Empirical evidence on the relationship between research and teaching in academia

Authors : Domenico A. Maisano, Luca Mastrogiacomo, Fiorenzo Franceschini

Research and teaching are the two most characteristic activities of the professional life of academics. Since the second half of the last century, a plurality of studies focused on the link between these activities, with often contrasting conclusions.

While some studies are in line with the von-Humboldtian view of research and teaching as synergistic activities, other studies theorize their uncorrelation or even negative tension. This divergence of views probably stems from the fact that investigations are often based on heterogeneous, limited and difficult-to-generalise data, using mainly qualitative metrics.

This paper deepens the study of the research-teaching link, through a survey of 251 academics from Politecnico di Torino, i.e., one of the major Italian technical universities. From a methodological point of view, research and teaching are both analysed from the dual perspective of workload and quality of results obtained, on the basis of data of various kinds, including bibliometric indicators, teaching satisfaction indexes, number of credits awarded to students, etc.

Next, a correlation analysis investigates possible links between teaching and research, showing that they tend to be weak and/or statistically insignificant. For instance, the investigation excludes both (i) the existence of a negative link in terms of workload—contradicting considerations such as “Those who do more teaching have less time to do research and vice versa”—and (ii) the existence of a positive link in terms of the quality of the results obtained—contradicting considerations such as “Those who obtain high quality results in research are likely to do the same in teaching and vice versa”.

The results of this study are limited to the Italian context and do not necessarily have general validity. Nevertheless, they enhance previous findings in the scientific literature and may be useful for university administrators and those involved in the formulation of incentive strategies for academics.

URL : Empirical evidence on the relationship between research and teaching in academia

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-023-04770-x