Pedagogic Quality and Inequality in University First Degrees

Project: Project at a former HEI

Layman's description

Recent increases in the number of students attending universities appear to be accompanied by persistent inequities: poorer students go to less prestigious and well-resourced universities and, according to most league tables, receive a lower quality education. This project will question the assumption that education in higher status universities is necessarily better; and, will develop alternative definitions of 'quality' which allow that a university education is for personal growth and the public good, as well as for economic returns.
The project will evaluate the comparative quality of teaching and learning in first degrees in sociology and allied subjects in four distinct universities by drawing on the work of the sociologist Basil Bernstein who argues that formal education disadvantages the already disadvantaged.  By way of interviews with lecturers and students, case-studies, a survey, video-tapes of teaching, evaluation of student work and analysis of documents the research team will capture the relationship and interactions between students' lives and backgrounds; the degrees that they study; and the conditions in their universities.
It is hoped that a better understanding of what should count as a good and just university education in different institutional settings will generate both debate and practical applications.

Key findings

Summary of scientific impacts (/from impact report) McLean, Monica Abbas, Andrea and Ashwin, Paul. Pedagogic quality and inequality in university first degrees: ESRC Impact Report, RES-062-23-1438. Swindon: ESRC
• empirical understandings of university education: (1) alternative meanings of good quality teaching and learning (2) insight into the value for individual graduates and society of sociology-based university education (3) confirmation of the importance of good teaching (4) challenge to assumptions about the quality of education at universities of different reputations and status (5) insight into ‘student-as-consumer’ discourse. • theorising justice in university pedagogy, especially by way of critical use of Basil Bernstein’s theory that formal education reproduces hierarchies in society. • developing new theoretical concepts by critically applying and developing Bernstein’s framework. • methods: (1) a replicable multi-method design for investigating the value and use of degrees in different disciplines (2) innovative use of ‘life-grids’ for collecting life-history data (3) a new survey scale for evaluating the value of sociology for students
Findings and Outputs
• Identification of outcomes of high quality education in sociology-related degrees unrecognised in league tables: engagement with academic knowledge enhances employability skills; attainment of a social position which, in addition to degree status and employment possibilities, entails being someone who understands and has empathy for others, and intends to improve society. Undergraduates value the personal transformation that acquiring sociology-related knowledge brings, and society benefits from the production of critical citizens. • Undergraduates’ reported achievement of the outcomes related to engagement with academic knowledge (usually disregarded in constructions of good quality teaching and learning). Knowledge is experienced as difficult to acquire, requiring the effort of both undergraduates and tutors. • Undergraduates’ reported achieved outcomes and engagement with disciplinary academic knowledge related to their perceptions of the quality of teaching. • Differences in quality, as defined by the outcomes above, did not reflect the four universities’ positions in league tables. • Critical application Bernstein’s theoretical framework offers a socially-just way of conceptualising and measuring the quality of undergraduate education. • The multi-method research design is useful for understanding and comparing teaching quality. • Life-grids have particular strengths for collecting biographical data in comparative research. • A disciplinary-specific survey scale measures engagement with academic knowledge. Outputs: 6 journal papers (published, forthcoming and under review);3 published chapters;14 invited seminars; 12 conference papers; 7 methodology workshops for academic staff and research students; 3 discussion and briefing papers; 2 funded studies using methodology; 4PhD students;End-of Project Symposium, the Higher Education Research Consortium (HERC)
How these impacts were achieved
• Publishing in a wide range of journals and books to engage an audience of higher educational and sociology researchers. • Networking with the higher education and sociology research communities and accepting invitations to speak (14 seminars, c. 325 attendees). Particularly, forging close relationships with (1) the international learned Society for Reseach into Higher Education (SRHE) whose mission is to disseminate higher education research and is influential in the field. McLean and Ashwin are members of the Research and Development Committee, Ashwin is a member of governing council and McLean has been awarded a Followship. Seminar presentations for three SRHE networks (policy, student experience and academic practice) and 5 papers at its Annual Conference (2) the British Sociological Association (BSA): John Holmwood, the President, was invited to be discussant at the end-of- project research sypmposium; and, papers given at 3 BSA conferences. • Attending education and sociology conferences (12 papers, c. 355 attendees). • Building research capacity by training academic staff and postgraduate students in methodology (7 workshops, 167 attendees); and by supervising 4 PhD students building on the theoretical and methodlogical aspects of the project. • Inviting 50 key figures in the fields of higher education, sociology and Bernstein studies to an end-of-project research symposium. • Collaborating with other higher education researchers to establish a consortium for discussing and building on the research to develop further research projects. • Maintaining an attractive website (urlmetrics.co.uk estimates 300 visits per month)
