The role of the academic continues to generate debate (recent examples in this journal include McLean and Barker 2004; Young 2006). Yet the discussion remains focused on the teaching-research nexus, with the service dimension frequently neglected or even ignored completely. As Macfarlane (2005) argues, the impression this gives is ‘that ‘‘teaching’’ and ‘‘research’’ are the only two roles which academic staff perform’ (171). My own contribution was an article that appeared in the ‘Points for Debate’ section of Teaching in Higher Education (Greenbank 2006). This paper drew on the work of Boyer (1990) to argue for ‘a broader definition of research, a greater recognition of the role of service and the integration of teaching, research and service as interconnected scholarly activities’ (Greenbank 2006, 109). It also argued that student learning and therefore the role of teaching should be prioritised by academics in higher education institutions (HEIs). This article provoked a response from Karlsson (2007). He was generally supportive of the arguments put forward in the paper, but felt insufficient attention was given to the concept of ‘service’ or the confusion that exists over its definition. Karlsson also believed that the word ‘service’ has hierarchical connotations and the type of activities involved could more appropriately be referred to as ‘collaboration’. Finally, he disagrees with my view that teaching should be prioritised by academics. Karlsson (2007) argues for ‘a more holistic view of the scholarly activities of teaching, research and service, where none is emphasised more than the other, and where all are seen as an ‘‘integrated whole’’’ (283). I think Karlsson is correct to point out that my original article did not discuss the concept of service as comprehensively as teaching and research. As such, Karlsson’s paper together with the work of Macfarlane (2005, 2006) provides a valuable contribution to our understanding of what is meant by service. I am, however, less convinced of the need to replace the word ‘service’ with ‘collaboration’ or the suggestion that a ‘holistic’ approach to teaching, research and service should be adopted so that no aspect of these three elements of academic life are prioritised. My response to these points is discussed below.