srhe

The Society for Research into Higher Education

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


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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.).

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