Who these findings impact
• Higher Education Research Consortum (HERC): higher education researchers from Bath, Cranfield, Lancaster, Lincoln, London Metropolitan, LSE, Nottingham,Open, and Oxford combine expertise to advance Higher Education research and research capacity. An ESRC Seminar Series bid has been submitted and an Autumn conference planned. • Higher Education Academy(HEA) funded research on part-time social science students drew on some of the project’s data, and used the methodology, interview schedules and coding framework. • Replicated study in the University of the Free State, South Africa in collaboration with Prof. M.Walker,Senior Research Professor in the Centre for Research on Higher Education, Development and Human Capabilities. • Postgraduate Students supervised by the research team: Lancaster, C. Tutton, HEA-funded PhD on the engagement of non-traditional students, building partly on the project; Nottingham H. Ordoyno, ESRC-funded PhD. a replicated study in law; Teesside G. Currie and Lincoln N Michael. PhDs on non-traditional students engagement with HE, partly drawing upon the methodologies. Additionally, 5 EdD and MA students in Nottingham are using lifegirds. • Undergraduate and postgraduate students and academic staff at Keele, Lincoln, Nottingham, Teesside and three of the research site Universities have been trained in the project’s methodology. • Profs. Keet and Walker (UFS,SA) lead a practitioner-pedagogy group in Cyprus, the Nethlands and South Africa: one core reading is the project’s Chapter ‘Human Development and Pedagogic Rights.’ • ‘Key informant’ lecturers at the research sites and other universities are publishing with the research team.
Summary of economic impacts
• empirical understandings of university education: (1) alternative meanings of good quality teaching and learning (2) insight into the value for individual graduates and society of sociology-based university education (3) confirmation of the importance of good teaching (4) challenge to assumptions about the quality of education at universities of different reputations and status (5) insight into ‘student-as-consumer’ discourse. • theorising justice in university pedagogy, especially by way of critical use of Basil Bernstein’s theory that formal education reproduces hierarchies in society. • developing new theoretical concepts by critically applying and developing Bernstein’s framework. • methods: (1) a replicable multi-method design for investigating the value and use of degrees in different disciplines (2) innovative use of ‘life-grids’ for collecting life-history data (3) a new survey scale for evaluating the value of sociology for students
Findings and Outputs
• Identification of outcomes of high quality education in sociology-related degrees unrecognised in league tables: engagement with academic knowledge enhances employability skills; attainment of a social position which, in addition to degree status and employment possibilities, entails being someone who understands and has empathy for others, and intends to improve society. Undergraduates value the personal transformation that acquiring sociology-related knowledge brings, and society benefits from the production of critical citizens. • Undergraduates’ reported achievement of the outcomes related to engagement with academic knowledge (usually disregarded in constructions of good quality teaching and learning). Knowledge is experienced as difficult to acquire, requiring the effort of both undergraduates and tutors. • Undergraduates’ reported achieved outcomes and engagement with disciplinary academic knowledge related to their perceptions of the quality of teaching. • Differences in quality, as defined by the outcomes above, did not reflect the four universities’ positions in league tables. • Critical application Bernstein’s theoretical framework offers a socially-just way of conceptualising and measuring the quality of undergraduate education. • The multi-method research design is useful for understanding and comparing teaching quality. • Life-grids have particular strengths for collecting biographical data in comparative research. • A disciplinary-specific survey scale measures engagement with academic knowledge. Outputs: 6 journal papers (published, forthcoming and under review);3 published chapters;14 invited seminars; 12 conference papers; 7 methodology workshops for academic staff and research students; 3 discussion and briefing papers; 2 funded studies using methodology; 4PhD students;End-of Project Symposium, the Higher Education Research Consortium (HERC)
How these impacts were achieved
