Cultures and Practices of Higher Education Staff

A strong research strand in this area is the role of theory and methods in higher education research.

Paul AshwinMalcolm Tight and Paul Trowler have all addressed this strand, for example, in Ashwin's article on the role of theories in empirical research. The development of "close-up" research methods of an ethnographic style, led by Paul Trowler, has involved a biennial conference, Higher Education Close Up and a Jiscmail discussion list.

Much of Paul Trowler's work focuses on staff employed in higher education. The framework of disciplines described in Trowler's books on academic tribes and territories has been used internationally by researchers studying disciplinary differences. For example, Malcolm Tight has utilised the academic tribes analogy in his analysis of the patterns of co-citation in higher education journalsJan McArthur  has written about the inter-relationships between the social and economic purposes of higher education including a critique of the prevailing employability agenda.

Trowler’s recent work on academic tribes and territories, together with Murray Saunders, has required a rethink of the original thesis and involved a strong form of an essentialist thinking related to the knowledge structures of disciplines. The contemporary approach, based on social practice theory, stresses the importance of context in disciplinary differences: the teaching versus the research context; and internal management processes versus informal discussions about projects-at-hand.

Trowler explores some aspects in videos entitled Beyond boundaries and edges in conceptualising disciplines and Disabling Dualisms.

Malcolm Tight's work on academic workloads and on the history of higher education is much-used by researchers in these areas, and Malcolm talks about his research in this video.

Brett Bligh has researched the nature and effects of digital environments and physical pedagogical spaces. He is interested, for example, in how academic and professional services staff might collaborate in the design and refurbishment of novel learning spaces. Murray Saunders has explored the structure and effects of university funding. He has also conducted research on national policy responses to the Bologna agreement whilst Paul Trowler has reviewed academic development unit responses to it.

Steve Dempster has conducted research on the lived experiences of students, particularly how they negotiate a “student identity”  in terms of gender (especially laddism), and their engagement with extracurricular aspects of the student experience.  The latter has included two studies into Higher education students’ attitudes towards alcohol, focusing on peer influence and risk taking (funded by North Lancashire NHS); and a study of the intersection of student attitudes to laddism and broader discourses of sexuality.