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The Society for Research into Higher Education


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University Governance

by Phil Pilkington

There has been widespread discussion and outrage about the pay and reward of Vice Chancellors and their accountability to their governing bodies. In addition, there is discussion about the need to provide greater support for the lay members who govern universities, and the related need for the reform of institutional management to be less dependent upon an individual’s abilities as manager-leaders in a complex environment (‘less analogue and more digital’, Mark Leach, WonkHE).

A recent concern was whether ex-VCs should be encouraged to join the governing boards to provide some empathetic support for the management, and perhaps an independent but expert view of management in HE for the benefit of lay governors.

Another complaint has been the lack of gender balance and BAME representation on Boards of Governance, with women comprising 32% of board members (Sherer and Zakaria, 2018). There are other critical matters: civic engagement and the relationship with the local community; disproportionate pay increases for VCs and the consequent demoralisation of staff; the worsening conditions of all employees in pay and ‘contracting out’ to global corporations; calls for the democratisation of universities; and strategic engagement with political change. Issues such as freedom of speech, Prevent, institutional autonomy, public understanding of science to international partnerships and more are all directly or indirectly connected to the nature of governance. The governance of US universities is said to involve the triple duty of fiduciary, academic and moral responsibilities; there may be no limit to the responsibilities of governors.

A recent colloquium on governance focussed on the need for creativity in the global market of higher education and the needs for science innovation and pedagogic development (University Governance and Creativity, European Review, Cambridge, 2018). Whatever the limited pool of talent available for the lay governance of universities the UK stands strong in the league table for sectoral autonomy, scoring top at 100% in the European University Association (EUA) review in 2017. This is nonsense. Or rather, the concept of autonomy is nonsense for universities. It is an enlightenment concept out of Kant as a condition for moral agency and the categorical imperative. ‘Independence’ may be a better term to be used for organisations, but independence from what or whom? No organisation (or person) is context free or without history.

Explanations of university autonomy often appeal to von Humboldt and/or Newman; both had contextual arguments for independence from. In the first case, independence from crazed minor princes in the Holy Roman Empire or a Prussian king seeking fame as an enlightened autocrat making whimsical appointments; in the second, independence from the strictures of a bone-headed clergy in Dublin. (Interestingly, public state universities in the USA have senior appointments made by the state governor, boneheaded creationist or not.) Given the constraints and historical conditions for universities the question arises: is the governance what is needed? A related question then is what are universities dependent upon?

The EUA review of degrees of autonomy is flawed in assessing governance as either unitary or binary. In a unitary model the board of governors receives a strong or determining input from a senate or academic board. In the binary model the academic receives instruction from the governance/ management. The UK is assumed by the EUA to be a unitary model, but any academic input is strongly mediated by the management/executive, which to a large degree determines the agenda for the boards of governance and also sets the conditions for academic performance and structures. How can autonomy be graded? In the same way we might ask: how can uniqueness be conditional?

The end of the public sector higher education (PSHE) sector ended not just the polytechnics (and the soon to be promoted colleges of HE), it ended an accountability regime linked to local democracy. The Education Reform Act 1988 not only abolished that mechanism for local accountability (and, for good measure, the architecture of accountability with the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority and regional advisory councils), it put in place a system for the self-replication of governing bodies once Secretary of State Kenneth Baker had approved the initial tranche of governors. 30 years later we have a uniform system of accountability dominated by a specific professional outlook and culture. 

A sample of the experiences of governors, if we ignore the small minorities of academic and student governors, is salutary*.

There are minor differences in board membership between Russell Group and post-92 institutions, but the similarities seem more important. The striking feature of governing bodies is the preponderance of accountants, or rather senior executives of the major accounting firm. In my sample one Russell board has four members with current or recent professional experience with the big four accountancy firms. This is not unusual; another Russell has three members similarly engaged. ‘High powered’ accountancy skills are of course useful in overseeing a £multi-million business such as a university.

However, the political and social values that go with the high-level accountancy skills are now intricately connected to external political discourse and practice: the governor who advised on the privatisation of the railways, or the advisor on the HBOS-Lloyds merger; the advisor to the government on deregulation in HR, the directors (regional or national) of the CBI. There are others: financiers, bankers, corporate lawyers, big pharma directors, entrepreneurs in a range of consultancies, a smattering of retired senior civil servants and even a lead figure in the Student Loans Company. Any concern about the impact of the REF and TEF on academic staff would be overridden by a priority to ensure that targets are delivered.

The values and ethos of the individuals who comprise the governance of universities are not left outside the boardrooms. Why would they enter governance if they did not bring with them the normative values of their competences? And such competencies, if they can be described as such, carry with them a world view of how others should be and do.

Post-92 governors are less elevated; not as many MBEs, OBEs or knighthoods as the Russell Group. And there are more public sector roles such as youth justice, charities, health service executives, housing associations, media executives and senior local government or police service officers. There are some interesting outliers in the post-92 sector with senior women executives in industry, but – albeit to a lesser extent – the bankers and senior accounting partners are still there.

The concern for diversity – there is some ethnic and gender diversity in the post-92 group, less so in the Russell Group – is diminished by the uniformity of seniority and positions of power that all board members have in the private or public sectors as CEOs, partners, and chairs of boards, with what is likely  to be a uniform ideological outlook on the world. It has been suggested that remuneration (£20K pa has been mooted by the Committee of University Chairs (CUC)) would encourage more to volunteer their time and expertise on boards of governors, but the current incumbents are similar to those great and good who always seem to have volunteered in the past; they can afford to volunteer, others will be providing the work/value while they sit on the boards.

Remuneration would be appropriate if the board members needed the money to enable them to attend board meetings. The suggested amount from the CUC is more than annual wages for many.

Halting the self-replicating nomenklatura of these boards would be difficult, requiring an external intervention to put forward board members of a different character and set of values; perhaps those who are antithetical to the interests of the Student Loans Company, to privatisation of public services and the burdens taxpayers suffered with the banking crisis of 2008. But there have been interventions on board membership before – in the 1988 Act which ended  ‘donnish dominion’, thanks to the groundwork in the Jarratt Report. Some may protest that this would be an attack on institutional autonomy, but autonomy is not an unqualified condition of the success of universities in the UK, notwithstanding the glowing report from the EUA.

The CUC code of conduct requires governors to have the interests of the HEI at heart, but governors’ perceptions, values and interests will determine assessments of current and future positions. Given the monoculture and common discipline background, there may not be enough disagreement. Such uniformity calls for more creativity in governance. The focus will be on the operational imperatives of performing well within the current context, a context of ‘academic capitalism’, with a well-known critique which may not be accessible in governance or top down management. The lineaments of such a regime are: funding via student enrolments; quality assurance regulatory systems; marketisation; the OfS regulatory framework; financial viability standards; league tables; branding and consumerisation of education.

The freedom of the market is an ideological position: the market is externally created and freedom for action and conscience is limited by the external impositions. These conditions are not only handed down by the OfS but from ‘advisory’ instructions from government on an annual basis to consider participation rates, schools links, the green agenda, grade inflation, freedom of speech (yet again), consumer rights for students, et al. The fiduciary responsibilities of governance leave little room for manoeuvre and no prospect of supererogatory action. The advisory, regulatory and the bigger socio-economic conditions, from mobility and debt aversion to the international market for students, predetermine the scope of governance.

