Whatever happened to the academic scholar, that nerdy person with their head buried in a book that we all aspired to be? Not that impact isn’t important of course, but between teaching evaluations, research impact and engaged service, we seem to have lost sight of this ideal.

Indeed, at the National Press Club in March, Universities Australia Chair Professor Deborah Terry was careful to remind us that whilst applied research was valuable, it was basic research that is the academic engine, and that without it there is nothing to apply. This caution seems at least partly influenced by the recent focus on metrics like the Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) measures.

In the teaching space, most academics know the transactional focus put on the dreaded teaching evaluations. Even at a national level, programs such as the Universities Australia Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT) (which I was honoured enough to win this year) focus on the impact of your teaching on, not only your students, but the broader community.

And yet our image of the scholar remains idealistic; defined by Cambridge as “a person who studies a subject in great detail, especially at a university”. However, even that institution writes in bold on their research page that “impact is central to the mission of the University of Cambridge”.

So how do we reconcile this apparent gap? Perhaps it’s useful to remember the classic model of academic practice. We were all taught that academia is a three-legged stool, made up of teaching, research, and service. And perhaps this is indeed where impact lives, supporting and growing each of these legs of the stool.

But what of the seat to our stool? It’s clear that a stool with only legs is useless, and the same is true of academia without scholarship to provide structure to our academic pursuits. Whether you consider yourself a teaching scholar, a research scholar, or perhaps a service scholar, being a scholar is central to all of our academic practice.

Because whilst impact is important, scholarship as knowledge making is the beating heart of academia.


Associate Professor Michael A. Cowling, College of Information & Communication Technology, CQUniversity Australia

Associate Professor Michael Cowling (sometimes known as ‘Professor Tech’) is an award-winning technology strategist and communicator committed to fostering thoughtfulness in technology for students, educators and the general public. He has been a leader and commentator on the use of educational technology and technology in society for over 20 years.

E-mail: [email protected] | Twitter: @macowling


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