The Society for Research into Higher Education

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Valuing Research into Higher Education

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By Rob Cuthbert

It was an occasion to celebrate in every sense when the Society staged a Colloquium at Church House in Westminster on 26 June 2015, to celebrate its formation 50 years earlier. As part of the preparations SRHE Fellow Michael Shattock had been commissioned to write a study of SRHE over its first 25 years. He explained that:

The SRHE was born out of the ferment in the world of British HE that had been generated by the Robbins Report … [but] it was not the intellectual driver. This came from a different source, a concern about the health and welfare of the student body. … Dr Nicholas Malleson, the University of London Student Medical Officer and Director of Research in Student Problems … the acknowledged inspirer and founder of SRHE … stated that he wanted to create an organisation “to bring together the researchers [in higher education] and those who were users of research, whether as teachers, administrators or civil servants”.

Higher education research in the UK was at that time the pursuit of a very few academics in what was still a small elite HE system, but the researchers into HE came together in the Society’s first governing body, packed with luminaries including Malleson as Chairman, Lady Ethel Venables (Aston), Ernest Rudd (Essex), Lionel Elvin (Director, London Institute of Education), Chelly Halsey (Oxford), Claus (later Lord) Moser (LSE), later to become SRHE President, and Graeme Moodie (York). Shattock points out that “only three of the 13 members could be described as professionals in the discipline of education and the membership was primarily drawn from … other disciplines.”

The Society was formally created by a Memorandum of Association on 31 December 1965, with signatories including all of the above. The last surviving member of the signatories was Claus Moser, who died this year. His obituary in the Guardian quoted a friend who said ‘Claus was really about 7 or 8 different people’ with his wide interests in the arts, higher education, government, banking and much more; it was our good fortune that he would give so much time to SRHE.

There were some other beginnings you might remember in 1965: the Council for National Academic Awards was established and the Secretary of State for Education and Science, Tony Crosland, issued Circular 10/65 requesting local authorities to convert their schools to the Comprehensive system. Martin Luther King led the marches in Selma and Lyndon Johnson made his ‘Great Society’ State of the Union speech, but then put US troops on the ground in Vietnam. The Beatles invented stadium rock by performing at the Shea Stadium in New York, Bob Dylan controversially went electric at the Newport Folk Festival and released Like a Rolling Stone, and the Rolling Stones issued (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. University students moved easily from music to marches, whether for civil rights or against the war; in 1965 these things could still readily be joined up. But in the year when Craig Breedlove set a new land speed record of 600.601 mph on the Utah salt flats, change was speeding up everywhere.

In higher education, most of the 2015 world’s universities did not yet exist. Most UK universities are not as old as SRHE. In 1965 many of the ‘new universities’ post-Robbins were still at the planning stage, the would-be polytechnics were still anticipating their 1966 White Paper, and ‘alternative providers’ were a distant dream, or nightmare. 50 years on, the ‘top 50 under 50’ in world university rankings include such established names as: Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; City University of Hong Kong; Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; Maastricht University; University of California, Irvine; University of Calgary; Simon Fraser University; Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona; Universidad Autonoma de Madrid; University Ulm; and the University of Newcastle, Australia.

How has the Society fared over these 50 years of tumultuous change? Michael Shattock is in no doubt:

In 2015 the Society has a much more secure base than it had in 1990 and is flourishing in a way that its founders in 1965 could only have dreamed of. The Society may not be so engaged in wider policy issues as it became in the 1980s and early 90s but it remains committed to the internal world of higher education in ways which resonate with the ideas of Nicholas Malleson and his colleagues when they founded the Society in the white heat of the post-Robbins debates.

For a full on-line copy of ‘SRHE and the Changing World…’ by Michael Shattock, or for the 50th Anniversary Colloquium programme, visit

Printed versions of both these booklets can also be requested by e-mailing

Rob Cuthbert is Emeritus Professor of Higher Education Management, University of the West of England, Joint Managing Partner, Practical Academics,  and Chair, Improving Dispute Resolution Advisory Service

Author: SRHE News Blog

An international learned society, concerned with supporting research and researchers into Higher Education

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