In contrast to the UK’s HE market superstructure there is a telling edict in the EU Lisbon Treaty, which has lofty expressions of modernisation and the knowledge economy but also asks universities to contribute to the advancement of democracy. We will not have to worry about that anymore. Given the experience of many lay board members in being directly engaged in engineering the market conditions which prevail for universities it would be surprising if boards did not find a normalcy, a correctness in the prevailing conditions. The other responsibilities of governance for academic and moral matters as expected in the USA seem simply preposterous.

Beyond the need to broaden the experiential background of governors, we can also question the constitution of boards. Current expertise can be useful for audit, financial oversight and stress testing business planning (although the big four accountancy firms have had some remarkable involvement in corporate failures in the recent past), but to duplicate this at full board means a loss of opportunities for the more discursive. The current uniformity also explains why, notwithstanding the managerial links of performance to executive leadership, high levels of pay for VCs are not considered exceptional by remuneration committees – they share the same atmosphere.

Reform of governance  structures means that some of the axioms in mission statements should be considered as governance issues. If universities are ‘communities of scholars’ then why is the governance of that community in the hands of corporate accountants, financiers and directors of privatised public assets? If universities are to play a role in partnership with the local community in the civic mission then what of the governance implications with that community?

Finally, how can the academic/senate discourse connect with corporate governance? This is not simply about which will take priority: first we must ask, can they talk to each other? The simple hierarchical format of governance ‘works’ in terms of financial viability (more or less) and international status and delivery (more or less) but that should not be confused with overall efficacy. Other historical conditions contribute to the success of the HE sector – or rather, parts of the sector, as some struggle to survive in the market, or exit.

There is talk of the need to devolve managerial leadership, not always a happy experience if distant and indirect corporate performance targets give way to local bullying. Weakening governance by having the not so great and the good might not alter the dynamic of executive leadership; management might become even more powerful and autocratic. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, too often, challenging and questioning the executive is rare.

The deeper problem is to disperse governance from the hierarchical to a more clustered and broader stakeholder approach. Beware the unanalysed ideological values that we all bring to bear on decision making. Let’s ditch the concept of autonomy which is a historical accident in semantic terms and begin some creative discussions on what creative governance should look like.

Reference

Sherer, M and Zakaria, I (2018) ‘Mind that gap! An investigation of gender imbalance on the governing bodies of UK universities’ Studies in Higher Education 43(4): 719-736

*I looked at 12 universities, six  Russell Group and six post-92 universities. Some governing bodies are known as Council, some have changed their title to Board of Trustees, but all have the same legal responsibilities for the institution. The Committee of Universities Chairs (CUC) has produced 3 advisory reports on remuneration of senior staff, one advisory report on Prevent, and on student’s (sic) unions.

Phil Pilkington is Chair of Middlesex University Students’ Union Board of Trustees, a former CEO of Coventry University Students’ Union, an Honorary Teaching Fellow of Coventry University and a contributor to WonkHE.

Paul Temple


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Let the sunshine in! – no, hang on…

By Paul Temple

I’m walking through central London on a bright, warm, sunny day, people sitting outside at pavement cafes, and I’m thinking, this is nice – then thinking, this isn’t nice at all, this is February, the temperature shouldn’t be in the low 20s. Sunshine – oh, the irony for people on a damp, cloudy, island in the North Atlantic – is now a further unwelcome reminder that my generation has comprehensively failed in its – our – responsibility for the biggest problem, by far, facing us all. There is no technological fix for climate change that is even remotely in sight. Nor can I see a way of evading our responsibility: our generation, the baby-boomers, was of voting age – to set the bar at its lowest – when the damage that humans were doing to the climate became apparent in the later twentieth-century; and nothing much was done.

The evidence mostly wasn’t available for our parents to act on; and the die was already cast (a lot of global warming now being “baked-in”, to use the unfortunate metaphor popular with climate scientists) by the time the generation after us reached voting age. So responsibility for the state of the planet around the turn of the next century, maybe much sooner (and it’s hard to find an informed estimate that isn’t somewhere between unbelievably terrible and plain apocalyptic), rests squarely with us. I’m glad I won’t be around to have to try to explain how we managed to make such a mess of things.

If universities can’t help with what now seems to be mainly a damage-limitation exercise, I’m inclined to think that we should just pack up and go home. The more positive view, presented cogently by Neil Harrison in his 20 February SRHE blog, is that: “We need to reoccupy public spaces and reassert our expertise …. Why would someone want to spend valuable time that could be spent on developing further expertise in dialogue with those seeking to undermine their authority from a position of relative ignorance? … However, this impulse to disengage must be resisted, with educators needing to reassert their expertise in public forums … Relevance can only be rediscovered by finding new ways of working together to reapply our expertise to the world’s wicked problems.”

And while resisting the huge temptation to say “I told you so” to the climate-deniers and climate-delayers (“Yes, we must act, but not just yet…”), universities are in a uniquely strong position to press for global action. They possess both the necessary knowledge base and a non-partisan status. The actions needed are, however, going to be uniquely difficult politically – though perhaps less so as the decades pass and coastal cities flood (see the Environment Agency’s handwringing about the expected future ineffectiveness of the Thames Barrier) and the equatorial belt becomes uninhabitable, driving mass migration. But universities, certainly in Britain, have been notably timid in speaking truth to power, even where the research evidence is overwhelming.

Take an education example: the empirical case against selection at 11+ is as unarguable as anything can be in social research, but I think many parents could be forgiven for assuming that a grammar school/other divide reflects some kind of natural educational order. Have I missed hearing our university leaders saying, minister, your schools policy is just plain wrong? If universities, individually or collectively, can’t make a powerful public case for policy change where the rock-solid research evidence shows that everyone will benefit, what chance is there of them engaging in a difficult debate where politicians need to tell people that they have to put up with uncongenial changes for the benefit of their grand-children?

I really do hope that I’m being far too pessimistic, and that Neil Harrison’s call to arms will be answered by academics taking the fight to public forums and to politicians with the full backing of their vice-chancellors and universities. But if university leaders don’t rally round, well, it’s not the end of the world. Oh, sorry, it is, isn’t it?

SRHE member Paul Temple, Centre for Higher Education Studies, UCL Institute of Education, University College London.

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Putting the education back into governance and teaching

By Rob Cuthbert

The theme of the 4th Annual Conference of the Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE) was Challenging Higher Education: it did not disappoint.

The opening remarks by CGHE Director Simon Marginson (Oxford) were a rousing call to arms, urging universities to look beyond current bipolar conflicts to develop a more collaborative world, in which UK universities would do more than just “work the British colonial circuit”, in a post-Brexit world of regions where UKHE might not have a region any more. Marginson segued into his introduction of the Burton R Clark Lecture, now a fixture in the CGHE Conference, and delivered this year by Bob Clark’s good friend Michael Shattock (UCL).

