How healthy is UK research on higher, adult, further and vocational education?

You’d have to be a hermit not to have heard about the recent assessment of research in UK universities. The results were reported, and discussed, well beyond the shores of these islands. Overall, the panel for Education decided that 96% of the research submitted was of international quality, with 30% of the total being ranked as 4-star, or at the very highest level of quality.

These published results are for the discipline as a whole; we don’t know exactly how the panel rated research into adult learning or other forms of non-school education. But we can get a broad impression of how different sub-areas were viewed, as the panels have now published ‘overview reports’ for their discipline.

The overview report for Education devoted one paragraph to its views on research in higher education and one on further, adult and vocational education. Both were largely positive about the quality of what the panel saw, but the overview also notes a clear decline in the volume of research that universities submitted in further,adult and vocational education.

ref higher ed

REF adult ed

Are these generally positive judgements reasonable ones? I suspect that, bearing mind that universities are very selective in what they submit for assessment, it is hard to disagree with them. It is also clear that a lot of research capacity in adult, further and vocational education has been lost in the UK, and replacing it in future will be extremely challenging.

Some may think this is because the sub-area is always treated in educational studies as smething of an after-thought. And if you are in the mood for a good conspiracy theory, then notice that while the sub-header of the second paragraph refers to ‘adult’ education, the text mistakenly refers to ‘higher’ education, which hardly suggests that the panel paid close attention to the content of this paragraph.

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