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Rethinking assessment: is the ‘oral essay’ a realistic alternative to the written essay in HE?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital31 May 2022

Students prepare for oral exam

© MINES ParisTech / S. Boda 2020 via Creative Commons

Katia Dowdle.

‘I own the words I speak more than I own the words that I write’. (student’s sentiment recorded by Joughin)

Higher education students in the UK are predominantly assessed through the medium of writing, with essays being the most common type of assignment. As an academic writing tutor, I have been ‘part of the system’ for several years now, preparing foundation students to understand and appropriately address essay tasks in their university studies.

The mere existence of my job has depended on the long-lived and cherished tradition of essay writing as a means to facilitate learning, diagnose students’ progress and assess understanding. I have always admired the format of academic essay that has an inherent potential to give learners space for expressing new and original ideas and, at the same time, demonstrating their deep understanding of the existing knowledge.

Students have not always shared my enthusiasm though. Moreover, the combination of independent thought and experts’ (more…)

Disruptive relations with the EU and institutional resilience in the UK and Switzerland

Blog Editor, IOE Digital8 December 2021

Tatiana Fumasoli and Lucy Shackleton. 

The UK and Swiss higher education systems share characteristics: strong academic performance, high levels of internationalisation in the staff and student body, and a global reputation.

They also share an uncertain future regarding their relationship to Horizon Europe, the European Union’s flagship research and innovation programme.

While provisions for UK association to Horizon Europe were included in the terms of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), at the time of writing, UK association has not been formalised by the EU, and EU Research Commissioner Mariya Gabriel has indicated that no progress can be made before ‘transversal’ political issues regarding the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol (more…)

Women in science: has Athena Swan lost its way?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital30 November 2021

Alice Sullivan and John Armstrong.

The Athena Swan charter was established in 2005 to advance the careers of female academics in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM). Yet it now discourages academic departments from collecting data on sex.

Athena Swan awards were designed to incentivise academic departments to support women. Monitoring gaps between men and women in recruitment and career progression was an essential criterion. Yet, Advance HE, which runs Athena Swan, now recommends data collection exclusively on gender-identity, not sex. As they state:  “Advance HE recommends asking a question about gender rather than asking a question about sex. This ensures equality efforts are … inclusive of a diverse range of gender identities.”

In common parlance, the term ‘gender’ is used as a synonym for sex, while sociologists often use ‘gender’ to (more…)

Why dyslexia support for university students can feel ‘like going to a sexual health clinic’

Blog Editor, IOE Digital4 October 2021

Charlotte Hamilton Clark.

The week of Oct 4-10th is Dyslexia Awareness Week, when organisations promote public engagement with dyslexia, often on a specific theme. In 2021 the focus is on invisible dyslexia, including overlooked dyslexia among adults in higher education.

My new study highlights how UK university students experienced dyslexia as an often unrecognised and invisible phenomenon. The study contributes fascinating insights into students’ decisions regarding disclosure and concealment of dyslexia as an invisible identity at university and the impacts of these decisions on their self-esteem.

In the qualitative project I explored the lived experience of dyslexia from the perspective of students who had registered for dyslexia support at four UK universities. The study used both email and phone discussions to investigate students’ views and theorised the impact of universities’ approach (more…)

Widening participation in HE: why it’s important to focus on ‘first generation’ students

Blog Editor, IOE Digital4 November 2020

Anna Adamecz-Völgyi, Morag Henderson, and Nikki Shure.

why IOE and UCL are merging

As this new and unusual academic year starts taking shape, thousands of students are trying to settle into their new lives at university. For some students, going to university will seem like the obvious, normal thing to do. Others, especially those who are the first in their families to attend higher education, may be stepping into less comfortable new world.

A plethora of research shows that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to go to university and that if they go, they end up at lower ranked institutions, studying “lower value” courses than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds. At the same time, universities are actively engaging in the “Widening Participation (WP) agenda”, attempting to increase the diversity of their student body. But in order to attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds, universities first need to be able to identify who they are.

