What’s research got to do with me? That’s just for academics, isn’t it?

What’s research got to do with me? That’s just for academics, isn’t it?

In this blog post, Elspeth Jones, winner of the 2014 Tony Adams Award for Excellence in Research, shares her thoughts on research and why it’s important for every international higher education professional, regardless of their role. Read about her ‘research journey’ and get tips for directly applying your own informal and personal learning.

Belonging to an organisation like the EAIE suggests you are interested in ‘research’. Every encounter at a conference, reading blogs, the Twitter feed, EAIE Forum magazine or the Internationalisation Handbook – all can offer new insights which add to or amend your existing knowledge or practice. Fundamentally, that’s what research is about, helping you to understand context, offering new information and helping to improve the way you do things.

The problem is we tend to think of research as something separate – an exclusive club and certainly not for everybody. Perhaps we think of academic journals, clinical trials or blue-sky thinking, rather than something which will directly help us in our work. Well just as I believe internationalisation is for everyone in an institution, ‘research’ for me is a notion that needs to be democratised and recognised as beneficial regardless of our roles.

Opportunities for research

Clearly there are certain kinds of research which will be of greatest interest to academics, and particularly those in a given discipline, often published in the formal context of academic journals. However, as international education professionals we have great learning opportunities at our fingertips. The concept of internationalisation has changed and evolved over the years; more and more people are directly involved in the global dimensions of institutional activity and this is reflected in the EAIE membership. The conference attracts people from all over the world and we can learn from a wide range of international good practice, discuss and apply our findings at home. In addition, we get to talk with people at a range of levels from different cultural and national backgrounds, developing and applying our intercultural competence. A quick look at the conference and poster sessions at EAIE Prague 2014 makes clear the breadth and range of topics we now embrace in the field of international education. You may not think of this as research but essentially it is informal, personal research with direct application.

My journey

Looking at my own informal ‘research’ journey, which may be similar to your experience, it went something like this:

1. Speak to people in my own field in local institutions – what are they doing well and how can I learn from this?

2. Take this to national level through association work – what could my institution or my department learn?

3. Benchmark with international partner institutions – sharing of good practice across different aspects of university activity, teaching, administration, outreach, student recruitment, etc.

4. Join international associations and attend conferences – what can I learn from institutions and individuals in institutions and countries I don’t currently work with?

5. Attend international conferences in other parts of the world – how do I locate my work within a global context and what can I, my field, my institution, my country or my home region learn from this?

All too often we stop at number four. An interesting article by Hans de Wit (2012) noted that we tend to stick to the big conferences like EAIE or NAFSA as global meeting points, rather than attending smaller conferences in different parts of the world.

Alongside this (and apart from keeping up with formal, published research), I try to learn from news sources in international education such as University World News, The PIE News, relevant sections in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Times Higher Education, as well as key websites and blogs. Importantly, however, Twitter has played an increasing role in my own research, both informal and formal. Following people in different parts of the world has drawn my attention to key developments across the growing breadth of our field from different local perspectives. It has enormous power, if managed effectively, to offer alternative insights and directions to locally-published reports and resources which may not otherwise reach a global audience.

However, I will end with a final plea. All of this informal and personal learning can also benefit the wider community if people working in different kinds of roles would formally publish about what they have learned and how it has been applied. Since we tend to think of research as something specialised and largely for academics, opportunities for research projects and publications from people in more administrative roles may be lost. Those who may not be used to formal writing have ample opportunities through blogs, news articles, website pieces and so on, where the style is less formal and academic. Why not make a start by writing for the EAIE blog or Forum, or else submit a poster or session proposal for EAIE 2015 in the wonderful city of Glasgow? I look forward to seeing you there!

Author: Elspeth Jones

Elspeth Jones
Leeds Beckett University, United KingdomElspeth Jones, Emerita Professor of the Internationalisation of Higher Education at Leeds Beckett University, UK, and Honorary Visiting Fellow, Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation (CHEI), Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan.