srhe

The Society for Research into Higher Education

Paul Temple


Leave a comment

The student experience in England: changing for the better and the worse?

By Paul Temple

When the present English tuition fee regime was being planned, there were plenty of voices from inside universities warning that it would change the nature of the relationship between students and their universities for the worse. Students would, it was feared, become customers, rather than junior partners in an academic enterprise. Indeed, this was what the Government’s 2011 White Paper, Students at the Heart of the System, seemed to look forward to: “Better informed students will take their custom to the places offering good value for money” (para 2.24) – in other words, they would, it was hoped, act like normal consumers. Has this happened? Continue reading


Leave a comment

The Catalan universities and the ‘unseen scenario’ of a hypothetical independence

By Michele Girotto

The self-determination referendum is a current hot topic in Catalonia. A reflection of this atmosphere is the pro-independence and the right to vote march that took place in Barcelona on 11 September during Catalonia’s national day. The debates surrounding the referendum are bringing forth issues of history, culture, language, legislation, economic and financial affairs, as well as education. Concentrating on the single topic of education, there have been several arguments engendered over the past years and especially in recent days, about whether an independent Catalonia would perform better in its national higher education system.

According to the president of the Vives Network of Universities, a non-profit organisation that represents and coordinates joint action in higher education, research and culture of 21 universities from 4 different European countries in the Mediterranean area, a 100% Catalan government would pay more attention to higher education Continue reading

Vicky Gunn


Leave a comment

Interdependence and HE systems

by Vicky Gunn

My life has entered a period of dramatic change. I am not referring here to my imminent move from an institution in which I have worked for nearly 18 years (Glasgow University) to a new adventure at Glasgow School of Art. No, the dramatic change I refer to here was my intellectual discomfort around the Scottish independence referendum. For me, the last few months have involved a growing realization that the fragile imaginary social fabric (to adopt a phrase of Maurice Bloch’s) which is stitched together to tailor the United Kingdom was being unpicked by two seamstresses of quite different hues: one focused on the holistic ‘sew the patchwork quilt together but slightly differently’ argument, the other on the ‘unpick the lot and start again’ one. Both have seemed wanting in my mind, because both appeared to come from an ultimately misleading question: should Scotland become an independent country? Continue reading

Paul Temple


Leave a comment

Light at the end of the tunnel?

By Paul Temple

Metaphors involving the word “light” are often invoked to describe the university’s task. Arriving at the new campus of the University of Macau, such metaphors seem redundant: you emerge into the daylight from a one-and-a-half kilometre tunnel which links the campus, which is in Chinese territory, with Macau. This is necessary because, despite extensive land reclamation, there wasn’t enough space in Macau itself to build the one square kilometre campus deemed necessary to meet the higher education needs of the Macau SAR (Special Administrative Region), the ex-Portuguese counterpart of Hong Kong, an hour away across the Pearl River estuary. Because movement between Macau and the rest of China is tightly controlled (as with Hong Kong), the new campus had to be separated from the rest of the mainland by a security fence and what is in effect a moat. The only access is by the tunnel. Continue reading

Paul Temple


Leave a comment

‘Alternative’ they may be, but ‘providers’ …?

By Paul Temple

Not that many SRHE members – I’m guessing here – will have called in on the London College of Business Sciences in Dock Road, E14. If you were planning a visit, you’d need to be sure that you hadn’t confused it with the London College of Business Management. Other traps for the unwary could be the London College of International Business Studies, not to mention the London College of Business Management and IT. Or indeed any one of a long list of for-profit colleges with the words ‘London’, ‘College’ and ‘Business’ in the title. The QAA has the thankless (and it seems to me pointless) task of inspecting these places. The London College of Business Sciences, to make a random choice, was established in 2010 and has changed ownership every year since then. It’s not then particularly surprising that the QAA in a report this year found that ‘The College’s…management of academic standards…is not fully effective’.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

News values

Ian Mc Nay

Ian McNay

My interest [obsession?] with the way the press report HE issues has had several items to feed it recently. I had a spat, unpublished, with John Morgan of Times Higher Education over an article on 27 March on student number allocations by HEFCE headlined ‘No bonanza for those who left places unfilled’. The story opened with the assertion that ‘the big post-92s suffer’, having  proved [sic] ‘less popular’, and the third paragraph lists four of them.

Then comes the table giving percentage reductions, where those with the biggest reductions are not post-92s, but Leeds, Bath and Surrey. The article comes to them in the fourth column, with a claim that their reduction was probably ‘strategic’. As a researcher, I looked for evidence of the different reasons behind reductions. There was none, since ‘figures were issued on a “no approach” embargo’ where no questions could be asked of institution staff. So, opinion, based on speculation, based on stereotypical bias, is presented as news reportage.

