Scholarship and Research

Suman Gupta

Slightly out of focus

The connotations of the word ‘scholarship’ have always been a bit fuzzy, especially in academia. The OED puts it between, on the one hand, ‘learning, erudition; the collective attainments of scholars; the sphere of polite learning’, and, on the other hand, ‘applied, by unlearned speakers, etc., to educational attainments of a more modest character.’ Politeness and modesty in learning are not the average academic’s forte.

In a 1922 book, the linguist Otto Jespersen had decided a touch impatiently to ‘use the word “philology” in its continental sense, which is often rendered in English by the vague word “scholarship,” meaning thereby the study of the specific culture of one nation.’ That didn’t clear things up particularly. In English-speaking circles ‘philology’ was apt to be received with confusion and trepidation. To academic ears now that sounds like a specific sort of esoteric research.

Under the lens

Of late though, we professional academics in Britain are assured by HE bureaucrats that things have been cleared up. There is ‘scholarship’ and there is ‘research’, and these entail quite different activities. They are funded separately, accounted separately in our workload calculations, understood as leading toward distinct sorts of outcomes. Different centres of excellence (I haven’t come across any other sort) are devoted to each. Since the bureaucrats know that ‘scholarship’ and ‘research’ are different animals, they must have a rigorous definition of ‘scholarship’ at hand.

It seems that British HE bureaucrats have worked on it for a while, or rather have looked for guidance to their counterparts in Australia who have worked on it for a while. A policy paper produced by the Australian Minister for Employment, Education and Training in 1988 did the needful (for a discussion see Moses 1990):

systematic and rigorous investigation aimed at the discovery of previously unknown phenomena, the development of explanatory theory and its application to new situations or problems, and the construction of original works of significant intellectual merit.

the analysis and interpretation of existing knowledge aimed at improving, through teaching or by other means of communication, the depth of human understanding.

In brief, one deals with new knowledge and the other with existing knowledge, and one is an end in itself and the other serves teaching.

That should have been the end of the matter, but it wasn’t quite. Questions remained. Is there a relationship between the two? Perhaps research is really an aspect of scholarship, or one is a subset or collateral of the other? Moreover, is the kind of work on existing knowledge that serves teaching also not research? Is that not what passes in Education faculties as research? Insofar as academics across all disciplines are exhorted to undertake ‘scholarship’ (apart from ‘research’) are they not being asked to encroach upon the research areas of their worthy colleagues in Education faculties? In the German education system, space for discipline-specific research into teaching practice was conventionally designated as ‘methodology’ within different faculties – in what way is this conception of ‘scholarship’ different? But that idea of ‘methodology’ allowed for a specific sort of research, so why is ‘research’ here separated from it?


The matter was seemingly laid to rest when the British government made it mandatory for all HE institutions to follow an academic workload accounting system (initially with the punchy acronym TRAC). The first TRAC guidance in 2005 put a lid on any debate, and we are still living with it despite slight modifications:

Research and Experimental Development (R&D) comprise creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge of man, culture and society and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications. R&D is a term covering three activities: basic research, applied research and experimental development.
> Basic research is experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundation of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view.
> Applied research is also original investigation undertaken in order to acquire new knowledge. It is, however, directed primarily towards a specific practical aim or objective.
> Experimental development is systematic work, drawing on existing knowledge gained from research and/or practical experience that is directed to producing new materials, products or devices, to installing new processes, systems and services, or to improving substantially those already produced or installed.

Scholarship is activity that updates or maintains the knowledge of an individual; or adds to their skills and experience.  The knowledge base already exists elsewhere.
> Scholarship is therefore different from Research.  In particular, it is different from institution-/own-funded Research.  It is important that these terms are clearly distinguished.

I hope that answers all questions and any further debate can now be considered inefficient and impactless academic dithering.

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