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The Society for Research into Higher Education


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Launch of Policy Reviews in Higher Education

Bruce Macfarlane

Bruce Macfarlane

William Locke

William Locke

The first issue of the new SRHE journal, Policy Reviews in Higher Education, was launched at the Annual Conference on 8th December 2016, with a cake and after dinner speeches from the Editors, William Locke and Bruce Macfarlane.  The first issue (January 2017) is free to view for a limited period on the journal web site.

The following is an extract from the Editorial to the first issue of the journal.

In 1976, the first issue of Studies in Higher Education was published. According to its founding editor, the late Tony Becher, its purpose was to ‘demonstrate that higher education is a worthwhile field of intellectual enquiry’ (Becher, 1976:2). If judged by reference to current levels of publication activity in the higher education field, this modest goal appears to have been largely met. Studies, started with just 2 issues in 1976, with 27 authors contributing 24 papers. By 2014, it had expanded to 10 issues publishing 126 papers from 275 contributing authors.

Forty years on from the founding of Studies there is a substantial number of well-established academic journals devoted to higher education studies or specialist areas of interest such as teaching and learning, quality and policy. Policy Reviews in Higher Education joins Studies and Higher Education Quarterly as journals of The Society for Research into Higher Education. Why then, it might reasonably be asked, do we need another journal about higher education? This is a perfectly fair question, but we think we have a good answer.

First, Policy Reviews has an avowedly international and comparative orientation and encourages in-depth analyses of policy issues and developments relevant to any aspect of higher education. The internationalisation of higher education has been accompanied by the globalisation of higher education policy, policy transfer and borrowing. While nations and their national and local systems have different histories and configurations, many are facing similar issues and drivers, for example, around high participation, financial sustainability, equity, and the integration of higher education with other key components of political economy. These challenges demand fresh thinking and new perspectives, which are also based on historical understanding and a willingness to look forward, which the broad scope of this new journal will seek to encourage.

The second distinctive feature of Policy Reviews is that it offers a different sort of academic space for longer, more extended analyses and reflections on policy issues in higher education of between 8,000 and 12,000 words. The overwhelming majority of higher education journals publish relatively short papers of between 5,000 and 7,000 words, often based on small-scale empirical enquiry. At the other end of the scale are opportunities to publish academic monographs in book form that normally range between 45,000 and 70,000 words. Policy Reviews seeks to fill the gap between these formats by offering authors an opportunity to develop an in-depth piece of reflective analysis that can speak to an international readership.  However, we recognise that articles of this length require a different level of commitment (and risk), and so we have introduced a first Review Proposals stage, when authors propose an article in no more than 500 words.  These proposals are evaluated and feedback given by reviewers before any invitation is made to prepare and submit a full paper, which is then peer reviewed in the conventional way.

The breadth of perspective, together with the opportunity for extended contributions, will distinguish Policy Reviews in Higher Education from other higher education academic journals. Part of maintaining this breadth is to ensure that higher education remains a permeable field and not one that discourages contributions from different disciplinary areas. Higher education as a research field would ossify without continuing to draw on fresh ideas and concepts from other academic fields. In this spirit, we would encourage authors from any disciplinary background to consider contributing to the journal.

We also wish to emphasis that we do not regard ‘policy’ as a word that should exclude contributions to this journal focusing on any aspect of higher education that is subject to policy debate and development at any level. Divisions between ‘policy’ research on the one hand, and ‘learning and teaching’ research on the other, may reflect distinct scholarly tribes within the higher education field that participate in different conferences and networks and largely publish in different journals. However, this divide does not make much sense when there are critical areas of policy development, for example, in respect of learning and teaching, such as student engagement strategies and the development of academics as teachers as well as researchers.

We aim for between four and six longer form articles in each issue of the journal and have been very encouraged by the quality and quantity of contributions submitted so far. This has occurred even in advance of the launch of Policy Reviews and before readers can begin to see how our aims and vision might be realised over a number of issues.

A brief glance at the biographies of the authors contributing to the first issue will show that, as editors, we welcome – and have every intention of publishing – contributions from those near the beginning of their academic and publishing careers as well as those with long and distinguished publications records (and those in between).  We also seek a wide international spread of authors, their current locations and their areas of study.  Where gaps emerge, we will seek to encourage and even commission contributions to address these.  We have already drawn heavily on our highly supportive international Editorial Board, with its even more widespread expertise, in promoting the journal, as well as reviewing papers. At this point, we have no initial plans for Special Issues whilst the journal establishes itself, but we may consider this at a later stage.

Tony Becher wanted to win over the ‘retrenched sceptic’ who doubted the value of higher education research. While such critics are still around today there are now far more active scholars who research, write and publish about higher education and should be capable of defending and explaining its importance. The reputation of the field can only be enhanced through more in-depth comparative analysis that looks at how policy has evolved and developed across international contexts. This will, we would hope, boost our collective learning as both scholars and policy makers about higher education as a global phenomenon and the issues central to its future development.