In his lecture on ‘University governance and academic work: the ‘business model’ and its impact on innovation and creativity’ Shattock previewed some findings from his latest book, to be published in July 2019. His research with co-authors Aniko Horvath (King’s College London) and Ellen Hazelkorn (Dublin Institute of Technology) in a range of universities in the UK had revealed accelerating diversity of modes and missions, and a trend towards ever more intrusive government policymaking. Governors who might once have been critical friends were now obliged to enforce regulatory guidance from the Office for Students, perhaps the thin end of a wedge of more lay intrusion into what is taught, and how. Paradoxically the idea of the student as customer barely featured in the almost dystopian landscape he painted, first of teaching and then of research. The metric-driven pressure to perform should not, said Shattock, be confused with Clark’s identification of a ‘strengthened steering core’ in the entrepreneurial university. (He would say that, of course, since the original strengthened steering core was probably Warwick’s during Shattock’s towering tenure as Registrar, but it doesn’t make it less true.) That core was closely connected to the academic community, whereas the current academic climate risked repressing rather than fostering academic innovation and creativity. The ‘English experiment’ with HE marketisation had reinforced executive governance; it was time to restore the academic community to its proper role as a key partner in governance. Questions and discussion pushed Shattock to a ‘back to the future’ position somewhat removed from his argument, as he was reluctantly driven to extol an Oxbridge model of governance by academics in contrast to the unduly top-down executive management and governance searingly exposed by his research. It was, nevertheless, a lecture which in a fitting way did justice to Clark’s legacy.

Next up the organisers had conceived a panel discussion on ‘Brexit, UK and Worldwide Higher Education’, not – as no doubt first planned – days after Brexit had actually happened, but on the day after a seven-hour Cabinet meeting had led to proposals for a further meeting, something Cornford surely wrote in Microcosmographia Academica. A post-Brexit Panel would have seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it fell rather flat, despite the best efforts of chair Ellen Hazelkorn (Dublin Institute of Technology) and engaging contributions from Nick Hillman (HEPI) and David Palfreyman (New College, Oxford and an OfS Board member), arrayed perhaps symbolically on the right wing of the panel (as seen from the floor). Lunch intervened before the second keynote from Marijk van der Wende (Utrecht): ‘On a Learning Curve: New Realities for HE in a Changing Global Context’. Her theme was the rise of China, probably soon to become the world leader in HE, and already surpassing the European Union in R&D spend, and the US in scientific output. It was a presentation informed and enlightened by much first class research evidence, but hindered by unreadably small text in many powerpoints, problems with the sound system, and a fire alarm which forced the hall to empty for 30 minutes halfway through her presentation. She was however able to rally and finish with an upbeat quote by the Rector of Leiden about Brexit not holding back the progress of scientific collaboration.

The CGHE team decided to make no concessions for time lost, their judgment vindicated by the continuing presence of most participants staying for the delayed finishing time after 6pm. They were drawn first by the parallel sessions reporting work in progress on some of the many CGHE projects, living up to the Director’s prospectus by offering multi-level global perspectives on public good, graduate skills and careers, sectoral evolution, participation, financing and equity, management and academic work, and more. Golo Henseke and Francis Green of UCL were developing a thesis that social skills were increasingly important for graduate earnings, drawing economic comparisons across Europe, and comparing European and US experiences. Vassiliki Papatsibas (Sheffield) and Simon Marginson were in the early stages of a project on ‘Brexit, emotions and identity dynamics’, where they had been taken aback by the emotional ‘turn’ their data had forced upon them. Does reason enable and passion disable? they speculated. (How else, I wonder, can we account for the flood of academic tweets seizing on every lone shred of evidence pointing to the iniquity of Brexit, from those who would otherwise be railing against government’s own attachment to policy-based evidence?). Aniko Horvath reported early stages in her research with Jurgen Enders (Bath) and Michael Shattock into the scope for negotiated local orders in university governance, drawing interesting comparisons between the UK’s legitimation of committees as part of governance structures, and Germany’s attitude, which regards the role of committees and working groups as at best questionable.

In the final plenary Paul Ashwin (Lancaster) spoke with research-informed passion on ‘Transforming University Teaching’. Oversimplified accounts of the educational process make us lose sight of the educational arguments for undergraduate education. Too often we mistake privilege for ability, and prestige for quality. Justifying HE in terms of generic skills is reductionist, and purporting to explain HE in terms of signalling for employers simply reinforces the iniquitous force of global rankings and institutional prestige. Instead we should recognise that universities are the distinctive custodians of structured bodies of knowledge, and teaching is about designing ways for students to develop access to one or other of those bodies of knowledge – that is how teaching may truly be transformational. This is a continuing process of hard intellectual work: we need to change ourselves and our curriculum, not expect students, managers and policymakers to change so we can stay the same.

Thus the conference ended as it had begun, with a call to put education back on centre stage – in these troubled times that is indeed challenging higher education.

SRHE member Rob Cuthbert is editor of SRHE News and Blog.


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A Letter from Germany

By Richard Budd

In March 2019 I attended the GfHf (Gesellschaft für Hochschulforschung – German Society for HE Research) conference, in Magdeburg. I was supported by the SRHE as part of their ongoing and developing relationship between the two societies; the GfHf sent two ECRs to Newport for our 2018 conference. I was presenting a paper at the conference anyway, but was also looking to build networks and think about potential research collaboration.

As is often the case, the comparative aspects, both the similarities and dissimilarities, spring to mind when thinking about the conference. As we might expect, German-speaking HE researchers are, by and large, talking about the same things in and around universities that we are: populism and the legitimacy of experts and university-produced knowledge; governance in and around research and teaching; big data, digitalisation and social media; aspects of social justice around widening participation, gender pay inequalities, and employability. In this way, it was familiar territory. What stand out as different, though, are the geographical scale and unit of analysis.

In the first instance, the majority of papers were about German-speaking countries, and predominantly about German HE itself. This contrasts with the SRHE’s annual jamboree, which while being fairly UK-oriented, also sees and attracts a great deal of internationally comparative/non-UK research and researchers. Part of this is no doubt cultural, given the limited geographical spaces where German is the first language, and also because the countries in this space operate a specific kind of university system. Another part, though, can be attributed to funding, in that the German government, either centrally or at the regional state (Bundesland) level commissions a lot of research into examining the lay of the land and analysis of their policies.

Secondly, almost all of the papers relate to the macro and meso levels, or nation/system and organisational. As an admittedly crude generalisation, much of our UK-based research is macro-micro, connecting social and governance trends and/or analysis of individual/group experiences and responses. We do look at organisations, but for ethical/access reasons, universities’ identities tend to be anonymised, and this means that much of the case detail goes unreported. This is often not the case in Germany, they are much more matter-of-fact about what’s working, as well as where it’s going wrong. I’d argue that this is a good thing, being far healthier than sweeping problems under the carpet for reputational reasons, but then also German universities aren’t involved in the same kind of bun-fight for funding and students as we are.

This macro-meso orientation in German HE research probably connects to the fact that, as the majority of universities over there are state institutions, many changes to the system have to come from the top. Education in Germany falls within the remit of each of the 16 Bundesländer, and they are very protective of their regional turf. This means, though, that while universities and academics do have some autonomy, they are not as flexible (or as responsibilised) as in the UK. It also means that change is somewhat pedestrian by UK standards, but systemic. It has been well-documented that, for this reason, German speaking countries have been relatively slow to embrace (or have been immune from) the marketisation and performance-based elements that are so prevalent in many other countries.

