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Conceptions of what is excellent in higher education are starting to change

Professor Edward Peck, Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, outlines strategies adopted by NTU that are boosting social mobility and which helped it win the inaugural Guardian University of the Year award, a gong he believes shows how notions of excellence in HE are changing.

A house divided? Growing divisions and inequalities in HE

Mike Boxall, who has thirty years' experience as a consultant and commentator on strategic developments in higher and further education, finds evidence in recent news of growing and worrying divisions within UK higher education.

UK HE must put its house in order to maintain global excellence

News on higher education over the past week highlights an urgent need for the sector to get to grips with ethical issues that have a bearing on the way it is managed and governed, argues Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations at Council for Higher Education in Art and Design (CHEAD).

Rising staff costs putting universities under greater pressure, warns Moody's

UK universities will face greater financial pressure over the next three years due to rising staff costs as they accommodate more students, retain talent and negotiate pay rises,  Moody's has warned.

Higher vocational STEM education can lead to better earnings than degrees, study finds

Earnings of people achieving higher-level vocational qualifications in STEM subjects can exceed those of people who pursued the same subjects at a university level, a study has concluded.

HEi-think: Royal Society-British Academy project will address educational research crisis

The Royal Society and British Academy have launched a joint project to examine how best to harness new and up-to-date research methodologies, using the latest technologies, big data and interdisciplinary approaches, to improve educational outcomes for young people in the UK and internationally. Professor John Leach, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Sheffield Hallam University, who is a member of the working group for the project, explains why it is needed.

 

The Royal Society and British Academy have launched a joint project on educational research, which comes with a call for evidence

The United Kingdom has a strong track record of producing excellent educational research, and using research to inform both policy and practice.  In 2014, 66% of the work in education submitted to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) was rated as world-leading or internationally excellent, which is almost exactly the same proportion as for the social sciences as a whole.  Furthermore, more than three quarters of the score for impact was rated as world-leading or internationally excellent.  The critiques on the quality and relevance of educational research made in the 1990s by Hillage and others do not appear salient today.

However, educational research capacity is under threat.  There was a 15% reduction in the number of researchers submitted to the REF in 2014 when compared to the Research Assessment Exercise in 2008.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that fewer early career educational researchers are graduating with PhDs and securing academic positions in UK universities: the age profile of UK educational researchers is rising and there is no obvious mechanism for securing succession.  The information revolution is also making an impact on the ways both education and educational research is conducted.  Massive amounts of data about education are now available for analysis, and there are new mechanisms for producing and disseminating knowledge.

It is against this background that the Royal Society and British Academy project is being launched.  Although restricted to science and mathematics education, these issues were identified in the Royal Society's 2014 report  Vision for science and mathematics education.  The scope of the current project was broadened to address all aspects of educational research, in recognition that education operates as a system, and that not all educational research is conducted by people who work in universities.  Educational research is an international endeavour, and the scope of the project will include gathering evidence from other nations about the generation and use of research knowledge to inform educational policy and practice.

The irony of writing a post about enhancing evidence-informed policy-making in education this week has not escaped me.  Our government has just put out for consultation a Green Paper which, if implemented, will see permission given for (English) schools to reject pupils because they are not sufficiently academically able, and for funding currently spent by universities on widening participation to be diverted into university sponsorship of schools. 

My colleague Professor Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University,  recently blogged  about grammar schools, describing the evidence suggesting that they will do the opposite of what the green paper says (i.e. grammar schools have the option to reject pupils, rather than giving parents the choice to select schools for their children; grammar schools don't address the needs of modern economies for large numbers of highly-skilled workers; it isn't possible to predict reliably attainment at 16 or 18 in tests administered at 11).  Evidence about the outcomes of university sponsorship of schools is no more convincing.  I am aware of excellent schools which have university sponsors (including the schools sponsored by Sheffield Hallam University) - but a quick Google search will show that there are examples of failure as well as success.  What is the evidence that university sponsorship of schools leads to better outcomes than other governance arrangements?

Evidence-informed education policy-making and practice needs support from those of us in the HE system.  The RS and BA are championing the cause through this project.  Please respond to the call for evidence.

 

dizanna / 123RF
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