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The Society for Research into Higher Education

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Green shoots before the Green/White Paper

By Rob Cuthbert

Over the Summer the new(ish) English Minister for HE, Jo Johnson, has been making speeches about his plans for a Teaching Excellence Framework, with hints about what it might contain. But only now, as SRHE News goes to press in mid-October, is a Green, or perhaps White, Paper expected. Clearly these things are easier to talk about in broad terms at election time than to lay out in specific terms six months later.

It was easy to see why the Government want to bring in a Teaching Excellence Framework. We already had a Research Excellence Framework, and outgoing Minister David Willetts was making increasingly apocalyptic statements about teaching quality both before and after he ‘stepped down’ from office. Nobody is against excellent teaching, so a pledge to reward it was an ideal manifesto-filler: it didn’t give any ground on undergraduate student fees, and it might even have placated some students (and their parents) about the value for money of their £9000 a year investment. And of course it might be possible, when we get to the detail, to justify uncapping fees completely for at least some of the Russell Group, and perhaps even to take more money off the rest, as the REF and the RAE have tried so hard to do.

This wasn’t, of course, where we started from. Continue reading

Ian Mc Nay


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Teaching Excellence Framework

By Ian McNay

This contribution is adapted from a paper first written to brief the trustees of Coventry Students’ Union, and just before a THE feature on senior staff from Coventry. So, it emphasises the need for a student involvement in assessing teaching excellence, but the messages have resonance for the rest of us, I hope. There are four basic questions to ask:

  • How do we define excellence/s? (The plural is important; excellence is contingent, it varies by purpose)
  • How do we measure it? Output and outcomes may be easy; process less so
  • How do we encourage and develop it?
  • How do we reward it?

None have yet been answered, even at a basic level.

Jo Johnson’s speeches to UUK had some good points, but Continue reading

Kelly Coate


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Reflective teaching in higher education

By Kelly Coate

Those of us who research higher education, and universities in particular, are endlessly offered rich sources of data from one of the most enduring and fascinating institutions in the world. Higher education is an unusual site of research, given the wide range of disciplines that can be employed and the diversity of approaches that can be taken. It is unusual for other reasons too: here in the SRHE we continue to develop as a very strong community of higher education specialists, but we know that almost anyone who works in academia might fancy trying their hand at doing higher education research, most likely in their classrooms but increasingly with other groups such as administrators or managers. Some of us may despair at the lack of knowledge and depth that higher education research ‘amateurs’ bring to bear on the field, but others of us encourage novices to get involved, mainly through the postgraduate programmes in academic practice that have become embedded in many institutions. Therefore another distinctive feature of higher education research is that we speak to many audiences through our publications. Mainly – as in common with other disciplinary specialists – we like to talk to each other, but our books and articles are increasingly used in those academic practice programmes just mentioned, and so a wide range of other disciplinary experts are now engaging with our work. Continue reading

Penny Jane Burke


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Access and widening participation in higher education

By Penny-Jane Burke

Questions of access and widening participation continue to pose significant challenges for policy-makers and practitioners in higher education with enduring and persistent inequalities at play.  Research has a central role to play in shaping the future directions of equity policy and practice, creating innovative methodologies and providing detailed and nuanced analysis to examine and unearth the root causes of ongoing inequalities. Research has traced the ways that inequalities are exacerbated by the multiple uncertainties and complexities characterising contemporary higher education, with profound changes being shaped by externally imposed and interconnecting political forces including globalisation, neoliberalism, neoconservatism, corporatisation, neo-patriarchy and neocolonialism.

In this contemporary context of higher education, there is increasing pressure for universities to position themselves as ‘world-class’, to aggressively compete in a highly stratified field driven by discourses of ‘excellence’ and to address the expectations of an all embracing league table culture striking at the very heart of university research and teaching. The ways that ‘excellence’ is placed in tension with ‘equity’ is unspoken and both ‘excellence’ and ‘equity’ are reduced to measurable outputs. Against this hyper-competitive and hierarchical landscape, concerns about widening participation, equity and social justice have been narrowed to aspirations of employability, efficiency and competency, with a strong emphasis on business and economic imperatives and logics. Continue reading

Paul Ashwin


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Going global – opportunities and challenges for HE researchers

By Paul Ashwin

Globally participation in Higher Education is rising rapidly. UNESCO figures for enrolment in tertiary education show that globally, participation rose from 19% in 2000 to 32% in 2012. It is also increasingly an international phenomenon; for example, the number of students studying abroad more than doubled from 2.1m in 2000 to 4.5m in 2012.

The increasing numbers of students internationally has contributed to greater scrutiny of higher education, as it has become a key focus of national and international policy makers. This scrutiny has led to unparalleled information about HE. This greater information presents higher education researchers with both challenges and possibilities because it both tells us more about higher education whilst also simplifying its complexities.

If we take the quality of higher as an example, the recent Yerevan Communiqué from EU Higher Education Ministers declared that “Enhancing the quality and relevance of teaching and learning is the main mission of the EHEA”. This both elevates the status of teaching and learning whilst also raising pressing questions about how we judge the quality of teaching in higher education.

Positions in national and international higher education league tables have become a dominant way of representing this quality. Their attraction is understandable: Continue reading

Jeroen Huisman


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Research on higher education policy

By Jeroen Huisman

Research on higher education in general, apparently, is alive and kicking. Tight (2012) calls higher education “big business” and other authors refer to the massification of higher education (read: more students, more staff, potentially more researchers interested in higher education) but also to the increasing important of higher education and research in contemporary society to signify increasing interest in higher education research.

The growth is also evidenced by an increase in journals focusing on higher education (Altbach, 2009) and in the growth of research centres on higher education (Rumbley et al., 2015). Although that growth may be uneven: with considerable growth in new economies in e.g. Asia and Latin America and stabilisation in (Western) Europe and the US, Rumbley et al (2015, 7) argue that “higher education is fast moving from the margins to the centre of much discussion and debate among policymakers around the world”.

Elsewhere (Huisman, 2015), I argued that behind this growth there are patterns of diversity Continue reading

RajaniNaidoo


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Transnational perspectives on higher education and global well-being

By Rajani Naidoo

The contribution of HE to global wellbeing was not always accepted. A view long held by the World Bank and other powerful actors was that investment in HE would bring limited social and economic benefits to developing countries. This view, which led to large scale disinvestment, was successfully challenged and in 2000 the World Bank itself positioned HE as a crucial engine for economic and social development1. In the context of the knowledge economy, the assumption is that HE will enable low income countries to ‘leap-frog’ over intermediate developmental stages and improve their positions globally2. At the same time, the formidable obstacles to the development of high quality systems of HE in many developing countries are recognised3. In this context, the provision of HE by foreign and corporate providers may be seen as an attractive solution in countries where governments are unable to readily acquire resources to commit to HE.

But to what extent can trans-national HE contribute to global wellbeing? Continue reading