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The Society for Research into Higher Education

jacqueline-aldridge


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Fear and Loathing in the Business School

By Jacqueline Aldridge

We all enjoy grumbling about the business schools in our institutions.  How their multi-million pound buildings swallow resources. How students are lured from other disciplines with shallow promises of employability. How the serious financial clout of business schools allows them to trample less worldly academic departments.

But what about the intellectual place of the academics and academic disciplines housed within their shiny and expensive walls? My doctoral research examines business schools as university departments that are staffed by conventionally-trained career academics, and considers them in this light. I suggest that there are at least three good reasons why we might pity the poor business school and the academics who work within them.

Business is a dirty word

The University does not have a happy relationship with ‘business’ and this antipathy has long roots.  The nineteenth-century’s gentlemanly distaste for the grubby world of trade morphed into activist opposition to industrial interference by the early 1970s. More recently, discourses of managerialism and marketisation raise the spectre of universities as businesses. All this fuels an innate academic mistrust of departments or disciplines branded with ‘business’. However rigorous or critical their research, business schools seem doomed to the eternal distrust of academic peers.

Cash cows are exploited

Business schools experience the same pressures to perform for the REF, NSS or TEF as any other academic department.  However, their academics jump through all these hoops while keeping the rest of the university afloat financially and competing in an idiosyncratic global marketplace for university business education. This can skew and compromise their ability to carry out worthwhile intellectual work. Academic life in the university cash cow milking parlour can be tough and dispiriting.

The academic scapegoat

The sheer number of UK business school academics and the quantity of associated research dominates the UK academic community. Business schools are always included in figures that demonstrate the growth and vigour of the social sciences. They are simultaneously ignored, marginalised, caricatured or disparaged by thinkers on higher education and the academic disciplines.

What does this marginal intellectual place mean for the 7,000 academics who work for business schools in the UK? Can we argue that their intellectual and societal contribution is inherently inferior?  However we choose to answer this question has serious implications for the identity or relative status of different groups within the academy – both within business schools and beyond.

SRHE member Jacqueline Aldridge (j.aldridge@kent.ac.uk) is a Research and Enterprise Associate in the School of Psychology and a PhD student in the Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Kent.


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Launch of Policy Reviews in Higher Education

Bruce Macfarlane

Bruce Macfarlane

William Locke

William Locke

The first issue of the new SRHE journal, Policy Reviews in Higher Education, was launched at the Annual Conference on 8th December 2016, with a cake and after dinner speeches from the Editors, William Locke and Bruce Macfarlane.  The first issue (January 2017) is free to view for a limited period on the journal web site.

The following is an extract from the Editorial to the first issue of the journal.

In 1976, the first issue of Studies in Higher Education was published. According to its founding editor, the late Tony Becher, its purpose was to ‘demonstrate that higher education is a worthwhile field of intellectual enquiry’ (Becher, 1976:2). If judged by reference to current levels of publication activity in the higher education field, this modest goal appears to have been largely met. Studies, started with just 2 issues in 1976, with 27 authors contributing 24 papers. By 2014, it had expanded to 10 issues publishing 126 papers from 275 contributing authors.

Forty years on from the founding of Studies there is a substantial number of well-established academic journals devoted to higher education studies or specialist areas of interest such as teaching and learning, quality and policy. Policy Reviews in Higher Education joins Studies and Higher Education Quarterly as journals of The Society for Research into Higher Education. Why then, it might reasonably be asked, do we need another journal about higher education? This is a perfectly fair question, but we think we have a good answer.

First, Policy Reviews has an avowedly international and comparative orientation and encourages in-depth analyses of policy issues and developments relevant to any aspect of higher education. The internationalisation of higher education has been accompanied by the globalisation of higher education policy, policy transfer and borrowing. While nations and their national and local systems have different histories and configurations, many are facing similar issues and drivers, for example, around high participation, financial sustainability, equity, and the integration of higher education with other key components of political economy. These challenges demand fresh thinking and new perspectives, which are also based on historical understanding and a willingness to look forward, which the broad scope of this new journal will seek to encourage.