A secondary observation is that nearly all of the papers are applying the same theoretical approach, neo-institutionalism. Neo-institutionalism is largely concerned with organisational behaviour, and sees organisations embedded within fields (i.e. sectors). It is therefore well-suited to what German HE researchers are looking at, but it was striking to see it appearing almost ubiquitously across the presentations I attended – including mine! We do see it in management/organisational studies in the UK, but not so much in HE research. Methodologically, the spectrum is as we see it, everything from multi-level modelling to discourse analysis and interviews etc. However, the qualitative work was invariably being utilised to examine the effect/effectiveness of interventions at the organisational level, rather than the personal experiential aspects.

What the conference really offers, then, is a different set of references and perspectives, as well as a different set of people, and therefore an opportunity to step out of our UK-oriented bubble. Many of us do research on an international and comparative basis, but we inescapably bring at least an element of ethno-centricity into our work. Being in Germany allowed me to step outside that a little more, and identified some of my own biases. Maybe, I’m wrong, and perhaps this says more about my methodological nationalism than anything.

As a caveat, most of the presentations – and both of the keynotes – are, naturally, in German. (It also reminded me that the non-native English speakers at our conferences have to work so much harder to follow presentations, ask/answer questions, and engage with colleagues; this is incredibly tiring.) As of 2018, though, there has been an English track in the conference – I presented my paper in this. German colleagues are almost invariably more than happy to converse in English for those who can only ask their way to station auf Deutsch. Culturally, the food is different, and there was an endless supply of (really good) cakes and coffee. Also, for those not familiar with German higher education, audience participants rap their knuckles on the desk at the end of presentations rather than clapping, which can be unsettling the first time you experience it!

In closing, it’s probably worth mentioning that nobody mentioned Brexit until the second round of drinks after dinner. There’s certainly absolutely no schadenfreude in Germany for the political corner we’ve painted ourselves into in that regard.

SRHE member Richard Budd is Lecturer in Higher Education at the University of Lancaster.


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Organising, funding and participating in care-friendly conferences

By Emily Henderson

SRHE member Emily Henderson (Warwick) runs the ConferenceInference blog with Jamie Burford (La Trobe), offering a unique gateway to research about HE conferences. Her recent post is adapted and reblogged with permission here.

Conferences are highly exclusionary spaces for all manner of reasons. They are also vital sites for learning, knowledge production and dissemination, career development, and the formation of collaborations and partnerships for publications and research projects, sites where jobs are directly and indirectly advertised and secured, and sites of friendship, mentoring and all kinds of relationships. Conferences are recognised in research on academic careers as important sites which have a plethora of indirect benefits. Furthermore, attending, organising and being invited to speak at conferences are also expectations which are included in many promotions criteria and also in some hiring criteria (particularly for early career scholars who may not yet have a publication record). The role of conferences is often downplayed in practice and in research; amassing research and evidence on the impact of conferences on careers has resulted in a clear and irrefutable conclusion: missing out on conferences disadvantages academics in multiple regards. 

While the role of conferences continues to be downplayed – often by those for whom it is easiest to attend – there will continue to be hidden inequalities which contribute to overall inequalities in the academic profession and which cannot be addressed until fully acknowledged.

Based on some initial understanding of this problem from my doctoral work on knowledge production about gender at Women’s Studies conferences, and from personal experiences, I decided to explore the exclusionary nature of conferences – with a particular focus on caring responsibilities. The particular features of the stance taken in this project were: (i) a wide definition of care, to include partners, children, other relatives, pets, friends and kin; (ii) a focus on how care interacts with both access to conferences and participation in conferences while there.

In December 2016, I won internal funding from the University of Warwick Research Development Fund for a small-scale project on the relationship between conference participation and caring responsibilities. This was originally intended as a ‘pilot study’ for a larger project, but it touched a nerve and became much more than a pilot study – producing important findings and provoking widespread interest, including several invitations to present the research at events on inequalities and on care in the academic profession. The discussions in turn highlighted the need for further discussions – and for concrete outputs to influence the actions of those involved in organising, funding and participation in conferences. To develop the project’s trajectory further, in 2017 I applied for funding from Warwick’s Institute for Advanced Studies and embarked upon the production of a range of outputs for different audiences.

The project was assisted by Julie Mansuy in the first phase and Xuemeng Cao in the second phase, and I offer my sincere gratitude to them for their assistance with the logistics and implementation of this project. The outputs from the project, ‘In Two Places at Once: the Impact of Caring Responsibilities on Academics’ Conference Participation’, can all be downloaded or viewed from links included here (see also the events and outputs page on the project website).

The Conference Inference blog has already told parts of the story. ‘Conferences and caring responsibilities – individual delegates, multiple lives‘, explained how the project stemmed from the realisation that conferences are often designed for unencumbered delegates, and much conferences research (and indeed HE research in general) constructs an individualised academic subject who has no ties. The project explored conferences in their own right as sites which contribute to the development of knowledge, careers and collaborations, but also as a lens through which the academic profession as a whole can be viewed, given that conferences are both representative of and resistant to the institutional norms of academia (see Henderson, 2015).

Overwhelming care: reflections on recruiting for the “In Two Places at Once Research Project”‘, marked the moment where I realised that the project had touched a nerve. I was inundated with requests to participate – messages flooded in with enthusiasm and relief that someone was finally researching this – with snapshots of the complexity of academics’ lives, juggling care and academic work. The project research used a diary-interview method with 20 academics; a further 9 participants just filled in the diary. ‘Conferences and complex care constellations‘ revealed early findings, showing the range and complexity of different care constellations. This included temporary and long-term caring, shifting and dynamic care needs, hands-on and virtual caring, and a variety of different caring responsibilities.

The project has since produced a number of different outputs for different audiences, which all emerge from the study, with inflections from various discussions with colleagues, the project’s stakeholder groupreactions to the project I have received, and questions and comments from the various events at which I have presented the research.

Output 1: Recommendations briefing for conference organisers (view)

 This briefing, produced in collaboration with Leigh Walker and the Impact Services team in the Warwick Social Sciences Faculty, outlines how conference organisers can facilitate access to and participation in conferences for academics with a variety of caring responsibilities. Many considerations can be implemented at little or no cost (eg indicating evening social events in advance, or ensuring the wifi is easily accessible), but with significant impact. Care provision at a conference does not amount to providing a creche (see also Briony Lipton’s post, ‘Baby’s first conference‘). The briefing is targeted at both larger association conferences and smaller one-off events, which are often hosted in HEIs but tend to fly under the radar of institutional equalities policies.

Output 2: Recommendations postcard for Higher Education Institutions (Human Resources, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion personnel, Department Chairs) (view)

This is a short set of priorities for HEIs as a reminder that institutions expect their academics to attend conferences, but do not necessarily take responsibility for ensuring that academics are able to do so. While conferences are often portrayed as something like leisure – an optional extra (see ‘Conferences are (not) holidays‘), HEIs have a responsibility in this regard as long as academic promotions and hirings include conferences and the indirect outcomes of conferences such as publications and collaborative research projects – as well as ‘esteem’ and ‘reputation’ indicators. The postcard highlights the role of HR/EDI professionals in drawing together different relevant policies (eg relating to expenses claims, right to childcare, travel bursaries – see also the post about La Trobe’s carers’ travel fund) and the role of department chairs in being aware of and implementing policies.

