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The myth of meeting needs revisited: the case of educational research

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Our primary objective in this paper is revisit a debate that was articulated 25 years ago in this journal in which it was argued that the idea of meeting needs in adult and continuing education is a myth. We extend the original analysis of need and apply it to the case of educational research. We look at the policy context, which has, in the intervening period, increasingly reflected the neo-liberal emphasis upon accountability and measurement. Taking into account the discussion stimulated by Hargreaves and followed through by Tooley on the supposed 'poverty' of educational research in the UK, we show how the discourse of need has been sustained. Using the Transforming Learning Cultures (TLC) project in the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP) as an exemplar, we show that, despite the constraints that are imposed upon researchers by the funding and accountability frameworks of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the researchers on that project have nonetheless made significant and important contributions in the field that they have researched. By way of outcomes, we argue for an approach to the commissioning of educational research from bodies such as the ESRC that will allow researchers to frame their projects in ways that do not meet current prescriptions. In conclusion, we suggest that what is needed is a greater level of trust which will allow researchers to set the research agenda themselves, rather than be driven by the needs identified and specified by policymakers.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Exeter, UK 2: University of Leeds, UK

Publication date: January 1, 2009

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