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As universities expand throughout the world, higher education is becoming an increasingly important focus of research, with international journals entirely devoted to it.  Higher education research addresses topics relating to systems and institutions, staff and students, education and research, and the cultural, social, and economic positioning of higher education locally, nationally and internationally.

Despite this, it is often difficult to identify the influence of academic research on higher education policy.  Colleagues in government often find academic research too narrow, theoretical or impenetrable for their purposes, and focused on critique rather than practical solutions.  Researchers often find government engaging selectively with research evidence to support their desired arguments and outcomes.  This has been compounded during recent years by the level of opposition between governments and people working and studying in universities.   

Aims of the event

This event will bring together academic researchers working on different aspects of higher education with colleagues who have experience of developing and implementing higher education policy in government and agencies. 

Discussions will be prompted by parallel contributions from colleagues with experience of government and academic research, which will aim to identify why, how and when: 

  • government and agencies use research evidence and engage with researchers through the development, implementation, and evaluation of higher education policy
  • academic researchers engage with and seek to influence higher education policy
  • there are barriers to engagement between higher education policy and research
  • academic research has successfully influenced higher education policy.

Participants will discuss in groups and through a plenary session the actions that could be taken by academic staff, institutions, representative bodies, publishers and government to enhance the engagement between higher education research and policy.  They will then prioritise them for communication and engagement with these stakeholders by seminar participants and SRHE.   

Who is this event for?

This event will benefit researchers interested in or working on topics relating to higher education policy, policymakers who engage with academic research(ers), those involved in and interested in practices of knowledge exchange, and those interested in policy-oriented research development.  We expect to arrange a further seminar in this area, focusing on research and innovation policy, in spring 2023. 


10:30 – 11:00     Registration and coffee

11:00 – 11:15     Welcome, introductions, and agenda-setting for the event (SRHE Higher Education Policy Network Convenors: Karen Smith, University of Hertfordshire and Colin McCaig, Sheffield Hallam University

11:15 – 12:30     Policy & Systems (chaired by David Palfreyman)

Short presentations by Nicola Dandridge, Huw Morris, and David Sweeney, followed by group discussions 

12:30 – 13:15    Lunch

13:15 – 14:30     Education & Students (chaired by Nick Hillman)

Short presentations by Chris Millward, Anna Mountford-Zimdars, Paul Ashwin followed by group discussions

14:30 – 15:15     Summary and prioritisation of conclusions and recommendations, and next steps (Colin McCaig, Sheffield Hallam University and Karen Smith, University of Hertfordshire)


Speaker biographies

Paul Ashwin is Professor of Higher Education and Head of the Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University. He is Deputy Director of the Centre for Global Higher Education, an ESRC-Research England funded research centre involving 10 international universities. Paul’s research is focused on the educational role of higher education. His recent books include ‘Transforming University Education: A Manifesto’ (2020) and Reflective Teaching in Higher Education (2015, 2020) written by an international team to support the development of research-informed university teaching.

Nicola Dandridge is Professor of Practice in Higher Education Policy at the University of Bristol. She is former chief executive of the Office for Students (2017-2022) where she led the creation of the OfS as a new organisation; prior to this she was chief executive of Universities UK (2007-2017), the membership organisation for the UK's universities. She originally qualified as a lawyer in England and Scotland, specialising in employment and equality law. 

Nick Hillman has been the Director of HEPI since 2014. He worked for the Rt Hon David Willetts MP (now Lord Willetts), the Minister for Universities and Science, from 2007 until the end of 2013, as Chief of Staff and then Special Adviser in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Alongside his research for HEPI he has written for a range of think tanks and journals and in late 2020, was shortlisted for the first Prospect magazine Think Tanker of the Year Award.

Colin McCaig is a Professor of Higher Education Policy at the Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University. His major research interests are in the political economy of higher education, specifically focusing on widening participation policies and the relationship between the regulatory bodies and HE providers in a marketised context. His most recent publication is The Business of Widening Participation: policy, practice and culture, co-edited with Jon Rainford and Ruth Squire (Emerald Publishing, 2022).  His commissioned work for various governmental agencies (HEFCE, OFFA and OfS) extends back as far as the first National Evaluation of Aimhigher (HEFCE 2006).

Chris Millward is Professor of Practice in Education Policy at the University of Birmingham.  He was England’s Director for Fair Access and Participation from 2018-21, held senior roles at the Higher Education Funding Council for England from 2006-2017 and was Head of Research Programmes at the Arts and Humanities Research Council from 2002-2006.

Huw Morris is on secondment from the Welsh Government as an honorary Professor in the Institute of Education at University College London (UCL). Prior to taking on this role he was Director of Skills, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning in the Welsh Government for nine years after twenty-five years as an academic in a variety of roles from research assistant to Deputy Vice Chancellor in universities in London, the home counties, Bristol, Manchester and Salford.

Anna Mountford-Zimdars is Professor of Social Mobility in the School of Education at the University of Exeter (please click here to view) where she co-directs a joint theory-practice oriented Centre for Social Mobility. Anna's research is around university access and progress but she is also interested in wider issues around improving opportunities in education and beyond.

David Palfreyman OBE is the Bursar of and a Fellow of New College, University of Oxford; he is also the Director of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies ( and a member of the OfS Board, as well as being the Hon Treasurer of SRHE. David's publications include Universities and Colleges: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2017) along with The Law of Higher Education (Oxford University Press, 2021, third edition) and ‘Reshaping the University - The Rise of the Regulated Market in Higher Education’ (OUP, 2014). 

Karen Smith is Reader in Higher Education and programme director for the Professional Doctorate in Education at the University of Hertfordshire. Her research is centred around how higher education policies and practices impact on those who work and study within the university system. She also leads on collaborative research and development in the School of Education, focussing on supporting collaborative research with external partners (local authorities, public services, and other organisations) through research projects designed to impact directly on policy and practice.

David Sweeney is Professor of Research Policy at the University of Birmingham. Previously he was founding Executive Chair of Research England, the agency responsible for creating and sustaining the conditions for a healthy and dynamic research system in English universities. David previously worked at two BBSRC research institutes, as a consultant statistician and developing mathematical models of plant growth. In 2004 he moved into university leadership in as Vice-Principal (Communications, Enterprise and Research) at Royal Holloway. He joined HEFCE in 2008 and led the development and implementation of the first Research Excellence Framework including the new impact agenda element.

November 4th, 2022 from 10:30 AM to  3:15 PM
Society House, Regents Wharf
8 All Saints Street
London, N1 9RL
United Kingdom
Event Fee(s)
Event Fee(s)
Member Price £0.00
Guest Price £75.00
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