Output 3: ‘Juggling Conferences and Caring Responsibilities’ short film (view)

 This short film, freely accessed on Youtube, aims to raise awareness of how conference attendance and participation are affected by the challenges of managing caring responsibilities. The film, produced by Mindsweep Media, includes reactions to ‘In Two Places at Once’ from: an EDI professional; a higher education and equity researcher; and academics with caring responsibilities (including a doctoral researcher with a young child, a dual career couple with a young child, and an academic who had cared for her elderly parents). Academics with caring responsibilities benefit from knowing that this is a shared issue and the film can be shown in training sessions and meetings for senior decision-makers.

Output 4: ‘In Two Places at Once: the Impact of Caring Responsibilities on Academics’ Conference Participation – Final Report’ (view)

Henderson, EF, Cao, X, Mansuy, J (2018) In Two Places at Once: The Impact of Caring Responsibilities on Academics’ Conference Participation: Final Project Report, Coventry: Centre for Education Studies, University of Warwick. DOI: 10.31273/CES.06.2018.001

The project report is a more comprehensive but accessible resource, with recommendations for action by different parties, including EDI and HR professionals and people involved in the ATHENA Swan process or other equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives. The report is also an academic resource for research in the areas of care, higher education, gender and the academic profession.

Next steps

A chapter focusing on the diary data was published in Accessibility, Diversity and Inclusion in Critical Events Studies (Routledge, 2019), with two journal articles and a conference presentation planned. I am developing a broader research agenda focusing on intersectional issues of access to and participation in conferences. Updates will be reported at Conference Inference, on Twitter (#I2PO), on the project website, or email me (e.henderson@warwick.ac.uk) to join the project mailing list.

Follow Emily Henderson on Twitter @EmilyFrascatore.


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Five stages of marketisation in English higher education policymaking

by Colin McCaig

The use of the term ‘neoliberal’ to describe the marketisation of HE systems implies a ‘grand design’ that takes a public service like HE and creates a market; however it seemed to me that this differed from a ‘free capitalist market’, nor did my understanding of the historical development of HE in England seem to reflect such a simple linearity of design. Therefore I decided a couple of years ago to really nail down what neoliberal marketisation means in the context of the English HE system. The result was The marketisation of English higher education: a policy analysis of a risk-based system, my 2018 book summarised in a paper to the SRHE Research Conference in December 2018. Employing a political discourse analysis (PDA) approach to a close reading of 16 HE policy documents over the last thirty years I identified five distinct stages of marketisation policy, reflected in arguments used to justify reform:

Stage 1: efficiency, accountability and human capital (1986-1992)

This stage was exemplified by reforms highlighted in: the Jarratt (1985) Report on university management and the Croham Report (1986) on the future of the University Grants Committee; the 1987 White Paper; the 1988 Education Reform Act; and the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act. Arguments deployed included the need for ‘New Public Management’ thinking: ideas that promoted entrepreneurialism among university and polytechnic leaders. University and polytechnic boards, and the new Universities Funding Council, would henceforth include business representatives; individual academics were also encouraged to be more entrepreneurial, selling their expertise as consultants. At the same time the binary system would be unified and expanded in the hope that institutional competition would ensue, the better to meet the changing basis of demand for human capital in the knowledge economy of the future.

Stage 2: diversity as a good (1992-2000)

Policy documents during the 1990s largely celebrated and encouraged diversity and the prospects for widening participation. The new landscape of different types of institutions and modes of HE were seen as essential for expansion and lifelong learning needs. While the discourse shifted radically in some ways from stage 1, human capital needs were still to the fore – as important as social justice arguments when it came to arguing for a widening of participation. The Dearing Report (1997) encapsulated most of the debates around the future size and shape of the sector and how to fund expansion, recommending the introduction of partial fees. Commissioned by the Conservatives, it reported to an incoming Labour government wedded to social justice objectives and lifelong learning.

Stage 3: diversity becomes differentiation (2003-2010)

The major policy statements covered in this stage – the 2003 White Paper, 2004 HE Act, and the 2009 White Paper – introduced radically new arguments for a new purpose. No longer would system diversity be celebrated for its own sake, HEIs were now exhorted to differentiate their offer in the marketplace to attract applicant-consumers. Responding to institutional pressures for more funding, government introduced a variable tuition fee, on the assumption that only the most highly-demanded universities would justify the higher fee of £3,000 per annum. The policy arguments used in this stage were unusually reactive; the Russell Group and 1994 Group of universities had long lobbied for ‘top-up fees’, partly on the basis of actual costs but also because they believed they needed to be differentiated in the market from ‘other’ universities and types of HEIs. Greater centralisation paved the way for the regulatory framing for the market we see in 2019.

Stage 4: competitive differentiation (2010-15)

This stage can be seen mainly as the continuation of the implications of the previous stage – the arguments deployed in the Browne Review of HE funding and student finance (2010) and the 2011 White Paper Students at the heart of the systemdominated policy discourse. The need to have an efficient, responsive differential system reflecting a competitive fee distribution, to (roughly) match the UCAS points distribution between highly-demanded and less demanded institutions, became more critical in the era of £9,000 a year tuition fees. This decision can be seen as the key driver of virtually all policy since 2010.

Stage 5: risk and exit: the completion of the market?

The 2015 Green Paper and 2016 White Paper introduced proposals and legislative measures finally to actuate the variable tuition-fee market as envisaged as long ago as 2003. The Higher Education and Research Act introduced a single regulator for all and any HE providers – the omnipotent Office for Students (OfS) which manages, via quality oversight and funding incentives, the system of risk-based monitoring that is designed to encourage ‘exit’ for failing providers, to be replaced, if necessary, by new alternative providers encouraged in turn by lower Degree Awarding Powers and University Title barriers to market entry.

Marketisation 1986-2019: a tortured path or linear progression?

At the time of writing no providers have been allowed to fail/exit and many in the sector are in denial that government would ever allow it to happen: but that is the iron logic of the market thus constructed. Successive OfS and government statements (from OfS Chair Michael Barber, and successive Universities Ministers Sam Gyimah and Chris Skidmore) have been at pains to reassure us that they will not prop up a failing institution, defined as one that that fails to attract enough applicant-consumers willing to pay a given tuition fee. New providers, coming to market with a cheaper offer, will finally create downward pressure on (stubbornly un-differentiated) fees: ‘failing’ providers either lower their fees or risk losing students to the competition. Needless to say, none of this harms the established research-intensive ‘elite’ providers that had been lobbying for differential fees since the late 1990s.

Was all this part of a grand neoliberal design, a blueprint for marketisation? Or a collection of reactive decisions designed to ameliorate the effects of the unintended consequences of previous reforms, or indeed externalities such as the 2008 crash? Diversity and (largely unplanned) expansion certainly begat defensive differentiation among the existing (pre-1992) universities, which immediately called for the right to charge ‘top-up’ fees in the name of differentiation. Government, meanwhile, trying to widen participation for human capital as well as social justice purposes, also needing to satisfy the pre-1992s, hit upon choice for the applicant consumer in the run up to the 2003 White Paper as the mechanism that would allow applicants to see where the most highly valued HE was to be found. The Times Higher Education duly obliged with the first wave of its ‘price-list’ domestic league tables from 2005. While commercial league tables never featured in any policy statement, officially endorsed indicators of ‘quality’ such as the National Student Survey, the Destination of Leavers from HE survey and a UNISTATs website containing consumer information were all conceived at this dawning of the competitive market, all in the name of differentiating the system so that applicants could differentiate the pre-1992 ‘wheat’ from the post-1992 ‘chaff’.

