Evaluative cultures in Higher Education

Our evaluative work has been continuing for many years and has considered the effectiveness and efficiency of difference aspects of higher education.

Gemma Derrick’s team focuses specifically on the evaluation of research through perceptions of both its scientific and societal excellence.  One example is her work on the UK Research Excellence Framework, examining how peer review panels navigated the concept of societal “impact” in the world’s first formal, ex-post evaluation framework that incorporated an impact criterion. Another is work linking theories of research evaluation (scientific and societal) with evidence-informed policymaking for the health and medical sciences.  

Gemma employs a mixed methods approach which includes a combination of bibliometrics, interviews, observations and network statistics. Her team has not only produced a number of academic articles, but also commentary and opinion articles for the media and regular press.

The Centre for Higher Education Research and Evaluation has influenced the development and implementation of national higher education policies and educational practices in the UK, as well as international policies, through the development of a new approach to evaluation based on social practice theory. This is set out in a book edited by members of the Centre called Reconceptualising Evaluative Practices in Higher Education. It incorporates Murray Saunders' RUFDATA framework for evaluating projects which is used in every evaluative project we engage in.

This novel way of conceptualising and conducting evaluative research was used by Murray Saunders' team who conducted authoritative work on quality enhancement in higher education for QAA Scotland.

Our five-year involvement had a direct impact on the ways in which some institutions approached the internal evaluation of their educational innovations and had a direct input into the ways in which some institutions developed their educational provision. Additionally it led to the increased integration of students into institutional review processes and the provision of examples of good practice for their development.

QAA Scotland commented that Lancaster University's evaluations "provided valuable insights into the operation of the [Enhancement] Themes which QAA Scotland officers were able to use to adopt a revised approach to managing this area of activity" and informed "a change in emphasis in the way in which individual Themes are managed". This work drew on earlier evaluations of the UK's Centres for Excellence in Higher Education, both as a system and in terms of individual Centres.

Examples of the development of an approach to understanding learning and teaching cultures which is applicable in evaluative contexts, are Paul Trowler's work on HEFCE's role in interventions in learning and teaching enhancement, and Paul Ashwin's work on theorising learning contexts. Outside the higher education context, Murray Saunders has conducted advisory work on evaluative practices which has informed the European Union and UNICEF on useable and socially just approaches to evaluation.

 Read more about the impact of our novel use of social practice theory in evaluation.