Busting some myths about teaching and research at universities

An interesting report from the Grattan Institute on higher education funding for teaching and research has just appeared. Among a number of points, I enjoyed these the most:

1. There is little direct connection between research and teaching. I suggest it is because the courses taught usually have little if anything to do with the research undertaken. This busts the myth, propounded again and again, that teaching and research go hand-in-hand.

2. Universities in Australia already make about 3.2 billion in surplus from university fees, mostly from international students. And this is with a system that has significant government input. This money goes directly into research, since universities are keen to climb the dubious league tables that do the rounds these days.

3. Funding for research has increased exponentially since 2002.

However, what the report does not say is that research is typically over-funded with minimal expectations for output. That is, they give too much money for too few results. Each year people ask for more and more money, and fellowships increase their pay levels. Yet the expected results of research are ludicrously small. This situation creates a conundrum: a researcher has to spend grant money on research activities when less than half, if not a quarter, would be more than enough for the proposed research. Why give so much money? University research standing is also assessed on the basis of research money earned. It gets even better, for now we are expected to provide a return (at 2, 3 or 5 times) on the money ‘invested’ – the creation of a pseudo-market. Perverse? Of course. Australia has the dubious reputation of leading the world in such practices. This curious situation has brought me to the point of not applying for research money any longer. As one who has managed to get a few modest grants, I find I can get more actual research and writing done without them.

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