RIETI Report July 14, 2023

Is There a Trade-off between Research and Teaching at Universities? An economic perspective

Dear Readers,
Welcome to RIETI Report.
This bi-weekly newsletter will keep you updated with the recent columns, event information and research results by RIETI fellows and other leading economists in Japan and around the world.

In this edition, we are featuring topics related to the quality of teaching. RIETI Consulting Fellow Masahito Ambashi claims that while research and teaching activities conducted by researchers may exhibit either a trade-off relationship or complementarity, it is essential to come up with a policy design that increases complementarity between these two activities, improving the long-term prospects for the nation’s research capabilities.

We hope you will enjoy it. If you have any feedback, we would love to hear from you (news-info@rieti.go.jp).
Editors of RIETI Report (Facebook: @en.RIETI / Twitter: @RIETIenglish / URL: https://www.rieti.go.jp/en/)

This month's featured article

Is There a Trade-off between Research and Teaching at Universities? An economic perspective

AMBASHI MasahitoConsulting Fellow, RIETI

1. The Role of Researchers at Universities

Since this April, I have been serving as a researcher at a national university in a non-metropolitan region. It goes without saying that our main duty as researchers is to pursue universal truths in the academic field through conducting research activities and writing books and papers. On the other hand, we must also teach students, which is regarded as part of the faculty’s duties at most universities. In recent years, students commonly rate their teachers’ lectures, and post such ratings on websites or social media. Presumably, these in turn affect the numbers of applicants to their universities. For researchers, the pressure is growing not only on the research front but also on the teaching front.

2. Relationship between Research and Teaching Responsibilities

There is almost complete agreement that the ability to secure research funding is the greatest factor in influencing a university researcher’s research activity. From that perspective, many studies have focused on the question of whether the availability of external funds (particularly competitive funds) promotes the research activity of universities. As reviewed by Koizumi et al. (2021), whereas some empirical studies showed that the availability of external funds contributes to an increase in research activity, some theoretical studies indicated the possibility that it may inhibit research activity. For example, Koizumi et al., using department-level data for Japanese national universities, found that the higher the share of external funds, the larger the number of papers produced, although the number of papers declines when the share of external funds exceeds a certain threshold. In other words, there is an appropriate level of external funds from the viewpoint of research productivity.

On the other hand, few empirical studies have analyzed the interaction between research and educational responsibilities that I mentioned earlier. Meanwhile, some theoretical research models have been developed in order to observe how universities compete with each other in terms of research output and student enrollments under the assumption of the presence of a trade-off between research and teaching. Some of those models predict that if external research funds are introduced, universities will be polarized into two groups—those concentrating on research and those concentrating on teaching (Del Rey, 2001; De Fraja and Iossa, 2002; De Fraja and Valbonesi, 2012). Other theoretical studies showed that, if confronted with a trade-off between research and teaching, some individual departments within universities will focus on research activity and, at the same time, choose to take advantage of other departments to get a free ride with respect to teaching responsibilities, a situation that results in a decline in overall tuition fee revenue for that university (Gautier and Wauthy, 2007).

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Related article

“How Does a Teacher’s STEM College Major Affect the Academic Achievement of Their Students?”
TANAKA Ryuichi (Faculty Fellow, RIETI) / INOUE Atsushi (Nippon Institute for Research Advancement)

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INOUE Atsushi (Nippon Institute for Research Advancement) / TANAKA Ryuichi (Faculty Fellow, RIETI)

Our latest discussion papers

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“The Decline of Labor Share and New Technology Diffusion: Implications for markups and monopsony power”
KUSAKA Shoki (Yale University) / OKAZAKI Tetsuji (Faculty Fellow, RIETI) / ONISHI Ken (Hitotsubashi University) / WAKAMORI Naoki (Hitotsubashi University)

“The Impacts of Bilateral Value Chains between Japan and Korea on Value-added Creation of Manufacturing Firms”
HUR Jung (Sogang University) / KWON Hyeog Ug (Faculty Fellow, RIETI) / SONG Hangeul (IBK Securities)

“Policy Agenda and Trajectory of the Xi Jinping Administration: Textual Evidence from 2012 to 2022”
LIM Jaehwan (Aoyama Gakuin University) / ITO Asei (Faculty Fellow, RIETI) / ZHANG Hongyong (Senior Fellow, RIETI)

[List of discussion papers]
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