The ‘end-stage’ of the market (HERA 2017) attempts to open up the system to cheap incomers that maybe, just maybe, will provide the much needed downward pressure on average tuition costs. Poorer students are exhorted to think hard about increasing their own (and public) future debt by choosing the wrong kind of HE providers: the 2016 White Paper celebrates the good access record of many ‘new providers’ and the virtues of alternatives such as apprenticeships. After twenty years of promoting the ‘graduate premium’ (first noted in the Dearing Report 1997), the White Paper points out how differentiated that benefit can be, and promises us more sophisticated evidence from tax returns (LEO data) to dissuade those with the least chance of enhancing their life though HE.

Colin McCaig is Professor of Higher Education Policy at the Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University He has published extensively on widening participation and system differentiation and is a political scientist by background. His book The marketisation of English Higher Education: a policy analysis of a risk-based system, was published by Emerald Publishing (ISBN: 9781787438576) in 2018


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Insights for newer and emerging researchers of higher education

by Camille Kandiko Howson

This is a long overdue blog on my keynote Higher Education Research: A Personal Reflection on Policy and Practice at the 2017 SRHE Newer Researchers Conference (available on the SRHE website as well as a post-Keynote interview). In my defence, I was 8 months pregnant at the time and am starting a new job at Imperial College London. Which means that I have been reflecting on these insights myself, and in relation to colleagues (including those newer and emerging in their higher education careers as well as some very well-established).

Develop skill sets

Personal skills: A research career always starts with your personal skills. Through hundreds of interviews with academics and professional leaders, I have learned that research careers are hard work. A journal publication is akin to the tip of an iceberg of activity. Research requires tenacity, perseverance and loads of patience (from delayed trains to waiting for reviews to come back). Good public speaking requires a lot of practice (and do not read from your slides).

Collaboration skills: Find ways to work with those within your institution. This may be on projects related to your job or be more practical in nature. To progress you will need to work across institutions. This may be strategically for multi-institutional projects or to leverage resources. International collaborations are vital for niche expertise and comparative research. As you narrow your research specialism you will find there are usually a handful of people exploring similar topics. And working internationally does not need to entail a massive budget—I have long-term collaborators I have only met via Skype. Tip: this is a great website to find time zones to connect.

Methodological skills: Develop your methodological toolkit. This means going beyond a simplistic quantitative/qualitative divide. The methods should follow from the research questions and the best way to address them. I use various quantitative and qualitative analyses as appropriate, as well as concept mapping (and developed concept-map mediated interviewing), cognitive interviewing techniques, focus groups (I am a fan of 4-6 people, more than that and voices get lost) as well as interviews. Even more creative methods are being used – from photo elicitation to dance and Lego (which I personally get enough of at home). Tip: distinctive methods can go a long way in selling a research bid.

Writing skills for different audiences: There is no point in doing research if you cannot communicate the findings. There are very different writing styles for different audiences. Academic writing can be heavily referenced and jargon-heavy. The practitioner audience wants to hear the ‘so what’ answered. Writing for policymakers is tough, but at least is always brief. The public is a whole other beast – if your work has public interest I recommend professional media training, it really helped me with live radio broadcasts when you get five minutes to prepare. And when writing for students, it helps to “show your work”, not just the conclusion. I am still working on the skill of taking one piece of research and ‘translating’ it for different audiences (hence a massive pile of rejected journal articles from policy-oriented research projects).

Building a career

Be strategic: Be creative in approaches to roles and responsibilities to build longer term success. Can you turn an internal project evaluation into a research project? Can you repeat a pedagogical intervention each term to build up a longitudinal dataset? Or have a colleague to the same and work together?

Be green: Re-use resources and recycle your data. Within ethical boundaries, you can continually mine your own data. I managed to draw out the theme of ‘creativity’ for a journal special issue from  a large dataset on leadership.

Be free: You do not need external funding to do HE research (although it helps!). If you do not have, or are in between, funded projects, carry on small bits of longitudinal research or pet projects. I have seen full professors present on research they did ‘on the side’ over 5-10 years.

Be you: Develop your own strand or niche within a larger project. This may be within a professional position or a funded research project. You will always be assigned some roles, but seek out related activities that allow you some freedom to pursue your own interests.

Be savvy: This is not for novices, but if you start early it is a lot easier. Conducting a meta-analysis across projects and strands of research allows you to inform policy and have high impact. This can start with high-quality literature reviews or cataloguing studies in your research area.

Research impact

It used to be ‘publish or perish’. For better or worse, impact is the new name of the game now. Think of multiple audiences and what aspects of your research they may be interested in – this may differ for students, academics, institutions, government policy and the wider public. A straightforward way to have research impact is to bid for commissioned research projects: an eager audience already awaits.

Impact means getting your boots dirty – hit the rails, the road, the sky. You need to get your message out there. A tip for research bids – set aside plenty of funding to support dissemination. In addition to the SRHE blog, use Twitter to get your findings out, Wonkhe is great for policy, Times Higher Education has a wide readership and University World News has international reach.

Forging your own path

In the absence of large student cohorts, there are very few ‘traditional’ academic jobs in higher education studies; exceptions are the Master’s in Higher Education courses in the US or a few large-scale doctoral programmes. That means most higher education researchers have their own unique career path, often in hybrid roles with a mix of academic, professional services and managerial responsibilities.

To keep moving ahead in your career, build research networks across institutions and countries. If you do not know where to start, ask questions about someone’s research. Develop broad networks, including for professional work, research, across the sector, as well as policy influencers.

Get off your phone and email and be present and active at conferences; develop a public profile; request coffee chats with those whose work you like. Draw others in to your area of interest. I suggest informal mentors and champions as I have never found a formal scheme that seemed to work out. Find commonalities with others in related and semi-related areas (methods is always a good start). Tip: Write half an article then ask for collaborators rather than starting from scratch.

Challenges and opportunities

Sustaining a research career is not easy. You may encounter research and policy fads. There are endless calls for accountability and the resulting need to translate outputs to meet targets for your institution, REF and impact. It is also a lot easier to publish some kinds of research than others. Building networks can be daunting, and you will encounter tribes and territories and the intimidating disciplinary ‘old guard’ or ‘Mean Girls’-style cliques.

I know several colleagues who have built up professional and research expertise in a niche area or in a specific institutional context, and then feel stuck or are afraid to let go of what they have achieved to move on.

There is also the challenge of positional power in higher education. You might know more than your VC about access, but best not tell her that. Expertise and knowledge can be threatening to those above and around you – academia is not immune to the cry of “enough of experts”. Your research will always be more respected outside your institution.

However, chin up, as they say. Keep the big picture in mind and play the long game. Keep multiple strands of work going. Build supportive networks. Play to your strengths and build on your weaknesses. I need to force myself to stop and write instead of chasing the next grant sometimes. When tensions get tight, speak to facts. And be humble (at least on the outside).

