International initiative to promote educational science
Following a Russian-Chinese initiative, 22 deans of faculties of education at research-intensive academic institutions met at a conference in St. Petersburg in mid-June.‘A strategic and new initiative. The conference message was that educational research is an important and necessary component at the larger research universities,’ says Åke Ingerman, dean of the Faculty of Education and conference participant.
One purpose of the conference was to establish a faculty network. Another was to share experiences in relation to the fact that a faculty or school of education is often not considered an essential part of an academic institution. There are relatively few research-intensive faculties of education around the world. For example, Sweden has only three: in Gothenburg, Uppsala and Linköping.
No given position
‘Educational science does not have a given position. This is due to its multidisciplinary nature and the difficulties defining clear organisational boundaries when it comes to this field of study. For example, some of the universities represented at the conference link their faculties of education to their teacher education programmes while others don’t.’
Issues discussed at the conference include the status assigned to education research.
‘Education generally doesn’t have very high status as a research field, not even at the relatively successful universities that were represented in St. Petersburg. We talked about how this can be changed. After all, since education constitutes the very core of what goes on at universities, there’s a potential for education research to be assigned greater strategic importance. Education researchers can take on an expert role in this context, which the discussion at the conference revealed is not always the case today.’
Issues become research areas
Another issue addressed in St. Petersburg concerned where the research agenda is determined and what priorities are set, or which research profiles a university has based on limited resources.
‘The question is, who determines what issues can become big research areas? There was a consensus that some research issues need more attention. One discussion concerned what can be considered the core activity at a faculty of education, about what it is that other parts of the university don’t recognise?’
‘It’s about professional knowledge in relation to teacher education and the institutions of the school system, and about research on the what professional knowledge is and implies.
There are differences and therefore also tensions in how different academic institutions work with respect to the field of educational science. Some institutions set clear priorities in order to be successful and gain status, whereas others try to widen their focus and thereby have achieved a strong position as a faculty despite some degree of diversification of what they do.’
The conference participants also discussed the potential for increasing the exchange and coordination regarding central elements of a global research agenda. The representatives from the 22 faculties are currently preparing a joint statement and declaration of intent.
‘The message is that the area of education is an important component and type of expertise for the large research universities.’
‘In Sweden, but also internationally, very limited recourses are invested in research relative to the size of the education sector in society. This means that faculties of education need to act strategically when setting their research agendas, because of the limited resources. The conference was highly appreciated among the participants and a new meeting in two years is already being planned.
The initiative to the conference in St. Petersburg came from National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow and Peking University in China.’
The participating deans represented 14 countries and the following universities:
University of Melbourne; UCL Institute of Education, London; Princeton University, New Jersey; University of Michigan; University of Wisconsin-Madison; University of Toronto; University of Pretoria; University of Helsinki; Arizona State University; Göteborgs universitet; University of British Columbia; Seoul National University; University of Hong Kong; Harvard University; Durham University; National Institute of Education, Singapore; University of Oslo; Trinity Collage, Dublin; Peking University; National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moskva.