The second distinctive feature of Policy Reviews is that it offers a different sort of academic space for longer, more extended analyses and reflections on policy issues in higher education of between 8,000 and 12,000 words. The overwhelming majority of higher education journals publish relatively short papers of between 5,000 and 7,000 words, often based on small-scale empirical enquiry. At the other end of the scale are opportunities to publish academic monographs in book form that normally range between 45,000 and 70,000 words. Policy Reviews seeks to fill the gap between these formats by offering authors an opportunity to develop an in-depth piece of reflective analysis that can speak to an international readership.  However, we recognise that articles of this length require a different level of commitment (and risk), and so we have introduced a first Review Proposals stage, when authors propose an article in no more than 500 words.  These proposals are evaluated and feedback given by reviewers before any invitation is made to prepare and submit a full paper, which is then peer reviewed in the conventional way.

The breadth of perspective, together with the opportunity for extended contributions, will distinguish Policy Reviews in Higher Education from other higher education academic journals. Part of maintaining this breadth is to ensure that higher education remains a permeable field and not one that discourages contributions from different disciplinary areas. Higher education as a research field would ossify without continuing to draw on fresh ideas and concepts from other academic fields. In this spirit, we would encourage authors from any disciplinary background to consider contributing to the journal.

We also wish to emphasis that we do not regard ‘policy’ as a word that should exclude contributions to this journal focusing on any aspect of higher education that is subject to policy debate and development at any level. Divisions between ‘policy’ research on the one hand, and ‘learning and teaching’ research on the other, may reflect distinct scholarly tribes within the higher education field that participate in different conferences and networks and largely publish in different journals. However, this divide does not make much sense when there are critical areas of policy development, for example, in respect of learning and teaching, such as student engagement strategies and the development of academics as teachers as well as researchers.

We aim for between four and six longer form articles in each issue of the journal and have been very encouraged by the quality and quantity of contributions submitted so far. This has occurred even in advance of the launch of Policy Reviews and before readers can begin to see how our aims and vision might be realised over a number of issues.

A brief glance at the biographies of the authors contributing to the first issue will show that, as editors, we welcome – and have every intention of publishing – contributions from those near the beginning of their academic and publishing careers as well as those with long and distinguished publications records (and those in between).  We also seek a wide international spread of authors, their current locations and their areas of study.  Where gaps emerge, we will seek to encourage and even commission contributions to address these.  We have already drawn heavily on our highly supportive international Editorial Board, with its even more widespread expertise, in promoting the journal, as well as reviewing papers. At this point, we have no initial plans for Special Issues whilst the journal establishes itself, but we may consider this at a later stage.

Tony Becher wanted to win over the ‘retrenched sceptic’ who doubted the value of higher education research. While such critics are still around today there are now far more active scholars who research, write and publish about higher education and should be capable of defending and explaining its importance. The reputation of the field can only be enhanced through more in-depth comparative analysis that looks at how policy has evolved and developed across international contexts. This will, we would hope, boost our collective learning as both scholars and policy makers about higher education as a global phenomenon and the issues central to its future development.

Reference: Becher, T. (1976) Editorial, Studies in Higher Education, 1(1), 1-2

Rachel Brooks photo


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Constructing the higher education student: a comparative study of six European countries

By Rachel Brooks

We were delighted to give the first proper presentation about our new ‘Eurostudents’ research project at the SRHE annual conference in December 2016. As the project will run over the next five years, we hope that we’ll be able to give further presentations about it at various SRHE conferences in the future. Colleagues can also find regular updates on the project website (www.eurostudents.net) and by following us @eurostudents_ on Twitter.

Below we provide a brief background to the project, and explain what we will be doing over the next few years.

