26 March 2015 12:09

Lancaster University is playing a major part in a new research centre dedicated to the investigation of higher education and its future.

The ESRC/HEFCE Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE), led by the UCL Institute of Education, will formally open in October this year. Its core purposes are to improve higher education, advise on its future development, foster innovations, and expand its contributions to public and private good in both the local and global domains.

Professor Paul Ashwin from Lancaster’s Department of Educational Research will head a large research project on knowledge and student learning, and take special responsibility for emerging researchers and networks of established social scientists.

The project Paul Ashwin is leading will examine how students’ identities are transformed by engaging with knowledge in undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. This will involve researching students on degree programmes in the UK and South Africa and builds on his involvement in earlier ESRC-funded research which examined students’ experiences of studying undergraduate degrees in Sociology.

Professor Ashwin said: “I am delighted that Lancaster is involved in such an important development in research into higher education. The Centre will allow an international team of leading researchers to examine fundamental questions about higher education at a local, national and global level. At Lancaster we have one of the longest established and largest group of higher education researchers in the UK and we are very excited about participating in such a significant centre for higher education research.”

The new Centre has been established by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and jointly funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), at a time of unprecedented growth and change in higher education.  Recognising that higher education and science are now global activities, the Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE) will work with universities and governments in the UK and across the world to increase our practical knowledge about higher education.

The Centre will support three major research programmes investigating higher education from global, national and local perspectives, and a rolling cycle of engagement with practitioners and policy makers to secure the benefits of the Centre’s research and expertise.

This new venture draws on the talents of 25 collaborative researchers who will carry out 13 specific projects using a range of methods of inquiry. The CGHE is a partnership of the UCL Institute of Education, Lancaster University and the University of Sheffield, working also with leading researchers of higher education from the Netherlands, Ireland, United States, Australia, South Africa, China, Hong Kong SAR and Japan. It will consider UK higher education with fresh eyes, while helping to position the UK as a global leader in higher education and research.

Higher Education is becoming an increasingly global sector with cross-border students growing at twice the rate of all students.  For example in 2012-13 over 300,000 non-EU students studied in the UK, generating £7 billion to the economy.  More than half of all school leavers in Europe, North America and Asia now go on to higher education. Yet despite the vast international scale of higher education, and its influence on society and the economy, up till now this sector has been less researched than other major social sectors such as health, manufacturing industry and government.

Research projects will cover a range of issues shaping the effectiveness of higher education in the future, including teaching and learning, learning technologies, research, system organisation, new providers, management, governance, academic capacity, financing and sustainability, social access to higher education, student loans and affordability, graduate labour markets, research collaboration with industry, and internationalisation.

Lancaster’s department of Educational Research is consistently judged one of the best in the country and ranked 6th in the UK on research quality and intensity in REF 2014.

Its Research Centres – in the areas of Higher Education, Technology-Enhanced Learning, and Social Justice and Wellbeing in Education – are internationally recognised for the excellence and originality of their research. They offer world leading PhD programmes that are specifically designed to support students undertaking research in their areas of expertise.