Extending the boundaries of research into higher education

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Research and Development in Higher Education: Enhancing Higher Education, Theory and Scholarship Vol. 30

July, 2007, 651 pages
Published by
Geoffrey Crisp & Margaret Hicks
0 908557 72 8

In this address I will argue the case for extending boundaries of research into higher education in terms of:

  • the questions it asks - including those about what Erica McWilliam calls the ‘charming absurdities’ of higher education
  • the theoretical resources it draws on - in Alex Callinicos’ evocative phrase developing ‘resources of critique’ 
  • the different disciplines across which we engage in conversation

I will demonstrate that not only do I think boundaries should be extended but that I believe that to a large extent they are being, and that the field is an exhilarating one to be working in. The aim of such work is to come to an understanding of higher education and to ask the difficult questions not simply the utilitarian ones about ‘what works’. Important though that kind of question might be, we are likely to be seriously misled unless the grounds of asking are properly theorised. Research in higher education presents particular challenges because those who research the field are ‘insiders’. The difficulty we face is how to make the familiar strange, to notice what is odd about our practices; including what Val Hey describes as higher education’s ‘perverse pleasures’. I will draw on examples from my own research to highlight the contradictions of higher education policy and to show how research can contribute to asking new questions. I conclude with some thoughts about the relationship of research knowledge to existing practices and policies, and to our capacity to imagine and develop new ones.

Extending the boundaries of research into higher education

pdf (263.69 KB)
Clegg, S.