Hijacking the agenda

September 25, 1998

Educational research has come in for much criticism recently, but what is involved is not simply a debate about the quality of the work being done.

While James Tooley, professor of education at Newcastle, in his critique focused primarily on the proper academic issue of validity and reliability, most emphasis has been on the alleged 1ack of usefulness of educational research. The complaint is that it does not meet the needs of "users".

The solution proposed is a substantial tightening of central control (THES, August 28). The demand is that educational research be accountable in the sense of demonstrating value for money in contributing to the implementation of education policy. Now, there might be no objection to this if the Pounds 65 million to Pounds 70 million at issue were from the Department for Education and Employment's own research budget, but it is not.

What is happening here is that the DFEE and other government bodies are now claiming the right to use the funds allocated through the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Economic and Social Research Council to pursue their own policy goals. In other words, they are seeking to determine what should be the focus of academic research on education, how it should be organised and how it should be done.

And what they are promoting is a highly instrumental view of inquiry, in which the agenda is decided on practical and policy grounds; the model being that of contract research. This is an attack on academic freedom, and it must be resisted or it will become a precedent that will be used to extend central control over other areas of research as well. What is taking place in educational research should ring alarm bells among academic researchers everywhere.

Martyn Hammersley

Professor of educational and social research, the Open University

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