Posted on Friday 20th January 2012
Curiosity-driven or improving policy and practice. What’s the point of university research in an age of austerity?
The 10th School of Education Research Conference which took place on 19th November 2011, attracted more than eighty people from our university as well as outside it. The conference featured presentations by both students and staff as well as poster displays; all provided much lively discussion on the conference theme and well beyond. This conference was a great opportunity for the students in the School of Education to gain feedback from the research community at the university as well as to practice their presentation skills in a protected, friendly environment.
This year, participants explored the nature and purpose of engaging in university research in the current climate of financial austerity. The following questions were addressed within almost thirty presentations encompassing several research areas such as: ‘How far should we follow our own curiosity?’ and ‘How much can we be responsible for improving educational policy and practice through our research?’ Papers presented in the field of special educational needs (including autism) discussed specific issues in researching the area within and outside mainstream education, presenting the viewpoints of families, students, teachers and policy makers. The issues of democratic education and the importance of leadership in the school system were raised, while another session explored the impact of educational research on policy and the lack of evidence in certain areas. The topic of ‘Conflict’ collated presentations from very different settings, pointing out how research as well as institutions themselves can inform and help policy makers to improve procedures. Participants were able to gain valuable insights into language teaching at various levels of the educational system, and talk about the role that higher education and research at tertiary level plays in the policy arena. A further topic area covered the different approaches through which the capacities of young people’s communities may be built up and enhanced.
The keynote speaker, David James, Director of the ESRC Doctoral Training Centre for Wales addressed the questions how economic crises and recessions might change our ways of researching as well as the main focus of our studies. He explained how this can bring an opportunity to reflect on our procedures and question some of our widely accepted assumpitons in relation to social research.
Our second speaker, Karen Rowlingson, Professor of Social Policy pointed out that for her, university research must engage critically with the public interest. She spoke enthusiastically and with concern on the topic of inclusion and child poverty, arguing for the increased involvement of academics in improving social policy through the provision of evidence for decision-makers.
Our panel debate was very successful, thanks to several staff members as well as former and current doctoral researchers, namely Saeed Alshamy, James Arthur, Karen Graham, Michele Schweisfurth and Paul Warmington. The panel directly addressed the main conference theme, drawing on their own experience. They provided interesting and entertaining examples of how their research career initially stemmed from a specific area of interest and how they were able to make an impact through their results.
Feedback from participants has been extremely positive and we are already looking forward to the 11th Conference this July. Students and researchers who would like to join us in helping to organise it will be warmly welcomed!