srhe

The Society for Research into Higher Education

Paul Temple


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End-of-the-peer review?

By Paul Temple

Peer review has been in the news recently (well, what counts as news in our business): which perhaps isn’t surprising considering the effect it can have on academic careers – and much more besides.

Richard Smith, when editor of the BMJ, conducted an experiment by deliberately inserting errors into a paper (presumably one written specially for the occasion – this isn’t made clear!) and sending it to reviewers who were in the dark about what was going on. (A university ethics committee would have had fun with this.) None of the chosen reviewers apparently spotted all the errors: from which (along with other findings) Smith concluded that “peer review simply doesn’t work” (THE, 28 May 2015). But one of the reviewers, Trisha Greenhalgh of Oxford University, presents the same facts in an interestingly different light (THE, 4 June 2015). She spotted a couple of serious errors early in the paper, concluded it was rubbish, told the BMJ so, and read no further. So, for her, peer review was working just fine.

This is an interesting methodological point – Continue reading

Image of Rob Cuthbert


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Where do we go from here?

By Rob Cuthbert

The Green Paper on HE issued in November 2015 suggests that the problem with English HE is its failure to embrace the market, red in tooth and claw; the Government proposals are designed to accelerate market forces and promote competition as the solution. Teaching in some places is ‘lamentable’: solution, a Teaching Excellence Framework which sorts out sheep, goats and others, and rewards them accordingly. It is still too difficult for new providers to enter the HE market: solution, levelling the playing field to make it much easier for entrants with no track record. The market isn’t working properly: solution, sweep up most of the key agencies into a new super-regulator, the Office for Students, which will put students’ interests ‘at the heart of the system’, to echo the previous White Paper – on which there was much ado, but almost nothing to show. And much more, but with a consistent theme in which students are the key customers and what they pay for is simply economic advantage in the workplace. In 50 years we have come a long way from Robbins and ‘the general powers of the mind’, let alone the ‘transmission of a common culture’. Continue reading

Ian Mc Nay


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Excellence and equity

By Ian McNay

This piece is shorter than planned, for which my apologies, though some of you may be grateful. We may get sucked in to the excellence debate over the next few months. My concern is about equity, and what has emerged recently on this.

One of the issues raised by the Green Paper is a commitment to doubling BME entrants to HE, and looking to the white male underclass. The second is urgent, but goes beyond HE. The first is odd, because, overall, participation rates from BME communities in  the UK are higher than for the white population. That is despite the evidence from Vicki Boliver and Tariq Modood about racial imbalance in the profile of offers made, particularly by elite universities, and despite Mary Curnock Cook’s comments.

My regret is that my own university failed to look at impact when the new VC reduced full-time undergraduate intake following higher fees in an attempt to move up league tables by raising the average UCAS tariff of entrants. Continue reading

Ian Kinchin


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Complexity of representation or simplicity of thought

By Ian Kinchin

Typically, concept maps that are more complex are scored more highly than those that appear simpler. This has been the basic principle that has guided the analysis of concept maps in numerous publications. Consequently, maps that include more stuff have been seen as a better indicator of understanding than those that contain less stuff. I have always had a problem with this and have been aware that some high-flying students who clearly have an excellent understanding of a subject (along with some subject experts), have been observed to construct smaller maps (that score less) than many of their less expert colleagues who score more simply by including more stuff.  I don’t think this is because geniuses are lazy, I think it represents the different ways in which people see the same content. This is one reason why I have avoided using any of the available scoring rubrics for concept maps (whatever the claims for validity and reliability) in recent years as I feel they mask the underlying story.

Dowd et al., (2015), provide a helpful paper Continue reading

Geoff Stoakes


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Grade point averages

By Geoff Stoakes

In May, the Higher Education Academy (HEA) published a report about the pilot study into a national grade point average (GPA) system. This study was prompted by the debate around the perceived limitations of the honours degree classification (HDC) system, in particular, insufficient differentiation between student performance, a lack of recognition outside the UK, and limited transparency in how the HDC is calculated by different higher education providers.

In his speech on 1 July 2015 at Universities UK, Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, highlighted that one of the things he wants to focus on in the forthcoming green paper is how a Teaching Excellence Framework can help improve how degrees are classified. He believes that the standard model of classes of honours on its own is “no longer capable of providing the recognition hardworking students deserve and the information employers require.” Continue reading

Ye Liu


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China’s one-child policy helped women make a great leap forward – so what now?

By Ye Liu

The Chinese Community Party’s decision to end its infamous one-child policy has significance beyond its impact on the country’s demographics. What was missing from all the discussion and reflection on the policy’s impact on the size of China’s labour force and on families’ human rights was the positive consequences of the population control policy – particularly for girls’ education.

The one-child policy, introduced in 1978, opened up educational opportunities for urban girls. Before its introduction, large families invested a little in each child or prioritised their resources in favour of sons rather than daughters.

But when parents were restricted to having only one child, and if it happened to be a girl, she benefited from being the focus of all their aspirations and investment. Continue reading

Ian Kinchin


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Pedagogic paupers: where’s the distinctiveness?

By Ian Kinchin

When you scan a range of university web sites, they all seem to claim their institution offers a distinctive student experience. In many respects, this may be true. However, when it comes to pedagogy, I wonder if there has been a trend towards homogenisation rather than distinctiveness?

Pressures of work and the emphasis on research outputs appears to drive many academics to “play it safe” when it comes to classroom practice. The irony is that these same academics would claim to be serious researchers – people to reflect, innovate, question and experiment. And yet these ‘researcher traits’ don’t seem to be carried over into teaching. The ‘it’ll do’ sentiment of the unenthusiastic amateur seems all too common, though (I would hasten to add) not universal.

I would not for one moment claim that the pressures on university academics are not real, the squeeze on resources and the restrictions posed by accrediting bodies (for example) all appear to drive academics towards a conservative approach to teaching. The old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” seems to be the underpinning philosophy for many.

However, my own undergraduate friends and relatives often provide me with stories and anecdotes that suggest that, if not broken, much university teaching still requires something of an upgrade. Continue reading

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