The health, status and future of undergraduate Education programmes: a comparison of course leaders’ views on leading and developing the subject within different institutions

This paper reports preliminary findings from the project selected by BESA to receive funding in their 2019/20 research grant cycle. It aims to give an overview of the emerging themes from a sector-wide online survey and in-depth interviews with a smaller sample of UG Education programme leaders, both conducted in Spring 2020. Education courses are a popular choice for undergraduate students in the UK, with a UCAS search suggesting there are more than 800 courses delivered at almost 140 institutions. Whilst the development of this academic field has received attention in recent years (Furlong, 2013; McCulloch and Cowan, 2018), what has been less well considered is the way that Education Studies courses are designed and enacted in practice. What does it mean to lead an Education Studies undergraduate course? What are the decisions and challenges that course leaders face in a dynamic HE landscape? How is this terrain affected by a fast-changing ITE environment? How do these pivotal members of the Education Studies community feel about their role in shaping the subject for the future? And what are the discernible differences across different types of institution (such as Russell Group, Post-92, FE college)?

In examining these sorts of questions, this project contributes to the currently small body of literature on HE programme leadership (see Sanderson, 2018; Cahill et al., 2015; Murphy and Curtis, 2013). Moreover, in doing this we seek to map and understand the health, status and future of UG Education as a vital step towards ensuring the longevity and evolution of the subject. This is likely to raise important questions, both of an academic and practical nature, regarding the range of provision for students; the ‘vocational’ or labour-market role of Education Studies; and the buoyancy of the subject within an increasingly competitive UK higher education system.