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

Alison Le Cornu


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Is the future flexible?

By Alison Le Cornu

Is flexible learning going to be more of a key feature in the future than it has been in the past? It depends on how you define it, of course, and depends too on what the perceived drivers are behind it. For some, the change in the fee structure in UK HE means that increasing numbers of students will need to earn while they learn, and hence require the flexibility to combine work and study, quite possibly also with family life. For others, the wider global context coupled with technological advances mean that HE is not the only sector that will see greater flexibility: employers too will be looking for flexible employees, which in turn will impact family and leisure time. In the not-too-distant future we will be living in a ‘flexi world’ and HE will have to adjust.

Whether we embrace this vision or eschew it, flexible learning is gaining increasing prominence throughout the sector. Key to its practical outworking is the notion of offering students choice in how, what, where and at what pace they learn: the flexibility of pace, place and mode that the HEA uses to focus its work in this area. Certain features underpin its practice. Flexible learning is largely contingent on learners studying part-time. It is both dependent on and enhanced by rapid technological advances that allow innovative pedagogical approaches. It facilitates cooperation between higher education providers and employers which has led to a strong culture of work-based learning, and requires a determination on the part of institutions to adapt their structures and systems so that the student experience is effective and of high quality. Credit transfer, still in a state of flux, remains one of the key players of the future. 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

Camille Kandiko


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How welcoming is Britain?

By Camille Kandiko Howson

Higher education recruitment has become a political issue. Stricter visa regimes for foreign students were implemented in April 2012. International students have fewer opportunities to work in the UK after they finish their degree, and it has become more challenging for partners of students to work and study. The House of Lords issued a report criticising the government’s immigration policy, to decrease immigration overall whilst also increasing international student numbers, and its effect on student recruitment. With the government’s stance on immigration, Britain does not seem a welcoming place for many international students. Taking a tough stance on immigration for the domestic market also sends signals abroad.

There is a complicated web of “push and pull” factors with international student recruitment. Changes in domestic economic markets, the development of high quality institutions at home and opportunities for on-line study can keep formerly mobile students at home. However, large scale scholarship schemes can encourage students to study abroad, such as Brazil’s Scientific Mobility Program, which aims to facilitate sending over 100,000 students abroad. 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

Julie Bounford UEA


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It’s about the (academic) community, stupid!

By Julie Bounford

This blog first appeared on 23 February 2014 on Julie Bounford’s personal blog at http://jebounford.net/its-about-the-academic-community-stupid/

I recently had a conversation about my doctoral research with an acquaintance I met at a dinner dance who asked, ‘what are you doing it in, what are you doing it for?’ Not an unreasonable question. I began my reply by saying that it was in the sociology of education and whilst I was conjuring up an answer to the latter question (it changes from day to day), they retorted in a jocular fashion, ‘the sociology of vegetation? You’re researching vegetables?’ The acquaintance laughed, a little uneasily. Perhaps they had misheard me.

My sense of humour is reasonably well honed but at that particular moment I was not in a frame of mind to see the joke; on them or on me. Continue reading

Ian Mc Nay


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Lies, damned lies and spin; never mind the statistics

By Ian McNay

Press reports, 31 January, on UCAS statistics on the 15 January deadline showed remarkable unanimity around telling, shall we say…not the whole truth:

–         Girls lead the way as degree applications hit record levels – Times

–         Record numbers of 18-year-olds apply to university – Telegraph

–         University applications hit record high – Guardian

The Telegraph had a second story claiming the number of applicants aged 20 and over had increased by 5%.

All this gave comfort to [English] ministers who claim that high fees have had no long term effect on applications. So, let us look at the longer term and compare the cycle for 2014 entry Continue reading