Higher Education Policy
The higher education sector, particularly in the UK, is undergoing rapid transformation, mainly as a result of changes to the funding model but also as a consequence of other factors, including greater pressure to show impact and relevance, increased public accountability and broader cultural concerns about the value of a degree. Factors such as there are bound to play an important role in shaping the future priorities of the sector as it endeavours to operate in a challenging fiscal climate. At the same time change is nothing new in the sector: far from having a stable and unified identity, higher education has undergone constant change over the decades, and as a result has been subject to numerous policy formations and transformations. The current period is no different, and some of the research in KLI is geared towards understanding this changing policy context, in particular how it impacts on the management of higher education institutions. This is a significant issue to consider within KLI and also King’s College generally, the management of institutions having a direct bearing on many aspects of teaching and learning.
One core area of research in this regard relates to theories of institutional management, and how theories of managerialism and professionalism have been applied to the study of institutional culture and professional identity. In particular, researchers within KLI are interested in exploring the new bureaucracy of quality assurance and how it manifests itself in the context of higher education.
Core research questions include:
whether or not quality assurance mechanisms offer an effective tool of institutional management;
and what are the implications of this form of management for professional identity and accountability within HE institutions.
Access and Inclusion (click + to expand)
Access to affordable government-aided higher education is limited. Because higher education remains a scarce public good with valuable benefits for graduates, we must ask, what criteria should and do different countries use to allocate student places and subsidies? “Fair” selection and financial assistance are being debated as never before, in particular in the English context. With a global recession prompting cuts to education budgets, universities and colleges often seek to sustain their funding through increased user fees or by marketing degrees to older age groups, overseas students, and offshore campuses, as well as selling services and products to businesses.
Work in the area of access and inclusion tends to address one of the following three questions:
Firstly who should be admitted and funded?
Second, who is admitted and funded?
Third, how can patterns of access and inclusion be changed through policy?
Several members of King’s Learning Institute are interested in questions of access and inclusion in higher education and approach the question from different angles.
Research conducted by Michele Westhead
The Browne Report: A critique of policy and practices around widening participation into higher education in the United Kingdom
A second piece of work is a collaboration of KLI’s Dr Michele Westhead and Dr Peter Stone of Stanford University, USA currently seconded as the Ussher Lecturer in Political Science at Trinity College Dublin. Their paper entitled The Browne Report: A critique of policy and practices around widening participation into higher education in the United Kingdom will be presented at the International Conference of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences in Barcelona in June 2012.
In October 2010 “Securing a Sustainable Higher Education: An Independent Review of Higher Education Funding & Student Finance,” otherwise known as the Browne Report was published. This report, which recommends a new system for financing higher education, envisions a market system constrained by a number of government demands. Part of the proposal involves increasing enrolment in the face of growing student demand. Higher education institutions that attract more students should be able to expand in response. This innovation makes sense, but Westhead and Stone argue that it sits uneasily with the call for higher education institutions to widen participation to individuals from lower socio-economic groups, diverse ethnic backgrounds, mature students (especially women) and those with alternative qualifications than the standard university entrance requirements in a bid to grow student numbers, address skill deficits and redress social imbalance (Dearing Report, 1997; DfES, 2003). Judged purely in market terms, this call makes little sense; demand for higher education already exceeds supply, and so there is no market-related need for additional recruitment. Rather, the desire to increase recruitment of lower and working-class students stems from considerations of a fair recruitment policy towards a political hope for developing a more inclusive higher education. It is appropriate to impose this demand on top of a market-driven educational model, but doing so requires careful consideration of the incentive structure facing higher educational institutions. It may also require significant redesign of the admissions process in ways that reflect the demands of fairness and restrict market processes. This paper reconsiders this review of UK higher education and its relationship to the widening participation agenda using Pierre Bourdieu’s analytical tools of habitus, capital, social reproduction and ‘othering’ in order to argue that meeting the demands of fairness within a market-driven model may require more radical reforms than the Browne Report envisions.
Browne Review (2010) Securing a Sustainable future for higher education: an independent review of higher education funding and student finance. www.independent.gov.uk/browne-report
Bureaucracy and Accountability in Higher Education (click + to expand)
Those concerned with the function of the university in a modern liberal democracy, its value in sustaining a meaningful public sphere and contribution to an independent civil society, find much to be worried about in the current focus on marketisation, consumerism and accountability. The dangers of increasing political and economic encroachment are real, and the current concerns raised by numerous academics and other commentators amount to reasonable criticism. At the same time, debate should also be concerned with assessing the extent to which these criticisms are valid – in effect, how much should we be troubled by this ‘cultural’ shift in the way we manage and value institutions of higher education?
Providing an answer to this question is important, as without it, it is difficult to separate real and imagined versions of academic history, a blurring that obstructs opportunities to take the profession forward. It is also important because it can help shift the focus away from notions of professional and institutional loss towards reflection on the public service remit of universities. In an effort to provide an answer, one of the papers mentioned below explores the changes to academic and student identities to gauge how appropriate the ‘loss’ thesis is as a diagnosis of current challenges. In exploring these issues, the paper argues that, while the past is troubling, the reasons for this trouble have as much to do with concerns over democratic accountability as they do with external political interference.
Murphy, M. Troubled by the past: history, identity and the university. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 2011, 33, 5, 509-517.
Bureaucracy and its limits: accountability and rationality in higher education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 30, 6, 2009, 683-695.
Higher Education: Students at the Heart of the System. BIS: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Crown copyright June 2011
Download full White Paper from: http://discuss.bis.gov.uk/hereform/white-paper/ or http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/