srhe

The Society for Research into Higher Education

Ian Kinchin


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From ‘evidence-based’ to ‘post-truth’: is this a trend in higher education?

By Ian Kinchin

Is there a trend within higher education that parallels the general trend in society, from ‘evidence-based’ to ‘post-truth’? There has been a trend (that I have been aware of for several months, though it has probably been going on for very much longer) of a move away from research and data towards a justification of claims in the media by using statements such as, ‘a lot of people think that’. This trend has been played out very publicly in elections in the UK and in the US in the past year, where it seems that if you say something often enough and loud enough, then it will be accepted as part of the canon. Maybe that has always been so? But when we have Government ministers on the TV telling us that we shouldn’t listen to experts because sometimes they can get things wrong, it does sound like Homer-Simpson-reasoning.

We seem to be witnessing a similar trend in higher education where ideas seem to be distorted to fit political and economic aims. If you are really cynical, you might go back through press cuttings and see a move from ‘evidence-based’ to ‘student-centred’ to ‘post-truth’. I am not arguing against student-centredness here, but I am aware of the ways that is can be miss-represented so that the phrase ‘but the students want it’ seems to trump other arguments without any real analysis of what or why. But there is a question (probably many) here about what students want, which students want it and why students want it – whatever ‘it’ might be. Continue reading

Jeroen Huisman


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Research on higher education policy

By Jeroen Huisman

Research on higher education in general, apparently, is alive and kicking. Tight (2012) calls higher education “big business” and other authors refer to the massification of higher education (read: more students, more staff, potentially more researchers interested in higher education) but also to the increasing important of higher education and research in contemporary society to signify increasing interest in higher education research.

The growth is also evidenced by an increase in journals focusing on higher education (Altbach, 2009) and in the growth of research centres on higher education (Rumbley et al., 2015). Although that growth may be uneven: with considerable growth in new economies in e.g. Asia and Latin America and stabilisation in (Western) Europe and the US, Rumbley et al (2015, 7) argue that “higher education is fast moving from the margins to the centre of much discussion and debate among policymakers around the world”.

Elsewhere (Huisman, 2015), I argued that behind this growth there are patterns of diversity Continue reading

Vicky Gunn


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Learning Analytics, surveillance, and the future of understanding our students

By Vicky Gunn

There has been a flurry of activity around Learning Analytics in Scotland’s higher education sector this past year. Responding no doubt to the seemingly unlimited promises of being able to study our students, we are excitedly wondering just how best to use what the technology has to offer. At Edinburgh University, a professorial level post has been advertised; at my own institution we are pulling together the various people who run our student experience surveys (who have hitherto been distributed across the institution) into a central unit in Planning so that we can triangulate surveys, evaluations and other contextual data-sets; elsewhere systems which enable ‘early warning signals’ with regards to student drop-out have been implemented with gusto.

I am one of the worst of the learning analytics’ offenders.  My curiosity to observe and understand the patterns in activity, behaviour, and perception of the students is just too intellectually compelling. The possibility that we could crunch all of the data about our students into one big stew-pot and then extract answers to meaning-of-student-life questions is a temptation I find too hard to resist (especially when someone puts what is called a ‘dashboard’ in front of me and says, ‘look what happens if we interrogate the data this way’). Continue reading


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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