The university debate: academic expertise in the conversation
If you are interested in how the university system is changing, or perhaps how it should change, there is plenty for you to read. A number of notable writers, including a fair number of university heads or former heads, have offered their analysis of higher education and how it will, should or should not change. Some of these contributions have been angry complaints about a system that, the authors believe, has abandoned (or perhaps been forced to abandon) its traditional values; others have suggested that change has not gone far enough. But there is no shortage of public analysis.
Now however one researcher into higher education reform has suggested that the debate lacks expert academic input. Kevin R. McClure, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, has suggested in an article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, that there is a ‘vast reform-industrial complex’, but a missing academic input:
‘The questions surrounding higher education’s future demand input from academics whose livelihoods are tied to rigorous scholarship, imbued with an understanding of history, theory, and data, not from policy centers pursuing a political agenda or entrepreneurs shoring up business. Yet out of the multitude of works on higher education I have read over the past year in completing my exams and writing my dissertation proposal, surprisingly few for general audiences are written by higher-education scholars.’
When a year or two ago I chaired the higher education governance review for Scotland, my colleagues and I came up with a similar finding: that there is an expert research gap in higher education literature. We recommended therefore that funding should be found for a Scottish Centre for Higher Education Research. This has not yet happened, but it seems right to me that a significant dose of scholarly expertise should be injected into this debate. Of course those, both within the system and outside it, who wish to use their experience of higher education to comment on it should have space to do so. But the time has also come for this debate to be informed by higher education scholarship; and I hope that in the near future more than one centre dedicated to this work will emerge.