The Oxford English Dictionary defines “academic (noun)” as “a teacher or scholar in a university or college” and defines “university” as a “high-level educational institution in which students study for degrees and academic research is done”. Google Dictionary defines “academic (noun)” as “a teacher or scholar in a university or other institute of higher education”. The wording of these definitions, consistently placing teaching, education and students first is significant, because many, if not most, academics, if asked what they do, will begin by talking about their research.
Universities have always been places of research, usually carried out by scholars alongside their teaching duties, which historically have been the predominant activity, often significantly so. In the last 30 years or so this balance between teaching and research within universities has changed. There are many drivers to this. First, the amount of money spent on research has increased: in the UK total R&D spend has increased by 3-fold since 1990 and has doubled since 2000. Secondly, there has been increased recognition that universities are places where really good (and vital) research, both esoteric and applied, can be and is done. Thirdly, the metricisation of research output, a very recent innovation, has enabled comparisons of quality among individuals and institutions that were not previously possible, so creating an environment of increased research competition. Coupled to these research drivers, changes to student funding and a changing student demographic, have resulted in a high research income based business model for universities.
The University of Southampton mission statement makes this clear: “We are a world-leading, research-intensive university, with a strong educational offering, renowned for our innovation and enterprise”. The University is right that high quality research and innovation output enhances our reputation, strengthens our position, and should attract the best quality undergraduate and postgraduate students. Thus, research and teaching should work hand-in-hand with research informing teaching and teaching informing research. This can only be achieved if research and education roles are viewed, treated and respected equally within the institution.
In my view, this is the essence of a university, just as the Oxford Dictionary defines it, which should be all about scholarship and collegiality. Scholarship (“serious academic study”) acts to promote excellence in both research and teaching and allows individuals to flourish for the benefit of the institution and beyond. However, scholarship alone is insufficient for universities to function; this requires collegiality, the uniting of individuals for a common purpose and respecting each other’s abilities to work toward that purpose. In my view, only when we all truly embrace the duality of scholarship and collegiality will we fully achieve what we wish for ourselves and our institution, its staff and its students.
Philip C. Calder
Professor of Nutritional Immunology