• Publishing in a wide range of journals and books to engage an audience of higher educational and sociology researchers. • Networking with the higher education and sociology research communities and accepting invitations to speak (14 seminars, c. 325 attendees). Particularly, forging close relationships with (1) the international learned Society for Reseach into Higher Education (SRHE) whose mission is to disseminate higher education research and is influential in the field. McLean and Ashwin are members of the Research and Development Committee, Ashwin is a member of governing council and McLean has been awarded a Followship. Seminar presentations for three SRHE networks (policy, student experience and academic practice) and 5 papers at its Annual Conference (2) the British Sociological Association (BSA): John Holmwood, the President, was invited to be discussant at the end-of- project research sypmposium; and, papers given at 3 BSA conferences. • Attending education and sociology conferences (12 papers, c. 355 attendees). • Building research capacity by training academic staff and postgraduate students in methodology (7 workshops, 167 attendees); and by supervising 4 PhD students building on the theoretical and methodlogical aspects of the project. • Inviting 50 key figures in the fields of higher education, sociology and Bernstein studies to an end-of-project research symposium. • Collaborating with other higher education researchers to establish a consortium for discussing and building on the research to develop further research projects. • Maintaining an attractive website (urlmetrics.co.uk estimates 300 visits per month)
Who these findings impact
• Higher Education Research Consortum (HERC): higher education researchers from Bath, Cranfield, Lancaster, Lincoln, London Metropolitan, LSE, Nottingham,Open, and Oxford combine expertise to advance Higher Education research and research capacity. An ESRC Seminar Series bid has been submitted and an Autumn conference planned. • Higher Education Academy(HEA) funded research on part-time social science students drew on some of the project’s data, and used the methodology, interview schedules and coding framework. • Replicated study in the University of the Free State, South Africa in collaboration with Prof. M.Walker,Senior Research Professor in the Centre for Research on Higher Education, Development and Human Capabilities. • Postgraduate Students supervised by the research team: Lancaster, C. Tutton, HEA-funded PhD on the engagement of non-traditional students, building partly on the project; Nottingham H. Ordoyno, ESRC-funded PhD. a replicated study in law; Teesside G. Currie and Lincoln N Michael. PhDs on non-traditional students engagement with HE, partly drawing upon the methodologies. Additionally, 5 EdD and MA students in Nottingham are using lifegirds. • Undergraduate and postgraduate students and academic staff at Keele, Lincoln, Nottingham, Teesside and three of the research site Universities have been trained in the project’s methodology. • Profs. Keet and Walker (UFS,SA) lead a practitioner-pedagogy group in Cyprus, the Nethlands and South Africa: one core reading is the project’s Chapter ‘Human Development and Pedagogic Rights.’ • ‘Key informant’ lecturers at the research sites and other universities are publishing with the research team.
Potential future impacts
• Further scientific impacts on the higher education and sociology research communities expected or planned by way of: journal articles (3 submitted and revised- European Educational Research Journal, ELiSS, Studies in Higher Education, 2 submitted and under review (Instructional Science and Theory and Research, 3 in preparation); a book for Continuum Press; conference presentations (BSA and the 2nd International Social Realism Conference in April 2013);seminars for the Centre of Sociology Policy at Keele University and The Learning Institute at the University of Oxford in May, 2013); a keynote lecturer for a conference on change and social justice in higher education at University of the Free State, South Africa, June 2013. • Further societal impacts are expected by: a keynote presentation to the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) November, 2013, thereby reaching more educational/academic developers; the team members using material and findings in their own teaching; using a newly set up twitter account to tweet news of outputs and findings and to engage with policy and user organisations; continued communication by the website.
Limited economic impacts
• The research aimed to challenge the justice of league tables, while the team has engaged national policy makers in discussions, it will take political will to act on research findings and undermine the present trend towards exacerbating the hierarchy of institutions by an uninformed use of a discourse of ‘top’ and ‘best’ universities (which, for example, results in demorlaisation of staff in some universities and an indicator of good quality for FE colleges being the numbers of students enetering Russell group universities). • An important group for us to influence is that known as educational/acacdemic developers who are responsible for encouraging improvement of teaching in universities. Again, while we have engaged fairly widely with this constituency and will continue to do so, many members are not academics and an often must be convinced of the relevance of academic research to their practices.
Short title421,209.06
AcronymPEQ
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date1/11/0831/01/12

Keywords

  • Undergraduate degree programmes
  • Basil Bernstein
  • Inequality
  • Pedagogy
  • Curricula
  • Knowledge