Research and degree teaching

Posted By TEU on Oct 20, 2009 |

TEU policy November 2009

Background to the policy

Prior to the formation of the Tertiary Education Union Te HautūKahurangi, both ASTE and AUS took strong positions in submissions and other forums in support of the requirements that degree-level programmes be taught mainly by people engaged in research.”  This position arose from a firm belief in the importance of recognising the research-teaching nexus – that active involvement in research by teachers helps pass on new knowledge to students, ensuring the capabilities developed through undertaking research become part of students’ learning.”  This position was also informed by research findings that demonstrated involvement in teaching helps stimulate ideas for research, and encourages the researcher to place their activities within a wider context.

In supporting the requirement for engagement in research, both unions also stressed the need to ensure that staff are provided with appropriate workloads to meet both their teaching and research responsibilities.”  This stance was given practical application during bargaining, with many collective agreements negotiated by the two unions having workload provisions placing parameters around timetabled teaching hours and administrative/pastoral care and other duties for staff with research obligations.

Additionally both unions were strong advocates for a balanced research profile in institutions that includes a mix of new/emerging and more established researchers.”  The advent of the performance-based model for research funding in the sector resulted in the unions frequently needing to raise this point at government and institution level, as a number of TEOs sought to maximise their funding by over-focusing on established researchers who could attract more funding.

The current policy seeks to reinforce these messages, as well as taking a position on the research-teaching nexus that acknowledges the different career paths that academics may take in developing as teachers/researchers.

The challenge that the sector faces is ensuring an academic environment that supports research development and a broad definition of research[1], whilst simultaneously acknowledging the central role that teaching plays. Providing a quality learning experience for students is after all a primary function of TEOs.”  This policy encompasses TEU’s view on how this might best be achieved.

Policy statement

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The Tertiary Education Union Te HautūKahurangi believes that degree-level programmes should be taught mainly by people engaged in research. ” Our view is that active engagement[2] in research by teachers helps pass on new knowledge to students, ensuring the capabilities developed through undertaking research become part of students’ learning.”  Additionally we believe that involvement in teaching helps stimulate ideas for research, and encourages the researcher to place their activities within a wider context of teaching and learning.

In establishing a balance between research and teaching however, consideration must also be given to the differing requirements for discipline areas.”  In some disciplines, teaching and related activities (such as assessment of practicuum) requires a much greater degree of direct student contact.

The teaching-research nexus

Research activity for those engaged in degree-level teaching should relate to the process of teaching in some way – such as finding new and better ways to teach, deepening understanding of the learning process, or exploring new knowledge relevant to the researcher’s subject matter, discipline or profession being taught (i.e pure or basic research). In the same way research outcomes should be able to be discerned in the process and practice of teaching – whether actually in front of students or in planning, preparation and assessment. Such an approach gives equal value to both teaching and research, and recognises that both activities are needed to ensure a quality learning experience for students.

Ensuring a collaborative research environment

In TEUs view a vibrant teaching and research environment is one that recognises and values individual staff strengths in teaching and research and that maintains a mix of experience in both areas i.e. a profile of teaching and research capability ranging from more experienced to those new to the profession of teaching or in an earlier stage of their research career. Each individual staff member will be working at a different level, but will benefit from a collegial environment where research and teaching knowledge and practice is shared.

Maintaining a diverse staff profile for teaching and research does not mean that individual staff will remain at the same stage of development for the duration of their career; over time individual staff will gain experience, upgrade qualifications etc.”  However an institution’s profile should normally include such a mix, thus ensuring ongoing growth and development of its staffing resource.[3]

This position differs somewhat to the principles for staff engagement in research provided by NZQA[4] in that the TEU recognises that many subject or discipline areas recruit staff directly from the profession.”  The NZQA position that at some point all staff will be recruited ‘research and/or teaching-ready’ does not in TEU’s view adequately reflect the requirements of all parts of the sector, particularly ITPs and wānanga.”  New staff taking up a degree-level teaching position may have strong professional or industry experience which is valuable in terms of being able to provide current, in-depth subject knowledge.”  Such individuals may however have little or no experience in undertaking academic research or teaching, and must be supported with appropriate professional development time to acquire these skills, rather than the TEO losing the opportunity of including them in their staffing mix.”  The TEU therefore supports systems that recognise diverse paths, both entering the career of teacher-researcher and during the course of that career.

Employment conditions

The TEU will continue to ensure that processes are in place to support or develop those who teach in degree-level courses, including provision for workload planning, professional development opportunities etc.”  Additionally the TEU will continue to advocate for workload allocation that accurately reflects research and teaching commitments at degree-level, through collective agreement negotiations and involvement in reviewing institution and government policy.

The TEU will continue to lobby to ensure that the sector adheres to guidelines developed as a result of legislation (such as that relating to PBRF) that define which staff are required to undertake research.”  This includes staff who may be involved in limited and directly supervised teaching activities (such as those employed to run tutorials) and are not required to be research-active, but experience institutional pressure to do so.

Passed by Annual Conference

November 2009


[1] Including recognition of the value of different methodologies and mediums and the process of scholarship

[2] The TEU considers active engagement in research to include the process of producing research outcomes, scholarly critique, and reflective practice informed by current bodies of knowledge.

[3] Institutions with a developed research culture and stable, long-term staffing are less likely to have a profile of the range described above, reflecting it’s more established research environment.

[4]“NZQA considers that at an early stage of development of a research culture, the principles underpinning the requirement for academic staff to be engaged in research may be adequately met by achieving a balance between academic staff in the following three groupings: staff not yet engaged in research, but engaged in research-informed study and qualifications upgrading and therefore able to offer teaching that is informed by recent research and inspired by the search for knowledge; staff conducting research as a major component of study towards a higher degree; staff engaged in qualification-independent research.

NZQA considers that while this is acceptable in the early years of establishment of a research culture, there must be planning and projections in place which show how staff engagement in research will grow and progress to a more established pattern of research outputs.”

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