Teaching as vital as research for professors

Updated: 2016-08-02 07:46

By Cao Weidong(China Daily)

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Teaching as vital as research for professors

Students of Beijing International Studies University.[Photo/Agencies]

What is the role of a professor?

Of course, to teach students. Most of the world's top universities require their professors, however senior they may be, to deliver lectures and hold seminars for their students. Besides, studies show that while students learn more from professors, the professors, too, benefit from the process, because teaching helps them to deepen and improve their research.

But for long professors in Chinese universities, in general, have preferred to conduct research instead of teaching students in classrooms. In the past, some reports even said senior professors had been away from classrooms for so long that students no longer recognized them.

The cause of the problem is twofold. First, higher education authorities judge the performance of a university mainly by its academic, not teaching, achievements. For example, they tend to honor the professors who get awards for their research works and ignore those that teach well.

Second, most colleges use published academic works as a benchmark when it comes to promoting associate professors to the post of professors, or giving professors higher titles; their performance in class accounts for only a small percentage of the requirements. Published works are considered very important-as opposed to teaching performance-for evaluating a professor's performance, which further encourages university teachers to put more efforts into research.

Having realized the problem, the country's top leadership has made it clear in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) that teaching is as important as research for higher education institutions, and that a top university must pay attention to both. The Higher Education Law, revised in 2015, also says cultivating talents is the duty of higher education institutions.

Echoing the top leadership's call, the Ministry of Education has issued one document after another to implement a policy that encourages professors to go back to classrooms. That's part of the ongoing education system reform.

According to the Ministry of Education's latest data, the percentage of professors taking classes has increased from 54 percent in 2003 to more than 90 percent now because of the encouragement policy. However, as some undergraduates and professors say, there remain some problems. For example, some professors come to class without ample preparation; some simply do not care about the students' performances. As a Chinese saying goes, some professors "are physically present in the classroom but spiritually somewhere else".

To solve these problems, the ongoing education reform should include new measures. In fact, some colleges have already started trying out new measures, which include increasing the percentage of teaching in professors' performance evaluation, so that those teaching well also get the chance of being promoted, and encouraging professors to combine their teaching with research and share the results of their studies with students in class.

But it requires the joint efforts of all, not only colleges, to encourage professors to give due importance to teaching. For that, the Ministry of Education should change the funding standards of universities and list teaching performance, not only research achievements, among the indexes used to evaluate the performance of a college. Only when university funding is decided by how well colleges teach will they pay more attention to teaching.

Besides, universities should be granted more autonomy. It is better for universities to recruit their teaching staff and decide their payments, for that will allow university administrators to better implement the reform measures and realize the goal of encouraging professors to go back to classrooms.

The author is president of Beijing International Studies University.