Yes, it is April 1st but this post is dead serious. A study was recently done for economics, chemistry and philosophy departments across ten Ontario universities in an effort to gain insight on teaching workloads and research productivity. The reason? Ontario universities are tight for money and the government is looking for productivity gains and they want information on differences in research output and teaching load across universities.
From the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), the study by Linda Jonker and Martin Hicks is titled "Teaching Loads and Research Outputs of Ontario University Faculty" and makes for some fascinating reading. The essence of their findings are as follows and I have bolded a key passage:
“For economics and chemistry we find that primarily undergraduate universities have higher average course loads than research-intensive universities. As expected, research-intensive universities receive more external research funding and have a greater research impact as measured by citations. From our data, we estimate that about 27% of faculty members in economics and 7% of faculty members in chemistry have neither published in peer-reviewed journals nor received a Tri-Council grant in a three-year period. These research non-active faculty members teach, on average, 0.9 courses more in economics and 0.5 courses more in chemistry than their research-active colleagues. Extrapolating from our sample, we suggest that if research non-active faculty members were to teach twice the teaching load of their research-active colleagues (as might be suggested by the typical 40%-40%-20% expectation of effort across teaching, research and service), the overall teaching capacity of the full-time professoriate in Ontario would be increased by about 10%, a teaching impact equivalent to adding about 1,500 additional faculty members across the province.”
You need to read this study for yourself to get the details on how the comparisons and estimates are constructed. I’m interested in the economics department comparisons and I’ve reproduced some of the more interesting comparisons at the end of this post. The authors find that economics departments in more research intensive universities have a smaller share of faculty members who hold a PhD from a Canadian university, have a lighter average course load, typically receive more SSHRC funding and have a higher research impact in terms of citations (but not always a higher output in terms of refereed papers published as Figure 5 below shows). They see productivity gains by shifting a greater teaching burden to the 30 percent of faculty members they classify as research non-active. These are faculty they define as research non-active because over the course of three years they have neither published in a peer reviewed journal nor received SSHRC funding.
There are a number of things that can be commented on in this study however, my main point is this: I think they needed to go one step further and perform some type of cost effectiveness analysis. Along with their teaching load and research productivity measures, they also have median salary costs for these ten departments. So why not work out costs per publication, citations and courses taught to see how these department rank according to a measure of cost-effectiveness? Well, that is what follows in the following three figures using the data from the report figures reproduced at the end of this post. If you do it in terms of salary costs per course taught, Windsor, Lakehead and Ottawa are the most cost effective and Toronto, Queen’s and Western are the least cost-effective. With respect to research, if you do it in terms of salary cost per refereed publication, then McMaster, Ottawa and Lakehead are the most cost effective and Toronto, Western and Laurier are the least cost-effective. However, I suppose this is not a welcome result for many and even the report's authors quickly add that volume of research output is not the best measure – so you need a measure of impact. If we rank the universities in terms of salary costs per citation, Toronto, McMaster and Ottawa come out as the lowest and Lakehead, Brock and Windsor are the highest.
I suppose you could argue that you could simply specialize Ontario universities further – the ones that are more cost effective in teaching should simply teach more while those that are more cost-effective in research should do more research. However, for that to work properly would require a massive restructuring of the system that would also dramatically shrink undergraduate populations at places like Toronto, Queen’s and Western and force them to go elsewhere. This is not going to happen in a system where funding is tied to enrollment. Moreover, for it to happen would require a pretty coercive approach by the provincial government towards universities.
If there is going to be further differentiation and specialization along the lines of teaching and research in Ontario it is likely going to have to happen within rather than across universities – especially if that 30 percent of non-research active faculty is spread proportionately across universities. That is one statistic I would have liked to see in this report. Do the more research-intensive places have a smaller proportion of non-research active faculty relative to the less research-intensive places? Is it possible they may have a larger proportion of non-research active faculty but more stars? The cost of carrying non-research active faculty and hence the potential productivity gains of higher teaching loads may be higher within universities that are already heavily research intensive. I’d like to see a more in depth study on this from HEQCO. I’d also like to see a study that compares some of the professional type schools-say business, education and engineering – rather than just liberal arts and science.
SOME SUMMARY FIGURES FROM JONKER AND HICKS STUDY