Public seminars

The Learning Institute has a regular public seminar programme on higher education each term. The seminars are open to everyone and there is no need to book in advance.

For the 2014-2015 academic year there will be just 12 seminars, taking place on weeks 1, 3, 5 and 7 for each term. As before, seminars will run on Thursdays (4.00 to 5.30pm) on level 2 of Littlegate House, St Ebbe's Street. 

If you would like to be added to the research seminar mailing list, please contact us on research or (01865) 2-86811.

View the archive of previous seminars run for the previous 2 years.

Professor Richard Bolden (University of the West of England)

Week 1 - Thursday 16 October 2014

What is Academic Leadership? Reflections on identity, influence and change in UK higher education 

Recent trends in higher education, such as increasing participation rates, internationalisation, funding, policy and market competition, have challenged traditional assumptions on the nature and purpose of HE and its place in society.  Throughout this period, it has been argued, there has been a general shift away from ‘collegial’ towards more ‘corporate’, ‘entrepreneurial’ or ‘managerial’ approaches to leadership and management informed by private sector practices. Whilst a ‘business like’ approach to running universities may be understandable given the size and budgets of these organisations and the competitive environment in which they operate, the utilitarian ethos that underpins such an approach may be experienced as conflicting with the normative values traditionally associated with academic work. To this extent emerging forms of leadership and management practice may be experienced as conflicting with ideals of collegiality, academic freedom, education and scholarship, ultimately distancing and disengaging the very people that universities seek to influence and involve in institutional governance, strategy and change.

In this seminar I will present findings from a recent study of academic leadership in UK universities and explore their implications for how we think about, develop and engage people in the leadership of academic work.  I will draw on a range of concepts and perspectives, including social identity and distributed leadership, to consider how power and influence is conceived and enacted in HE institutions. I will conclude by reflecting on the implications for leadership theory, practice and development more broadly and the challenges and opportunities of engaging professionals in the leadership of groups, organisations and professions.

The associated Leadership Foundation for Higher Education report can be downloaded from: http://bit.ly/1f4zH1s

Dr Elaine Walsh (Imperial College London)

Week 3 - Thursday 30 October 2014

Exploring the wellbeing of doctoral researchers

Research into non-academic workplaces has shown that the well-being of employees is critical to the performance of both the individual and the organisation, but relatively little research on well-being has been done with postgraduate student populations. Surveys such as the postgraduate research experience survey (PRES) had reported high levels of satisfaction overall amongst our PhD population but a small proportion were unhappy and such surveys provide few clues of how to target improvements effectively. Therefore it was decided in 2009 to conduct a more in-depth assessment of the Imperial PhD experience using the wellbeing approach.

A bespoke on-line assessment was developed, based upon a clinically approved methodology and over 1200 students completed it. Analysis allowed us to rank the issues that have the greatest negative impact on researchers’ well-being.  The results were used immediately in development workshops for new supervisors, in induction talks, in workshops for students and in departmental communications.

Five years later the assessment has been repeated, this time with greater emphasis upon supervision. The key questions this seminar will discuss are:

  • How have things changed in the last 5 years for PhD researchers and what does this mean?
  • What are the most troublesome issues, according to the researchers?
  • How can we use such data to achieve real change in policy and in practice?
  • How can we encourage established and experienced supervisors to reflect upon and, where necessary, to improve their practice in the light of such findings?

Rebekah Nahai (University of Oxford)

Week 5 - Thursday 13 November 2014

Is meritocracy fair? A qualitative case study of admissions at the University of Oxford

In Britain, elite universities are regularly criticised for being unmeritocratic in their admissions processes and by implication unfair, but stakeholders often lack a shared understanding of meritocracy and confound it with outcomes-based measures of fairness. Interview data from admissions tutors at the University of Oxford, viewed through the prism of Joseph Soares’s ideological categories of organic conservatism, democratic elitism and social democratism, indicate that Oxford admissions are highly meritocratic. Thus the question arises: in a deeply unequal society, where academic achievement correlates with family income and social class, does meritocracy provide a satisfactory admissions framework?

Professor Bob Thomson (University of Warwick)

Week 7 - Thursday 27 November 2014

Coaching in higher education

This seminar will be participative and built around four questions:

  1. What do we mean by coaching?  We shall explore a spectrum of behaviours from directive ones such as instructing, giving advice and making suggestions to more non-directive behaviours such as listening to understand and asking open questions.  We shall then offer a definition of primarily non-directive coaching:

    “Coaching is a relationship of rapport and trust in which the coach uses their ability to listen, to ask questions and to play back what the client has communicated in order to help the client to clarify what matters to them and to work out what to do to achieve their aspirations.”
     
  2. What is learning?  We shall look at Peter Senge’s view that real learning means learning to do something you couldn’t do before.  This requires experience together with reflection upon that experience, as illustrated in David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle.  We shall also look at some of the ideas of Carl Rogers, founder of a person-centred approach to therapy which has shaped a student-centred approach to education.
     
  3. What is the purpose of teaching?  If teaching is a means to an end – the end being learning – what are the implications of these ideas for your practice as a teacher?  We shall consider deep versus surface learning in students, and the problem that some students are motivated essentially by their desire to tick the boxes that will get them a degree.
     
  4. What are the implications for supervision of doctoral students?  We shall look at the idea from Transactional Analysis of Parent, Adult and Child ego states, and use this to explore how a supervisor might move from a Parent – Child set of transactions at the start of a doctorate to an Adult – Adult relationship as the student prepares to take up their first academic job.