Make time to look within

It was nice to see my former research centre referred to in your editorial on the need for more higher education research (“Look sharp, the ground is shifting”, Leader, 31 January). “Gone but not forgotten” is always a good epitaph. And I do wish King’s College London’s International Centre for University Policy Research every success.

However, I would also like to point out that there is actually quite a lot of higher education research going on already. For example, the Quality Assurance Agency manages the Higher Education Empirical Research (Heer) database, which has several thousand entries on a wide range of research and policy themes. In addition, a European Science Foundation research programme consisting of a number of comparative international projects on higher education and social change is just coming to an end, and there have been many other national and international programmes on the subject in recent years.

This is not to say that everything is rosy. Higher education research is a fragmented affair and the links to related social science fields are often not as strong as they should be. There are a few research centres about, but academics who specialise in higher education research are more often found in dribs and drabs across different institutions. This is why a group of established higher education researchers from 10 universities is in the process of forming the Higher Education Research Consortium (Herc) in order to strengthen capacity, undertake joint projects, achieve more effective dissemination, share data sets and provide training for new researchers.

As far as policy debates are concerned, it does seem that vested interest and opinion tend to trump knowledge quite a lot of the time. But it is not for lack of knowledge: there is plenty out there, you just have to make the time to read it.

John Brennan
Emeritus professor of higher education research
Former director of the Centre for Higher Education Research and Information at The Open University

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

  • Woman taking homeopathic medicine

Alternative treatments in healthcare plan is latest in a series of homeopathy-related controversies

  • Man lying beneath rugby pile-up

Six academics share their experiences before delivering a verdict on the system

  • Zygmunt Bauman with hand over mouth

Eminent sociologist has recycled 90,000 words of material across a dozen books, claims paper

  • Foot about to step on banana peel

Kevin Haggerty and Aaron Doyle offer tips on making postgraduate study even tougher (which students could also use to avoid pitfalls if they prefer)

  • Sorana Vieru, National Union of Students

Sorana Vieru says exams and essays 'privilege' more advantaged students, calls for changes to 'Middle Ages' format