An online network aims to bring policymakers together with academics studying higher education, potentially stimulating new research on neglected areas such as the effectiveness of access spending.
The “Economics of Higher Education” network, which officially launched on 20 November, is being led by two London School of Economics academics, with sponsorship from Universities UK and the Economic and Social Research Council.
A blog will encourage higher education researchers to post summaries of new work, with members of the network commenting in response.
One of the academics behind the project, Gill Wyness, research officer at the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance, said it was “not always easy” for researchers and policymakers to connect, and that better links could “spark off ideas for research”.
She argued that there was a lack of research on important areas such as the “impact of tuition fees on participation”.
Another area of weakness was research on the effectiveness of the widening access measures chosen by universities in their agreements with the Office for Fair Access, added Dr Wyness, who will work on the network with her LSE colleague Richard Murphy, a research economist at the Centre for Economic Performance.
In terms of the options such as bursaries or summer schools, there was “no evidence” about which was most effective, Dr Wyness said, meaning that universities may be “potentially wasting their money or not spending it in the right way”.
The network would focus “on robust economic research, quantitative evidence-based research”, rather than “opinions and qualitative stuff”.
“It is great for academics to talk to policymakers because that is how we get…ideas and…know what we should be researching,” she added.
The project got under way with an event at the LSE that brought together higher education researchers and policymakers. Speakers included Nicholas Barr, professor of public economics at the LSE, Paul Clark, director of policy at Universities UK, and Louisa Darian, senior policy adviser at Which?