Warning over future of education research as number of postgrad students drops 10%

The “long term health” of education research in the UK is under threat by a decline in the number of people opting to become researchers in the field, a new study shows.

The Royal Society found there has been a 10 per cent drop in the number of education postgraduate research students between 2011-12 and 2016-17, and that funding from UK government departments and research councils is down 25 per cent.

The findings have been described by a leading education research charity as “worrying”.

According to the science fellowship charity, this falling supply of future educational researchers “risks hindering the longterm health of educational research in the UK”, and training should be adapted to better suit mature students, including teachers.

The ‘Harnessing educational research’ is a joint report by The Royal Society and The British Academy, the national body for humanities and social sciences.

In a series of recommendations for ensuring future education policies benefit from strong evidence, the report urged funders and universities to be more flexible in supporting research students, more than half of whom are now over the age of 50.

They should also provide training in “the full range of social science methods” and “foster better links between research students and policy and research communities”.

Education research is often carried out by teachers studying part-time, the research said, and postgraduate training providers need to make sure they are “able to access suitable training and financial support”.

A spokesperson for the Education Endowment Foundation said there has been “a real shift in the past decade” with schools and policymakers “increasingly looking to research to inform their decision-making”.

“It is worrying that the Royal Society has identified a shortfall in the numbers of future researchers. In order to maintain and build on the UK’s position as a leader in education research – and to make sure research is useful for practitioners – it’s vital we address this.”

Investment and high-quality continuing professional development is needed, the spokesperson added.

Natalie Perera, executive director of the Education Policy Institute, said having a reliable supply of researchers is “essential” in helping to improve the outcomes of children and young people.

“Policymakers, practitioners and organisations should work together to encourage more young people into research roles. It is crucial that the right structures are in place that provide opportunities and development for all, regardless of background.”

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  1. The fall in the number of education researchers in the UK is dispiriting but hardly surprising. Policymakers )aka education ministers) may look at research but it’s only research which upholds their prejudices. If it doesn’t then it’s dismissed as the ramblings of the ‘Blob’.