Interrogating Higher Education Research - UELT8240

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


This module is intended to help you to reflect critically upon the nature of research into higher education. There will be a particular focus upon the various theories that underpin much educational research. We will explore the place of educational research within the social sciences; shifting paradigms in educational research, and the relationship between theory and methodology. One aim of this module is to encourage participants to consider theories and methods they may not have previously encountered and, importantly, to think critically about those that are familiar. In addition, this module will help participants to reflect upon the theoretical approaches they may wish to adopt in relation to their own research into higher education.

The content of this module is structured along loosely historical lines, covering major theories and theorists that have influenced educational research since the early twentieth century. Through adopting this loosely chronological approach it is hoped that participants will gain some understanding of the emergence and development of higher education research as a field.


Contact hours

20 hours.

Please note that this module is usually taught in the evenings.


This module is compulsory for the PDip and MA in Higher Education.

Method of assessment

This module is assessed in two parts:

Part 1: A twenty minute presentation (including ten minutes for questions).The presentation will take the form of a critical introduction to a journal article (or section from such an article) which both outlines and critiques the theoretical approaches adopted by the authors. You will be asked to highlight the key elements, the context the theory has been applied to, and the challenges that are associated with using this approach in an HE context. You will also be asked to identify questions for discussion with the rest of the cohort. This is a formative assessment and will not be credit-bearing.

Part 2: A 5000 word critical essay. The focus for the essay is a critical literature review relating to a higher education topic of your choosing. Examples of such topics would include: widening participation; disciplinarity; theories of higher learning; academic pedagogies; or academic identities. This is not exhaustive and you are free to select your own topic in consultation with the module convenor. Once a suitable topic has been identified, a literature review, and critical analysis of the literature will allow you to identify a range of theoretical approaches higher educational researchers have adopted in investigating your topic. The aim of the essay is to analyse critically how different theoretical approaches and frameworks have been used (or could be used) to address your chosen topic. This is a summative assessment, it is 100% credit bearing.

The presentation and the essay will cover separate theoretical areas.

Indicative reading


Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J-C. (1990) Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London: Sage Publications.

Pring, R. (2004) Philosophy of Educational Research, London: Continuum

Archer, M. (2007) Making Our Way through the World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Fairclough, N. (2003) Analysing Discourse, London: Routledge

Merrill, B. and West, L. (2009) Using Biographical Methods in Social Research, London: Sage

Hodgson, A. (Ed) (2000) Policies, Politics and the Future of Lifelong Learning , London: Kogan Page

Tight, M. International Handbook on Higher Education Research

Journal Articles:

Haggis, T. (2009) 'What have we been thinking of? A critical overview of 40 years of student learning research in higher education' in Studies in Higher Education, 34:4

Robbins, D. (1993) 'The Practical Importance of Bourdieu's Analyses of Higher Education' in Studies in Higher Education, 18: 2

Wilson, A. (2009) 'Learning to read: discourse analysis and the study and practice of adult education' in Studies in Continuing Education, 31: 1

Bridges, D. (1999) 'Educational Research: pursuit of truth or flight into fancy?' in British Educational Research Journal, 25: 5

Clegg, S. (2005) 'Evidence-based practice in educational research: a critical realist critique of systematic review' in Sociology of Education, 26: 3

Shay, S. Ashwin P and Case, J. (2009) A critical engagement with research into higher education' in Studies in Higher Education, 34: 4

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module participants will be able to:
• Demonstrate a broad understanding of a range of theoretical approaches to higher education research;
• Consider the impact of applying selected theoretical approaches to selected research problems in HE;
• Critically analyse the theoretical approaches adopted in a selection of published, peer-reviewed, higher education research;
• Critically interrogate the relationship between theory and method in a selection of published, peer-reviewed, higher education research;
• Organise and manage own learning;
• Develop an understanding of a range of approaches and beliefs which inform Higher Education Policy and Practice;
• Develop the capacity to communicate research clearly and coherently (speech and writing) to specialist and non-specialist audiences.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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