Final points of wisdom

Your specialism will only ever be part of what your day job is; every HE role has its “bread and butter” elements (what pays your salary). Keep your career goals in mind (do you want to be a REF star? Do you want to have policy impact? Or institutional impact? Do you love teaching?

Don’t pull up the ladder behind you, build new ones to drop down. Provide and pass on opportunities to others. Some activities pay your salary, some offer generous or pitiful compensation, others offer prestige, networking, goodwill or, if lucky, a cup of tea and some biscuits. And a random one to finish, never put a country name or a discipline in a title (it is a turn-off to everyone else).

SRHE member Camille Kandiko Howson is Associate Professor of Education in the Centre for Higher Education Research & Scholarship at Imperial College London. Camille is also a member of the SRHE Research & Development Committee


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The scholarship of learning and teaching: a victim of its nomenclature?

by Nathalie Sheridan

Scholarship historically suggests there are elements of reading, of engaging with other scholars’ and researchers’ thoughts and publications. It is a historical exercise analysing and critiquing a body of existing knowledge. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) also necessitates a strong element of reflectivity – or better reflexivity – to become a meaningful activity. However, SoTL is more than ‘just’ scholarship. Indeed, it would be of little use for educators, if it would not involve for instance researching the impact of learning and teaching strategies, or interventions.

There is debate about the definition for SoTL and it has not yet reached a satisfactory conclusion or sound framework, despite attempts such as that by Miller-Young and Yeo (2015). However, most of the publications trying to explore positioning SoTL assume that it involves some form of research, as they speak of methods, methodology, and theories. That SoTL tends to focus on a specific context, very often a narrow view of a classroom, a course, programme or a faculty, does neither mean it is not research. Nor that the way we collect data should not adhere to research processes and standards (Reinman, 2019). If educators in their subject disciplines aim to gain meaningful insights about their practice, the data needs to be meaningful and this is done by research design.

The nomenclature is confusing. I would like to get away from the notion of equating a term for a specific context with the meaning behind it. The actual philosophies, methodologies, and approaches to which this this subfield of educational scholarship and research relates are the same as those employed generally in scholarship and research in education. SoTL is the context of educational research in higher education, with an emphasis – but not exclusionary – on exploring the effects of learning and teaching strategies on the students’ learning experience and often attainment and retention, usually with a very specific focus. However, the content of SoTL, the stuff people who ‘do’ SoTL engage in, is research and scholarship of education within the higher education context. Therefore, SoTL ought to use the same tools and rigour as educational research (and scholarship). When teaching my masters level course ‘Approaches to Educational Inquiry’, I try to convey that SoTL goes beyond an evaluation of a new classroom activity, or the use of end-of-course questionnaires as the sole measurement for course evaluation.

As an Erziehungswissenschaflter (Learning Sciences Scientist, there is no actual translation for my discipline) who moved into the English language context, it never sat easy with me that my Wissenschaft ‘science’ – simply because I changed language – suddenly was a little less and I am not a scientist anymore. Educational research has attracted a barrage of not unreasonable critique as to its quality. But it also attracted critique which demonstrates a lack of understanding of Erziehungswissenschaften (learning science, education).

A recent critique (Hazel, 2019) was that educational research does not even use the scientific method. This point of critique is based on a flaw in thinking; unlike in a chemistry or engineering lab, the variables and factors affecting our learning and understanding cannot be controlled nor can all of them be observed (at the same time). In our team we joke about learning following the Heisenberg principle; one cannot observe all variables at the same time, and the act of observing will change at least some of them.

To suggest testing and modification of hypotheses as a reasonable approach to understand an effect on learning shows a clear lack of understanding the complexities of learning. Learning is a social, neurological, cognitive, and personal process. The effects of one learning instance cannot often be predicted. As an example, if you have been teaching for a while, you will have noticed that an activity which worked well with one cohort, completely flatlined with a different cohort, or the same cohort on a different day. Experienced educators might be able to draw from tacit knowledge and make decisions that lead to planned outcomes but this is a whole other debate. However, we need to remain vigilant in addressing the various levels of theoretical framing and not confuse worldviews, theories, paradigms, methodologies and methods. If we, for the sake of simplification, cut out these steps it will just lead to more confusion and less sound scholarship or research.

Valid points in the aforementioned critique (Hazel, 2019) were the lack of replicability and sharing of data in educational research. Sharing data about our learners might appear to be in conflict with open science. However, there is an imperative for the public sector to share data, and institutions work towards making it ethically possible (UKRIO, 2018). The often narrow focus on exploring the effect of an intervention cannot tell us much more than an analysis of a conjunction of circumstances within a certain period of time. Will we know that evaluating one cohort’s reaction to a change in assessment, is transferable to another cohort, in another year? If so, how do we know? To ensure replicability we need to attempt to answer these questions. Replicability is a complex issue, which I can’t address fully within the word-limit here. Maybe one point to make would be to explore the emergence of patterns amongst similar projects. I was taught that any educational research which claims an undisputable truth is flawed, due to the complexity of influencing factors. It is near to impossible to isolate influencing variables and draw conclusions that are generalisable; this is due to human nature not due to lack of research rigour.

Let’s embrace the chances for gathering rich data and gaining in-depth understanding which the use of SoTL permits us, and explore how to strengthen the validity and reliability of our approaches to data collection and analysis.

Nathalie Sheridan is a lecturer in academic and digital development at the University of Glasgow (LEADS). Her first degree is in Erziehungswissenschaften (Learning Sciences, TU Dresden) with an MPhil (University of Glasgow) and PhD (University of Strathclyde) in education. She has worked in culture and museums education throughout her studies and been teaching in higher education since 2006. Her focus is the translation of creative learning and teaching practices into higher education, through active pedagogies and rethinking learning spaces with the aim to improve the student experience and include disenfranchised learners and educators.


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Making knowledge more explicit in the English for Academic Purposes classroom

by Mark Brooke

This post is part of a series tied to a special issue of Teaching in Higher Education published in March 2019. This special issue aimed to spark a re-evaluation of what higher education needs to do to respond to the post-truth world, especially from the perspective of individual educators. The twelve papers, nine of which are accompanied by posts here on the SRHE blog, take different perspectives to explore the ways in which higher education is being challenged and the responses that it might make in terms of curriculum, pedagogy and professional practice.

In 2000, Moore (2000: 33) wrote that the ‘curriculum of the future should be the curriculum of knowledge’. He argued that knowledge should be accessible to all members of society and, in this way, education should promote social and educational justice. However, we find that the educational climate for such an objective is not wholly welcoming. In many university settings, academic language courses tend to be devoid of a theoretical approach to education that places the teacher in the role of linguistic expert. Indeed, courses prominently feature notions such as grammatical accuracy instruction based on isolated clauses at the lexico-grammatical level or independent self-directed learning and study habits. Unfortunately, in these cases, the focus of instruction may first be decontextualised as extracts, which oversimplifies the meanings in the texts; and second, a theory of language or knowledge may play a backseat role or even be entirely absent. As many researchers have pointed out, focusing on common errors in a de-contextualised way is probably not effective. Additionally, independent learning, although a useful process, is often given too much focus. This detracts from the time spent with a qualified tutor as knowledge provider, taking the onus away from what the teacher does. In the case of independent learning instruction, what is being foregrounded is ‘the social circumstances of knowers’ (Maton, 2014: 5), not knowledge.

