Someone who is writing on a blackboard
Someone who is writing on a blackboard

Academics find the teaching-research nexus fundamental but difficult in practice

The combination of teaching and research is considered fundamental to academia, but in practice the two tasks prove difficult to combine. This is evident from focus groups with academics in various positions at Dutch universities by researchers Kasja Weenink, Noëlle Aarts and Sandra Jacobs at Radboud University and University of Amsterdam.

Academics in various positions agree; teaching and research are inextricably linked and mutually feed each other. In practice, however, they experience tensions in the combination due to lack of time, systemic undervaluation of teaching and having to perform in several domains.

How academics experience these tensions and deal with them differs per position. In 10 homogeneous focus groups, assistant professors, associate professors and professors were asked how they see the relationship between teaching and research, where they experience tensions and which strategies they use to deal with tensions. Starting assistant professors in particular struggle with balance and describe the first years in which they combine teaching and research as an individual process of 'survival'. More experienced academics have less difficulty finding the balance and use strategies such as teaching more efficiently (like not answering every email from students, but using walk-in hours) and focusing on education or research.

‘It's not just two things’

Associate professors in particular experience dilemmas in having to perform in multiple domains. One of the academics said: ‘It feels like it's 89 things, it's not just 2 things!’ Associate professors are expected to not only teach and do research, but also show accountability, coach Phd’s and make arrangements for all kinds of things.

And while there is more attention and appreciation for education, issues turn out to be persistent. 'If I were the best researcher, I would be professor by now’, a teaching-award winner remarked.


Professors experience the tension between teaching and research differently. They feel responsibility for the teaching and the research of their whole group. They seek balance in their own work, but are mainly occupied with seeking balance at group level. They try to match the individual preferences within the department. For example, they are looking at 80/20 contracts, where the emphasis is on education, with still some room for research.


However, the different strategies do little to change existing patterns and they also create new dilemmas. There are limits at working more efficiently and there are also questions as to what this efficient work does to students. Researcher Kasja Weenink: ‘All the people we asked think teaching and research are both important. It’s not the combination that is the problem, it’s all the issues surrounding it.’

Literature reference

Weenink, K., Aarts, N. & Jacobs, S. (2023)  ‘I need a grant but spend time on teaching’: how academics in different positions play out the teaching–research nexus in interdependence with their contexts, European Journal of Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/21568235.2023.2221839

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