The reporting of research demonstrating the [not new] findings that state school entrants outperform those from private schools with the same entry qualifications, mentioned the recommendation to consider adjusting offers, and produced the usual protective outcry on the web page. Nobody reported the evidence from UCAS stats that grades are adjusted by Russell Group universities, where applicants from privileged backgrounds are more likely to get an offer than those with similar qualifications from less advantaged backgrounds.

Finally in this rant is the question: ‘what is newsworthy?’ In recent weeks, the Centre for Leadership and Enterprise at Greenwich has offered commissioned programmes for staff in the Nigerian Ministry of Education, including the permanent secretary, covering issues of policy on teacher development and deployment, vocational provision, standards, and school governance; and for senior staff from Ukraine – both sides of the country and the language divide – on leadership as a new Higher Education Law is developed.

I thought these together were newsworthy: a small centre working with staff from countries with challenging contexts and offering good news to balance the bad. I was wrong apparently. Judged by the University as not worth a press release or even a mention in the University’s daily coverage on its web pages.

There is, apparently, a ‘London effect’: had we been in Lincoln, or Teesside, or even at the university’s Medway campus, it would have been worth trying to get something in to the local press. London journalists are more blasé and world-weary, it appears, so nothing appeared. But at least you now know about it. I am due in Kyiv in October; if I get taken hostage, will that count as news?

SRHE Fellow Ian McNay is emeritus professor at the University of Greenwich.

Paul Temple


Leave a comment

Departmental dysfunctions

By Paul Temple

The quality of the management or, if you wish, leadership of university academic departments has been a cause for concern – from both ends of the hierarchy – for as long as anyone in the system can remember. In my usual guide to finding out what people were thinking the day before yesterday about university operations – Lockwood and Davies’s 1985 Universities: The Management Challenge – John Davies remarks that heads of academic departments are “middlemen [sic] in a complicated communications network…[with] enormous intellectual, emotional and physical demands in this difficult position… the role is a target for others’ frustrations” (74). I think this nicely sums up what we still find today.

It’s fairly clear that these difficulties arise in large measure because academics in these roles find themselves doing mid-career management jobs with, at best, limited prior experience. Up until that point in their careers, they have concentrated on being good historians, physicists or whatever; whereas their equivalents in most other organisations will have done several more junior management jobs and will perhaps have worked closely with people at or near the top of their organisation, in the process learning tacitly what good management looks and feels like. (Obviously, it doesn’t always work out like that, the world not being perfect.) Continue reading


Leave a comment

Knowledge brokers in UK universities: From bewilderment to belonging?

By Christine Knight and Claire Lightowler

Christine Knight photo

Christine Knight

Claire Lightowler photo

Claire Lightowler

In 2010, Dr Claire Lightowler and I were invited to take part in a symposium on Changing academic and professional identities in higher education at the SRHE Annual Conference, organised by Professor Rob Cuthbert. This was my entrée into the world of higher education research.

Following a PhD in food studies, of all things, in 2008 I had found myself working in a new kind of role in the academic social sciences – that of knowledge broker, with a remit to support the use, impact and dissemination of research. Claire had found herself in a similar position, and when we first crossed paths at a professional networking event in Edinburgh, it was a relief to find someone who shared some of my bewilderment. Continue reading

Paul Temple


Leave a comment

If HR is the answer, perhaps we’re asking the wrong question

By Paul Temple

We all know that universities are, above all, people businesses. Every university depends on specialist staff to provide often complex services typically to thousands of students, some of them on a one-to-one basis. Their academic staff members are mostly expected to work at the intellectual frontiers of their disciplines, and are relied on to do so with minimal supervision. The people management issues involved here must therefore be a central concern for any university’s senior management: get this wrong, and the place is in real trouble. So the HR director has a task of at least comparable importance to her colleagues directing teaching, planning research, or exercising overall financial control. Universities are all about people, so HR has to be a key function – right?

Wrong. The analogy with finance, in particular, is tempting but false. Continue reading

Vicky Gunn


Leave a comment

The bright new world of academic careers?

Vicky Gunn

Scotland’s universities, like many in the rest of Europe, are busy trying to navigate the emergent waves relating to academic careers. New contractual systems are coming in like a Spring Tide, washing away previous obligations and replacing them with new ones, in some cases loosely and in others profoundly, tied to performance.  This performance is not just in a general category (eg research or teaching or service) but across several categories (publications, grant income, teaching excellence, leadership, management, administration, esteem, knowledge exchange and impact.) 

Additionally, early career high fliers are being promised reductions Continue reading