srhe

The Society for Research into Higher Education

Paul Ashwin


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David Watson’s Scholarly Legacy: Towards a Conscience for Higher Education Research

By Paul Ashwin

I am offering this reflection on David Watson’s scholarly legacy partly on behalf of the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE). David was president of the SRHE from 2005-20012 and partly as someone whose thinking has been strongly influenced by David’s work.

I have always been suspicious of lists. They make me wonder about the relations between the different items and how together they form a coherent whole. I wonder about whether the items are mutually exclusive or if they overlap and how. I carried this suspicion with me into David Watson’s brilliant SRHE presidential addresses, as David outlined ‘Eight Category Mistakes in Higher Education Discourses’, the ten commandments of the ‘Oath for Contemporary Higher Education’ and ‘The Ten Laws of Academic Life’. Despite my suspicion, these lists captured something fundamental about contemporary higher education experience. They were wise, thoughtful and always challenging. So in reflecting on and celebrating David’s scholarly legacy, it seemed fitting that this seemed to form itself as a list. In revisiting David’s work and thinking about where it takes us, my sense was that it gives us much of the work that is needed to form a conscience for higher education research.

1. Know your history

David was an historian and his scholarly work often contains phrases such as “If you look at the long sweep of history” or “If you take the historical view”, which always preceded the demolishing of some supposedly truly original policy or research idea. 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

David Watson


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Professor Sir David Watson 1949-2015

SRHE President 2005-2012

It is with great sadness that the Society announce the death of Professor Sir David Watson, SRHE President from 2005-2012, who passed away on Sunday 8 February after a very short illness.

Throughout his career David sought to develop an understanding of higher education through research. He strongly supported the idea that higher education was a social good. As President of SRHE, David’s annual address to conference (always the best attended keynote) explored the relationship of higher education and society in ways that urged members of the research community to search for evidence on how current policies and practices were affecting society more generally as well as on students and staff in the sector.

David was a staunch supporter of the work of the Society for Research into Higher Education and the Society’s President from 2005 to 2012, standing down at his own insistence, as was typical of David, otherwise we would never have let him go. He felt that his seven years as President (two more than he signed up for) was, in his own words, “enough from me”.

He was wrong of course, as there could never be enough of what David had to say, the way that he said it and the breadth of knowledge, understanding, weight of compassion and sheer humanity that imbued everything he said and wrote about higher education.

We will not see his like again.

His legacy in terms of his written work will remain with us. What his colleagues will remember most is the friendship and support he gave to everyone, the way he touched so many lives and supported so many careers. He believed absolutely in collegiality within the academy and fostering respect between colleagues at all times. In this regard he led by supreme example.

Professor Yvonne Hiller, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Brighton and Chair of the Society during David’s tenure as President was also a personal friend and has summed up for us how we felt about him perfectly:

“Sir David was one of the few truly honest men who combined intellectual prowess with genuine concern and friendship for colleagues. He was particularly self-effacing when encouraging newer researchers to engage with examination of higher education. His genuine warmth for colleagues in the research community was much appreciated by newer and fully established researchers alike”.

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