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Behind the HE headlines is one key question – the purpose of universities

The past week’s higher education news demonstrates that there are certain expectations of universities that policymakers, HE leaders and the Augar review are expected to address, says Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of the Engineering Professors’ Council and Chief Executive of outreach organisation Push .

30 VCs sign new Civic University Agreement

Leaders of thirty universities have signed a Civic University Agreement, reaffirming their institution's commitment to their local communities by pledging to put the economy and quality of life in their home towns and cities at the top of their list of priorities.

How to improve the student experience -- ask the students themselves

Jenny Shaw , Student Experience Director at Unite Students, draws lessons on the higher education sector's efforts to improve the student experience from a week of HE news and views.

HEi-think: Why universities should support two year degrees

From this September, students will be able to opt to study an accelerated two year degree, as opposed to a traditional three year course. Professor Malcolm Todd, Provost (Academic) at the University of Derby, discusses why universities should consider the change in legislation and look to offer accelerated degrees.

Research England names KEF pilot institutions

Research England has selected 21 English universities to take part in a pilot Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), which will run between February and May 2019.

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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