Stirling team secures £1 million to study role of governing boards in Further Education

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A team of researchers – led by the University of Stirling – has been awarded nearly £1 million from the Economic and Social Research Council to study governance in the Further Education (FE) sector.

Professor Cate Watson will lead the team of researchers from the Universities of Stirling, Birmingham and Cardiff to investigate the processes and practices of governing in FE colleges across the UK.

The project, which will run for three years from April 2018, will observe boards in action in eight colleges, to examine how they contribute to the strategic aims of meeting the needs of learners, employers and labour markets.

Professor Cate Wilson

Professor Cate Watson.

The FE sector plays a vital economic and social role in the UK by providing high-level technical skills and ‘second chances’ for adult learners. However, following Brexit, colleges are facing a major challenge in addressing the skills gap.

“Governing boards have received little attention from researchers,” said Professor Watson. “Most research has focused on structures and procedures in terms of formal accountability mechanisms while little is known about the processes and practices of governing, and how these relate to leadership and the aims and outcomes of the organisation.

“FE is currently undergoing extensive restructuring leading to fewer, larger colleges with the aim of offering increased efficiency and resilience. Such rationalisation can be expected to foster fundamental change which has considerable implications for leadership and governance. This makes the research here both highly significant and timely.”

The research team also includes Stirling’s Dr Gary Husband and Honorary Professor Ron Hill; Professor David James, of the University of Cardiff; and the University of Birmingham’s Professor Ann-Marie Bathmaker.

Background information

University of Stirling

The University of Stirling is ranked fifth in Scotland and 40th in the UK for research intensity in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. Stirling is committed to providing education with a purpose and carrying out research which has a positive impact on communities across the globe – addressing real issues, providing solutions and helping to shape society.

Interdisciplinary in its approach, Stirling’s research informs its teaching curriculum and facilitates opportunities for knowledge exchange and collaboration between staff, students, industry partners and the wider community.

The University’s scenic central Scotland campus – complete with a loch, castle and golf course – is home to more than 14,000 students and 1500 staff representing around 120 nationalities. This includes an ever-expanding base for postgraduate study. @stiruni

Economic and Social Research Council

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.