Reference: Becher, T. (1976) Editorial, Studies in Higher Education, 1(1), 1-2

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Valuing Research into Higher Education

By Rob Cuthbert

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

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

Higher education research in the UK was at that time the pursuit of a very few academics in what was still a small elite HE system, but the researchers into HE came together in the Society’s first governing body, packed with luminaries including Continue reading


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David Watson 1949-2015 : A tribute

By Paul Temple

In his first few days working at the Institute of Education in London, David Watson, who died on 8 February this year after a short illness, was drafted in to chair the exam board for an MA programme about which he knew nothing, and which involved some tricky procedural matters. Afterwards, I overheard the experienced course administrator for that programme say to our own course administrator, ‘Your David Watson – he’s awfully good, isn’t he?’ David would have relished the compliment, coming from one of the ordinary members of staff who keep universities running, and would almost certainly have valued it at least as much as the many tributes paid to him in the days immediately after his death by grand figures in the higher education world.

This was because David appreciated that leadership involved understanding the details of how organisations work, the nuts and bolts that hold them together Continue reading

Camille Kandiko


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International research on the student experience: Power, methodologies and translation

By Camille Kandiko Howson

The SRHE Student Experience Network featured a discussion at the 2014 SRHE Conference exploring international dimensions of student experience research. We featured three international speakers to provide examples of topics and challenges faced when conducting international and comparative research:

  • Madeleine Kapinga Mutatayi , from Congo DRC, Kinshasa, Phd student Department of Educational Sciences Center for Instructional Psychology and Technology at KU Leuven, Belgium
  • Dr Johanna Annala, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Tampere, Finland
  • Dr Rebecca Schendel, Lecturer, Institute of Education, UCL, UK

The event was chaired by Student Experience Network co-convenor Camille Kandiko Howson with co-convenor Matthew Cheeseman in spiritu.

The Student Experience is growing in importance around the world (Barber 2013), whilst at the same time decreasing in common understanding, shared definitions and research coherence. This may be due to variety of foci of research into the student experience, including:

  • Curricular (learning gains, assessments, breadth and depth) (Douglass et al 2012; Crosling et al 2008)
  • Co-curricular (additional opportunities, such as community engagement, study abroad, and industry collaboration and employability) (Mourshed et al 2012)
  • Extra-curricular (accommodation, lifestyle, sports, societies, politics) (Thomas 2012; UNITE 2014)

These levels are then further compounded by levels of analysis, including individual, group (such as minority groups and international students), institutional (on topics such as governance, engagement and satisfaction), and inter/national (such as access, progression, labour market and rankings). Following the paradox of globalisation, and as countries around the world position higher education in society (such as dropping tuition fees in Germany and dramatically increasing them in the UK), what key issues about the student experience are of relevance across higher education research, beyond national politics and policies?

Two questions were used to stimulate topics for discussion:

  •  What research questions are not being asked about the student experience?
  • What research and evidence could promote productive, effective educational models of higher education?

Across national contexts, the importance of measuring and researching learning strongly emerged. Several delegates raised troublesome issues when Western views of educational research and practice were used in other contexts. This encompassed staff and student perceptions of the learning environment and their relationship to each other, in terms of culturally-bound classroom and research practices. This highlighted power issues between staff and students, particularly the notion of students publically challenging or critiquing staff, even in confidential research settings. A fundamental question arose about different national and cultural interpretations of the concept of student voice, and the need for more comparative work about what student voice means in practice in different political contexts, inside and outside of the university setting.

The challenges of borrowing, or imposing, Western views were also discussed in relation to methodologies, particularly the use of large-scale surveys. The US-based National Survey of Student Engagement offered both the opportunity for comparative research of student engagement and student learning using a validated tool but researchers noted that many of the underlying theories are culturally-bound, such as ‘ideal’ forms of engagement between staff and students and notions of democratic participation, particularly in non-Democratic settings. From East Asia to Africa to the Middle East, different perspectives and modes of interaction were discussed. Related methodological issues were challenges in translating English-based research resources into other languages and cultural settings.

A useful framework picked up from conference presentations was that of using ‘powerful knowledge’ and ‘powerful understanding’ when crossing borders, using international methods and tools and in partnering with colleagues.

This seminar concluded with a desire to share opportunities for collaboration and participation in exploring these areas of research. This entry is a start to this endeavour, welcoming comments and proposals for projects that could carried out in multiple national contexts and engage the international higher education research community. So please comment, share and get in touch with one another!

Dr Camille Kandiko Howson is a research fellow at King’s College London and co-editor of The Global Student Experience: An International and Comparative Analysis

Barber, M., Donnelly, K., and Rizvi, S. (2013) An Avalanche is coming: Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead, London: Institute for Public Policy Research

Crosling, G., Thomas, L. and Heaney, M. (2008) Improving Student Retention in Higher Education- The role of teaching and learning, London: Routledge

Douglass, J. A., Thomson, G., & Zhao, C. M. (2012). The learning outcomes race: the value of self-reported gains in large research universities. Higher Education, 64(3), 317-335.

Staddon, E., & Standish, P. (2012). Improving the student experience. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 46(4), 631–648.

Mourshed, M., Farrell, D. And Barton, D. (2012) Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works, Washington, DC: McKinsey Center for Government

Thomas, L. (2012) Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change: a summary of findings and recommendations from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme, London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation

UNITE (2014) Living and Learning in 2034- A higher education futures project, University Alliance and UNITE.


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SRHE Newer Researchers’ Conference 2013

By Jennifer Leigh

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the SRHE Newer Researchers conference. The day began with Mike Neary’s thought provoking keynote on ‘students as producers’. He explained this as an act of resistance to ‘students as consumers’ rather than ‘student engagement’ or ‘student-led teaching’. We were then thrust into a very full day of research seminars, all supported by an active twitter back channel.

The conference organised the presenters into Continue reading