Background

There are currently over 35 million students within Europe and yet, to date, we have no clear understanding of the extent to which understandings of ‘the student’ are shared. Thus, a central aim of this project is to investigate how the contemporary higher education (HE) student is conceptualised and the extent to which this differs both within nation-states and across them. This is significant in terms of implicit (and sometimes explicit) assumptions that are made about common understandings of ‘the student’ across Europe – underpinning, for example, initiatives to increase cross-border educational mobility and the wider development of a European Higher Education Area. It is also significant in relation to exploring the extent to which understandings are shared within a single nation and, particularly, the degree to which there is congruence between the ways in which students are conceptualised within policy texts and by policymakers, and the understandings of other key social actors such as the media, higher education institutions and students themselves.

Research questions and methods

The empirical project is guided by four main research questions:

(i) How are understandings of the higher education student produced, shaped and disseminated by (a) policymakers, (b) the media and (c) higher education institutions?

(ii) To what extent do these understandings differ within and across European nations?

(iii) How do students of different national and social backgrounds understand the role of the higher education student?

(iv) To what extent are their understandings consonant with those produced, shaped and disseminated by policymakers, the media and higher education institutions?

To answer these questions, data will be collected from six different European countries – Denmark, England, Ireland, Germany, Poland and Spain (chosen to give variation in welfare regime, relationship to the EU, and mechanisms for funding HE) – and through four strands of work, each of which focuses on a different social actor i.e. policymakers, the media, higher education institutions and students themselves.

new-picture-3The research is funded by the European Research Council, through a Consolidator Grant awarded to Rachel Brooks (Surrey), and runs from August 2016 until July 2021. The project researchers, working with Rachel, are Jessie Abrahams, Predrag Lažetić and Anu Lainio.

SRHE Member Rachel Brooks is Professor of Sociology at the University of Surrey and has edited one of the latest books in the SRHE/Routledge series entitled Student Politics and Protest

Ian Mc Nay


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Lessons for HE leaders from recent events

By Ian McNay

This is a longer piece than usual, an essay on leadership in HE, triggered by reflections on recent events and the lessons they offer. Turbulence in political leadership has been rife in the last six months from Italy to Gambia and New Zealand; UK and USA; the Labour Party, the Conservatives, UKIP; even the Open University. Which bridges to the first of five lessons to be drawn for HE leaders.

Lesson 1: listen to those you lead

If not, they will leave you – you risk losing their support, as in the OU, their loyalty, their commitment, even their compliance. Alternative leaders will spring up. I had hoped that the discourse about ‘disconnected’ might shift after the referendum vote. That showed that it was not the underclass who had disconnected from reality, but the political class whose bubble had floated off in to some cloud cuckoo land far from the reality of ‘others’ in those parts of Britain similar to my roots, on Teesside. It could have been Ashington, Scunthorpe, Motherwell, the Welsh valleys – alien places the perceivedly posh politicians do not go to and of which they have no understanding. But, after the shock wore off, the liberal elite, with its high proportion of graduates, returned to blaming the disenchanted – Hillary Clinton’s ‘deplorables’ – for their ignorance or even lack of gratitude for what the EU/Obama had done for them. As with the rust belt in the USA, the view was that, to quote Shirley Maclaine in Sweet Charity, ‘there’s got to be something better than this’. Or even, ‘it can’t get any worse, and voting to continue means more of the same old, same old, which has done nothing for us’. So, change, any change, was seen as worth the risk, even if its proponents were lying clowns. What does that say about their views of the incumbent leaders? Continue reading

JimHartley


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All you need to know about how to write a literature review

Book Review by James Hartley

Onwuegbuzie, A.J. and Frels, R. (2016). Seven steps to a comprehensive literature review: a multi-modal and cultural approach, London: Sage

ISBN 978-1-4462-4898 (pbk) 424pp. £26.99

With over 400 pages, this book is a comprehensive and weighty tome. But who is it for? Possibly final year and PhD students, but it is really for full-time researchers assessing and reporting on the strengths and weaknesses of the whole of previous research in a particular field in order to advise others what to do (or not to do) next.

