New research centre will help UK become thought leader in the vital HE sector

Simon Marginson‌ 

In October 2015 the doors of a major new Economic and Social Research Council-supported research centre will open at UCL IOE. It will be the largest centre in the world that is focused on research in relation to higher education.

Higher education (HE) systems are now more important in societies and economies than they have ever been. The role of professional and skilled labour in the workforce is expanding everywhere, and while graduate salaries are falling relative to average incomes, graduates maintain their advantage over non graduates. This drives the continued growth of higher education enrolments everywhere, so that one third of all people in the world now enrol in some form of tertiary education. Participation in two-year programmes and degree programmes together is increasing at a rate of 1 per cent a year. At first sight this may not seem much, but it is extraordinarily rapid by historical standards, lifting the proportion of the population with tertiary education by 20 per cent every twenty years. Recent growth in the UK is paralleled all over the world. Systems are converging.

The HE sector is becoming more globalised. The cross-border mobility of people and ideas is growing and is a primary force in driving worldwide integration, which is associated with tensions in many countries but in the long run seems unstoppable. Research in higher education is the principal means of addressing the big common problems such as climate change, food and water security, resource and energy usage and viable urban development.

Government and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the UK and everywhere else face challenges in reconciling the different objectives of HE systems: combining research excellence and talent recruitment with mass education and the extension of opportunity, improving teaching while maximising the potentials of technology, cultivating industry applications at the same time as developing the student imagination, and finding ways it can all be paid for, in societies that want more and more higher education but are reluctant to raise taxes.

Some higher education institutions and systems are flourishing, some are becoming obsolete, and others are being transformed. Policy needs new ideas and ways of thinking, evidenced-based research, and research-led alternatives for system and institutional development.

The Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE) has been allocated£4.9 million in dedicated funding through the ESRC for the five year period 2015-2020, co-funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). Together with supplementary funding from the lead partner, UCL IOE, and the other UK partners, Lancaster University and the University of Sheffield, CGHE will command £6.1 million in resources spread across 13 specific social science research projects. The Centre will conduct both large scale quantitative projects and interview-based qualitative research. It will work with eight partner universities in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, South Africa, the United States, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Its partners include the architect of the first system of income-contingent tuition loans, from the Australian National University, and three of the world’s leading thinkers about the international comparison of universities and higher education systems, based at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, Leiden University in the Netherlands, and Dublin Institute of Technology.

CGHE’s research projects are organised in three interacting programmes that approach the HE sector from global, national and local HE perspectives respectively.

Programme 1, which I am leading, includes comparative studies on the role of HE in advancing the public good, and the internationalisation strategies of institutions, and on the sustainability of student loan systems. It also includes research comparing the governance of higher education across Europe, and will investigate what happens to UK international students from East Asia when they return home.

Programme 2, led by IOE/Birbeck Professor Claire Callender, includes studies on the relationship between higher education and economic growth, universities and equal opportunity, and outcomes for graduates in labour markets across Europe. It will also conduct a comparison between the tuition loans systems of UK and the United States.

Programme 3, led by Professor Gareth Parry of Sheffield, will map the UK higher education system, including emerging private sector and online providers, and future capacity needs in the UK academic workforce. It will also focus on student learning in the STEM disciplines, and the cost effectiveness of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and other ethnological applications to teaching and learning. A key issue that will occupy CEGHE as a whole is the changing character of student learning and student agency in the emerging higher education environment.

CGHE has an unprecedented opportunity to push forward our knowledge of higher education and how it might be better organised, and to position the UK as the thought leader in research on this vital sector. An important part of HEFCE’s and the research councils’ remit is to maximise the impact of research in policy and practice. This will be facilitated by engagement with  organisations affiliated to HEFCE such as Universities UK and NUS. Research dissemination through the website, seminars and public events will be a key dimension of the centre’s activity and there will be ample opportunities for members of the UK higher education community to become involved.

 

The Centre for Global Higher Education is directed by Simon Marginson, who is Professor of International Higher Education at UCL IOE and was previously (2006-2013) Professor of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne in Australia. The Deputy Directors are Professor Claire Callender of UCL IOE/Birkbeck and William Locke of UCL IOE. The Chair of the CGHE Board is Professor Bob Burgess.

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Posted in Further higher and lifelong education, International comparisons, Research matters

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