Its true. Teaching takes a back seat to research -

Its true. Teaching takes a back seat to research

Only 61 per cent of Ontario professor think that teaching is important to their university


The current focus on research–and securing research funding–at Canadian universities could be taking away from teaching. According to a new survey by the Ontario Government’s Higher Education Quality Council only 61 per cent of the professors “believe that teaching is important or very important to their institution” and  “70 per cent of professors surveyed believe research has a bigger payoff than teaching in enhancing reputation, respect of peers, and access to funds.”

When it comes to teaching the report says that many professors fount that “little formal support was available when they began their careers, although the survey indicates that teaching support is considered especially critical in the early professional years. Most said they learned about teaching through practice as a graduate student and
continue to learn about postsecondary teaching through practice and peer consultation.”

While this should be concerning to everyone, especially those of us currently pursuing an undergraduate degree, it’s hardly surprising. Sooner or later, everyone in university will encounter professors who lack basic teaching skills and who are far more interested in telling your class about their research than teaching the course material.

In a press release the executive director of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, Henry Mandelbaum, blamed the over-focus on research on the government. “Our universities are chronically underfunded, and that means administrators must chase any additional money they can find,” Said Mandelbaum. “As a result of federal and provincial government policy, much of this new money is for research. It’s therefore not surprising that teaching has taken a backseat at many of our institutions. Funding universities adequately would eliminate this imbalance.”

But there’s more to it than that. Universities don’t really value good teaching. Sure, there are a handful of teaching awards available to professors but tenured professors know that when it comes to promotions, published research counts far more than teaching skills.

One of the other problems with research funding is that it disproportionately goes to “hard” science. Three quarters of federal funding for science and technology go to “natural science and engineering,” with the other quarter going to “social sciences and humanities.” This might not be such a problem if universities and professors weren’t so motivated by research funding. The end result of this imbalance is that “hard” science programs have more funding than their counterparts in the arts, universities value these programs more and science professors have more opportunity to secure grants, publish and get promoted. The problem is that there are more students in the arts than any other program.

Research is always going to be a big deal for universities and a point of pride. I briefly attended the University of Winnipeg a few years ago and I remember the university promoting itself by saying that since it was an undergraduate university, undergraduates would have greater oppertunity to participate in research. The other day, McGill principal, Heather Munroe-Blum told CBC radio that the university’s focus on research and large number of graduate programs would benefit undergrads through some sort of trickle down effect.

This debate won’t be going anywhere soon, the Quality Council’s next research projects will look into improving teaching.


Its true. Teaching takes a back seat to research

  1. Couldn’t agree more. As a current Undergrad in engineering, far too many Professors have absolutely no interest in teaching or being in the classroom. They just see it as a chore to keep their office space. Until Universities realize that having great researchers isn’t all that matters, nothing will ever improve. In fact, at this rate, it’s only set to get worse.

  2. Having great research IS all that matters if you want a great university. Academics who go on and on about the importance of teaching are usually just lazy researchers.

    The odd thing is that at faculty who profess to be incredibly DEVOTED to teaching are at most only slightly better than the worst teachers, and are certainly the at the bottom for research. The best and most interesting teachers are most often also the most devoted researchers — because the know the material better and communicate their love for the field.

    Universities are not glorified high schools. Students are supposed to take responsibility for their own learning. More and more though society treats students like morons who need to be spoon feed.

    On the other hand, the vast majority of students in certain disciplines like Engineering or Computer Science, where most undergraduates aspire to be no more than just glorified technicians, might be better taught in community colleges.

  3. This is beyond true…

    My honours year seminar is a joke. This seminar course was meant to teach us of DIFFERENT kinds of research in the field and to prepare us for this fast growing relatively new field (gerontology), this however has not been the case.

    The first couple of classes were spent talking about the professor’s research. Our final project was created just using her research (not us going off and looking into something that interests us in this field, it has to be based on HER research).

    It is ridiculous just how many teaching days this professor is missing (out of the 24 classes for this fall term half credit class, she is missing 11 classes… to do research). She has missed class to receive a 1.8 million dollar grant for her research, to speak at local conferences, and to speak at parliament in Ottawa about her research.

    The grad assistants are like her little minions who also only talk about this professor’s research, and I feel bad for them because they are left to teach us completely unsure of what the objectives are in this course.

    The teaching quality in this class lacks so much, the only direction we have is her research. I am terribly disappointed with how this class has been biased, one sided and severely lacking in OPEN and ENCOURAGED discussion.

  4. “Academics who go on and on about the importance of teaching are usually just lazy researchers.”
    I would love to know how much research ‘Blue’ has done to back up this claim. Or is it just a lazy generalization? From my own experience as student and teacher I know that there are some absolutely amazing researchers who don’t have a clue how to teach. And there are some great teachers who do not do exceptional research. Most are somewhere in the middle and I do not blame those if they focus their energy on where the funding is.
    It would be great if universities would stop to encourage the ‘research vs. teaching’ thinking and give people recognition for both. So if someone is a great researcher do not force him/her to teach. Hire people who are great at teaching instead. Having a passion for my field does not necessitate that i have a passion for teaching or even a skill for teaching. High schools hire teachers to educate students and don’t ask a great accountant to teach the kids math. Maybe there’s a reason for this? I agree that university students should not be spoon-fed but this does not mean it does not matter how or what they are fed…