Our research will help them pinpoint (more…)

Education and Covid-19: how can we manage change when yesterday is no longer a predictor of tomorrow?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital6 April 2020

Will Brehm. 

Human life around the world has radically changed in a matter of weeks because of the novel coronavirus, known scientifically as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). Some see the possibility of new futures in the making. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, for instance, argues social distancing is a sign of “respect to others” since everyone, regardless of class, race, gender, or age, must be assumed to have the virus. The virus, in this respect, is a great equalizer and has created types of unity and solidarity (e.g., mutual aid groups) unimaginable during the hyper-individualist, neo-liberal order before SARS-CoV-2. In times of crisis, we might all be socialists.

Others see the exact opposite. Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, for instance, argues “the state of emergency” caused by the novel coronavirus “has become the normal condition.” As governments of all types use authoritarian measures in their efforts to stop the virus, humans are left more divided and controlled than ever before. Doctors now decide who deserves a ventilator and who deserves a death sentence, leaving each person to fend for him or herself. In times of crisis, we might all be alone.

When it comes to education, change – and potential (more…)

How can we help more deprived students to choose courses that will lead to higher earnings?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital3 February 2020

The IOE’s new Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO) launches its website today, along with a new blog. Here, Gill Wyness. the centre’s deputy director, shares its first post

Getting more students into higher education (HE) is an important element of governments’ strategies for increasing human capital. Consequently, much academic research has been devoted to examining policies that aim to encourage students into university, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

But less attention has been given to the types of universities students enrol in. Given the high returns for those who attend selective universities and subjects, understanding whether students from disadvantaged backgrounds enrol in less selective courses, which are likely to have lower returns, is important for equalising opportunities.

In a recent research project, colleagues Lindsey Macmillan and Stuart Campbell of UCL Institute of Education and Richard Murphy (University of Texas at Austin) and I examine this question, asking to what extent students are mismatched to their courses, and what are the drivers of mismatch.

(more…)

How do we secure HE's role as a public good?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital3 October 2017

Simon Marginson. 
The current edition of the OECD’s Education at a Glance, published on 13 September, noted that in 2014, only 28 per cent of the financing of all tertiary education in the UK was from public sources, with 72 per cent from private sources, mostly from students. This was the lowest share of public financing in all 33 OECD countries for which figures were available.
The exceptionally high level of tuition fees in England makes the funding system vulnerable to the accusation that graduates pay too much. At the same time, it can be argued that the public is paying too little, and that over time this will lead to neglect of the common and collective goods derived from England’s university and college infrastructure. The debate about the extent to which university education is public good is conspicuously missing from much of the current, increasingly heated, debate on tuition fees.
Existing public subsidies
It is likely that the OECD 28 per cent ratio underestimates the extent of public subsidies in

(more…)

Poorer students aren't applying to university because of fears of high debts

Blog Editor, IOE Digital7 June 2017

File 20170602 20599 vxe5co
Is the sky really the limit when you’re from a poorer background? Pexels
Claire Callender. 
With various political parties pledging to abolish or alter tuition fees, the question of how to fund higher education is squarely back on the political agenda.
The Conservative government has argued in favour of tuition fees and student loans. It confidently declared that neither the abolition of undergraduate grants – which happened in 2016 – nor the proposed rise of full-time undergraduate tuition fees to (more…)

Priorities for a new Government: advice from our academics part 4 – HE

Blog Editor, IOE Digital31 May 2017

The IOE blog has asked colleagues from across the Institute what’s at the top of their wish list. We are publishing their replies during the run-up to the election.
Higher education
It almost goes without saying that the most early and urgent issue in higher education is to clarify the right to residency of non-UK EU citizens working in UK higher education institutions, and the second most urgent issue is to establish a skilled labour migration scheme that will achieve open employment of academic staff from anywhere in the world on a merit basis. By one count 40 per cent of the new appointments in the Russell Group in the last five years were from non UK Europe. This large pool of people has been absolutely crucial in sustaining the exceptional (more…)