment and im­pact” as­sess­ment ex­er­cise (EI) is a re­minder that aca­demics are un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to do re­search that is seen to ben­e­fit so­ci­ety in some way.

The US, too, is ex­plor­ing ways of analysing the in­puts, out­puts and out­comes from gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment in re­search, via its STAR met­rics pro­gramme. And, of course, the in­flu­ence of im­pact on the scor­ing for the UK’s re­search ex­cel­lence frame­work has been in­creased from 20 per cent in 2014 to 25 per cent in 2021.

How­ever, achiev­ing im­pact in the form recog­nised by the gov­ern­ment and fund­ing bod­ies is hard. In our field, busi­ness and man­age­ment stud­ies, the most com­mon tac­tic is to stage out­reach events, to which busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives are in­vited. But this takes time and money, which aren’t easy to find. More­over, it is not easy to get or­gan­i­sa­tions to come to lis­ten, let alone en­gage, how­ever “au­di­ence friendly” the topic may be thought to be.

Even when en­gage­ment does oc­cur, it can still be ar­du­ous to doc­u­ment ev­i­dence of im­pact. There is an at­ti­tude that knowl­edge dis­sem­i­na­tion from uni­ver­si­ties is a one-way street, with no obli­ga­tion on the part of the or­gan­i­sa­tion to do more than lis­ten.

There is, how­ever, a much cheaper, less stress­ful and more ef­fec­tive form of im­pact that aca­demics al­ready de­liver and that is front and cen­tre of uni­ver­si­ties’ mis­sions. It is the de­liv­ery of teach­ing.

Teach­ing de­liv­ers con­sid­er­able im­pact via its in­flu­ence on the next gen­er­a­tion en­ter­ing the work­place. The re­search find­ings that aca­demics pass on put the hun­dreds of thou­sands of stu­dents who grad­u­ate each year in the UK alone in a po­si­tion to ef­fect con­sid­er­able im­prove­ments when they en­ter the pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ment, whether that be in re­la­tion to the econ­omy, so­ci­ety, cul­ture, pol­icy, health, en­vi­ron­ment or qual­ity of life.

Of course, to count as ex­am­ples specif­i­cally of re­search im­pact, the teach­ing would need to be clearly grounded in the lec­turer’s spe­cific re­search out­puts. And, in the case of the REF, those out­puts would need to sur­pass the qual­ity thresh­old. But link­ing teach­ing tightly to re­search would have the added ad­van­tage of help­ing in­sti­tu­tions to stand out by of­fer­ing un­der­grad­u­ate mod­ules and post­grad­u­ate cour­ses in top­ics that di­rectly align to their spe­cific re­search.

It would also re­mind stu­dents that they are ben­e­fit­ing from be­ing taught by world-lead­ing thinkers in their fields, po­ten­tially spurring them to work harder and achieve more. And it would boost the job sat­is­fac­tion of the aca­demics them­selves, in­creas­ing their mo­ti­va­tion to “own” cour­ses and to de­vote more time and ef­fort to their stu­dents’ learn­ing.

There is, ad­mit­tedly, a dan­ger that em­pha­sis­ing the im­pact of teach­ing could in­tro­duce a per­verse in­cen­tive for aca­demics to crow­bar their own re­search into their lec­tures even when it is not rel­e­vant. But since such re­search would be un­likely to make an im­pres­sion on stu­dents, it would not lend it­self to any im­pact case study at­tempt­ing to demon­strate the use that for­mer stu­dents made of univer­sity re­search in their work­ing lives.

Teach­ing that scored well would be teach­ing that was in­stru­men­tal in the de­vel­op­ment of skills to solve prob­lems and find novel so­lu­tions. An ex­am­ple is the Univer­sity of Ex­eter’s Grand Chal­lenges scheme, in which un­der­grad­u­ates work on real-world prob­lems iden­ti­fied by re­searchers, such as ocean plas­tics and gen­der equal­ity, and de­vise prac­ti­cal, ev­i­dence-based so­lu­tions.

To be fair, “im­pact on stu­dents, teach­ing” is ac­knowl­edged for the first time in the lat­est REF guide­lines, but that way of putting it seems to re­late to things such as changes to cur­ric­ula; we sug­gest that case stud­ies need to fol­low that im­pact fur­ther, be­yond the lec­ture hall or sem­i­nar room.

It bears re­peat­ing that the im­pact of re­search-led teach­ing is a cru­cial func­tion of uni­ver­si­ties. Greater for­mal ac­knowl­edge­ment of that would be of great ben­e­fit to aca­demics, stu­dents and so­ci­ety. In­sti­tu­tions need to show the way by sub­mit­ting ex­am­ples of it to both the EI and the REF.

Achiev­ing im­pact in the form recog­nised by the gov­ern­ment and fund­ing bod­ies is hard

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