The text is divided into four sections, following a brief Introduction – Overview (4 chapters), Exploration (5 chapters), Integration (3 chapters), and Communication (2 chapters, plus 5 exemplars, general conclusions, and final thoughts).

The Overview (60 pages) covers the history and the methodology of several different types of literature review, including narrative, systematic, and combined. Exploration (150 pages) describes how to initiate a literature search, store and organise the results, determine the main findings, and expand the search into related areas. Integration (44 pages) considers how to pool the results from different approaches – qualitative, quantitative and mixed, and Communication (100 pages) outlines different ways of planning and writing the final document.

Each chapter within each of these main sections is filled – sometimes overfilled – with diagrams, charts, examples and summary checklists. We see how computer-based techniques and tools (described in detail) are essential for the modern reviewer, with copious (but possibly some dated) examples. With so much detail, different parts of this book will be more appropriate for different researchers at different stages than others. And not everyone will agree with all of the advice given. I found, for example, the advice to aim at a Flesch readability score of 30 and below for reports to be disconcerting. To my mind this should read 30 and above. Reviews need to be readable.

Seven Steps is generally readable and useful – but it is a door stopper.

SRHE Member James Hartley is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Keele University. He is the author of ‘Designing Instructional Text’ (3rd ed. 1994, Kogan Page) and ‘Academic Writing and Publishing’ (Routledge, 2008). 

Vicky Gunn


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The TEF and HERB cross the devolved border (Part 2): the paradoxes of jurisdictional pluralism

By Vicky Gunn

Higher Education teaching policy is a devolved matter in Scotland, yet the TEF has amplified the paradoxes created by the jurisdictional plurality that currently exists in the UK. Given the accountability role it plays for Whitehall, TEF’s UK-wide scope suggests an uncomfortable political geography. This is being accentuated as the Higher Education and Research Bill (at Westminster) establishes the new research funding contours across the UK.  To understand how jurisdictional plurality plays out, one needs to consider that Higher Education in Scotland is simultaneously subject to:

  • Scottish government higher educational policy, led by the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Shirley-Anne Somerville (SNP), and managed through the Scottish Funding Council (or whatever emerges out of the recent decisions from ScotGov regarding Enterprise and Innovation), which in turn aligns with Scottish domestic social, cultural, and economic policies. The main HE teaching policy steers, as suggested by recent legislation and commissions, have been to maintain the assurance and enhancement focus (established in the Further & Higher Education (Scotland) Act, 2005) and tighten links between social mobility (Commission for Widening Access 2015) and the relationships between the economic value of graduates and skills’ development (Enterprise and Skills Review 2016).
  • Non-devolved Westminster legislation (especially relating to Home Office and immigration matters). In addition to this is the rapidly moving legislative context that governs how higher education protects its students and staff for health and safety and social inclusion purposes as well as preventing illegal activity (Consumer Protection, Counter-terrorism etc.).

Continue reading

Ian Kinchin


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Student evaluation of teaching: are we reaching for the wrong type of excellence?

By Ian Kinchin

Over twenty years ago Carr (1994: 49) wrote:

 ‘It is a shallow and false view of education and teaching which takes it to be a matter of the technical transmission of pre-packaged knowledge and skills in the context of efficient management’

However, it seems that this false view is still able obscure a more contemporary and research-informed views of teaching. The on-going drive for ‘teaching excellence’ still seems to focus on actions of the teacher that promote Carr’s ‘shallow view’. That is not to say that the student voice is not important, but we need to ensure that students are asked the right questions so that we do not promote student passivity as learners and do not subvert the student voice for purely political ends.

Fitzgerald et al (2002) wrote Continue reading