In contrast, the main goal of our research is to provide knowledge to students in the form of analytical lenses to enable them to deconstruct and judge information effectively. What we strive to do is move away from educational ‘knowledge blindness’ (Maton, 2014). Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) as a sociological framework has guided our educational practices to do this. The basic premise of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) is that knowledge is power. LCT is a toolkit for analysing socio-cultural practices and uncovering what constitutes the ‘rules of the game’ that provide the means to that power. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a gaze or ‘a mode of thinking, acting and being’ (Dong et al, 2015: 8) through the explanatory power of the codes. In this research we seek to develop our students’ critical gaze. We achieve this by applying the dimensions of specialisation (including cosmologies) and semantics.

Specialisation determines principles of privilege in fields of practice. Practices that emphasise epistemic relation and downplay actors’ dispositions view specialised knowledge as the basis of achievement (ER+). We believe a curriculum should primarily be built on ER+. Practices that emphasise social relations, and downplay epistemic relations, are represented by the knower codes (SR+). Independent learning is an example of this, which has often been given too much focus in our field. Knower codes can be explored in greater depth through the use of the concept of ‘axiological cosmologies’. Maton (2013) defines cosmologies as ‘constitutive features of social fields that underlie the way social actors and practices are differentially characterised and valued’ (p 152). In identifying how clusters are formed, we can help students to understand the means by which experts and authors attempt to persuade the reader to align with a position on a particular issue. ‘Semantics’ is a dimension from LCT that ‘conceives social fields of practice as semantic structures whose organizing principles are conceptualized as semantic codes’ (Maton, 2014: 2). Using Semantics, it is possible to explore the relations that exist between knowledge structures and, in particular for this purpose, how to apply a critical lens to a social phenomenon or text to analyse it. 

We conducted research between 2015 and 2017 at the Centre for English Language Communication at the National University of Singapore. Our findings, from three parallel case studies within the broad framework of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), provide results from classroom-based action research working with semantics, specialisation and axiological cosmologies from Legitimation Code Theory. Each case study is outlined, explaining how these LCT dimensions have guided practice in the teaching of English for academic writing. Specifically, LCT has been applied in the development of our students’ critical dispositions by teaching them how to apply critical lenses to analyse texts and to make informed judgements. The first case study explores semantics as a strategy for teaching how to use lenses for the theoretical framework section of an IMRaD (Introduction, Methods, Research and Discussion) research paper in the social sciences. The second is set in a standalone EAP module and describes the use of a systemic-functional linguistics-informed pedagogical tool as a lens to analyse academic discourse so learners can better understand the meanings including the assumptions, unsupported claims, or biases in texts. The third regards the embedding of LCT approaches for students engaged in writing hortatory blogs in a unit entitled Public Writing and Communication. Students are taught to explore ‘axiological cosmologies’ to understand how evaluative meanings form patterns of clusters that enable the writer to create a persuasive expository text.

References

Dong, A, Maton, K and Carvalho L, (2015) The structuring of design knowledge The Routledge Companion to Design Research, pp38-49 London: Routledge.

Maton, K (2008) ‘Knowledge-building: how can we create powerful and influential ideas?’ Paper presented at Disciplinarity, Knowledge and Language: An International Symposium Sydney: University of Sydney

Maton, K (2013) Knowledge and knowers: Towards a realist sociology of education Routledge: London

Maton, K (2014) ‘Building powerful knowledge: the significance of semantic waves’ in Barrett, B and Rata, E (eds) (2014) Knowledge and the future of the curriculum, pp181–197 London: Palgrave Macmillan, Palgrave Studies in Excellence and Equity in Global Education.

Moore, R (2000) ‘For knowledge: tradition, progressivism and progress in education – reconstructing the curriculum debate’ Cambridge Journal of Education 30(1): 17–36

Mark Brooke is Senior Lecturer at the Centre for English Language Communication at the National University of Singapore. He specialises in research and teaching in two fields: English for Academic Purposes and the Sociology of Sport. He can be found on Google Scholar, Facebook and LinkedIn.The full article by Mark Brooke, Laetitia Monbec and Namala Tilakaratna (all National University of Singapore), ‘The analytical lens: developing undergraduate students’ critical dispositions in undergraduate EAP writing courses’, is in Teaching in Higher Education 24(3): 428-443


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Academics in the Digital University

By Ibrar Bhatt

I was honoured to organise, introduce and chair this SRHE digital university network event on 22 February 2019 at Queen’s University Belfast. It was the second Digital University Network event to take place here at Queen’s and I hope that it becomes a new tradition for both the SRHE and QUB.

The event hosted three papers, from varying perspectives, to discuss the issue of digitisation and how it has affected the professional work of academics. Since most research on digitisation tends to focus on students, there is now a justifiably growing body of work which examine the impact of digitisation on academics, especially in light of new practices of knowledge production, knowledge distribution, and, more broadly, academic identity formation in current times. In other words, what it means to be an academic and to do academic work.

The event began with the team of the ESRC funded ‘Academics Writing’ project (David Barton, Mary Hamilton (both Lancaster), and myself (QUB)), outlining how digital media and digitisation policies are shaping the knowledge-producing work and professional lives of academics in new and unexpected ways. One focus of this talk was email and how to manage it and experience it as part of professional life in academia. Much of the discussion which emerged was around how universities are managed and how, if at all, academic labour is divided. You can read more about this project’s findings in our new book Academics Writing. I worked on this project and found that it was a great induction into the academic working life!

This was followed by Katy Jordan’s (Open University) paper, which drew on three of her recent projects. The projects  focused on academics’ use of social media platforms for networking, how these engender different types of impact, different types of professional connections and relationships, and how these relate across different discipline groups. Notably, one of Katy’s many findings is that academic online spaces are not ‘democratising’ spaces, but rather spaces where hierarchies are reflected and in some cases algorithmically perpetuated.

Mark Carrigan’s (Cambridge) paper explored how the proliferation of platforms is reshaping social life, particularly in relation to the social sciences and their role within and beyond the university. Among the various perspectives critically explored by Mark were ‘project time’ in academic work, ‘amplification-itis’ where pursuit of online popularity is an end in itself, and overall ’acceleration’ in the academy as a result. You can find out more about Mark’s work here.

The papers together presented arguments about how many of these new practices, brought about through digitisation but also given impetus by deeper changes such as the marketisation and massification of HE, are becoming key indicators against which academic professional success is being measured, with online profiles being factored into an academic’s reputation and potential to influence their own field. This event, therefore, critically explored some of the challenges faced by new and established researchers in understanding what the ‘digital university’ portends for the future of the academic workforce and for scholarly work in general. The scope is quite vast so we hope to cover this theme again in future events to include more international perspectives.

All three sets of slides for the papers are available here.Ibrar Bhatt is a Lecturer in Education at Queen’s University Belfast, a member of the SRHE’s Governing Council, and a convener of its Digital University Network. His recent publications include the following monographs published by Routledge/T&F: Assignments as Controversies: Digital Literacy and Writing in Classroom Practice and (co-authored) Academics Writing: The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation. He tweets at @ibrar_bhatt