Call for a research consultant – Advocating for History in UK higher education

History UK is seeking to commission a research study on undergraduate History provision that will help support its mission as an independent body monitoring and promoting History in UK higher education. News of staff cuts and course closures at a number of universities have contributed to a fear that History is under threat, particularly in post-92 universities. Yet there is little publicly available or accessible data that can provide a more detailed picture for History and support History UK’s and staffs’ advocacy for the subject. With this research study, History UK wants to build an evidence base relating to current trends and  future directions of History provision. This will inform the development of a toolkit for historians, providing accessible guidance on what kinds of data is available, where to find it, and ways of using it.

History UK invites Expressions of Interest (EoIs) in this research consultancy by Friday 30 July 2021.

Download this call as a PDF.

Terms of Reference

The objectives of this research consultancy are to:

  • Scope the availability, accessibility, and uses of relevant quantitative and qualitative data relating to History provision in UK higher education over the last five years.
  • Collate and analyse quantitative data on History and History joint-honours degree programmes.
  • Provide guidance on how History staff can be enabled to understand, use and respond to this data.

We envisage that the research consultancy will involve desk-based research, including analysis of HESA data, though we are willing to consider other / additional approaches. The research itself should be organised around four provisional research questions:

  1. What are the regional, national, and UK-wide trends in recruitment for History and History joint-honours degree programmes in UK Higher Education?
  2. What does graduate outcomes and employability data reveal about different types of History graduates, and what are its limitations?
  3. What arguments are being made for the feasibility of History provision in UK Higher Education at university and national levels, and what evidence is being used?
  4. How can History staff use data to advocate for History in their own universities, as well as among History’s different stakeholders?

The research questions will be finalised in consultation with the research consultant, and we will welcome suggestions for changes that will make the findings more useful for History staff.

The expected outputs and deliverables are:

  1. Executive summary (2 pages maximum).
  2. A report presenting the findings of the research and recommendations.
  3. An appendix including all data and sources used.
  4. Presentation to the History UK Steering Committee highlighting key findings (online).

Timeframe and budget:

  • The deadline for EoIs is Friday 30 July 2021.
  • The precise timetable will be negotiated with the research consultant, but we anticipate outputs 1-3 being delivered by Friday 5 November 2021.
  • The presentation to the History UK Steering Committee will be arranged at a mutually convenient time, likely mid-November 2021.
  • The maximum budget for this project is likely to be £8000.

Eligibility:

  • The research consultant should have relevant expertise in the analysis of higher education data, as well as a familiarity with higher education policy.
  • There is no requirement for a background in History, though an understanding of the context of History and/or the humanities in higher education may be an advantage.
  • The research consultant may be employed at a higher education institution, but they must be able to work as an independent consultant.
  • The research consultant should have the right to work in the UK.

The Expression of Interest should include:

  • Personal statement and up-to-date CV.
  • A short statement describing the proposed approach and timeframe for the research.
  • Budget for completed delivery of all stated outputs and deliverables, including salary, data access charges, and any VAT (if applicable).

Any enquiries and EoIs should be emailed to HistoryUK2020@gmail.com by Friday 30 July 2021.

History UK fellowship – history skills passport mapping exercise

History UK is launching a new initiative to develop a history ‘skills passport’. This project will provide a framework for translating the skills that students develop on history courses into the skills language recognised by employers. The aim is to provide history academics and students with a series of resources that will support the embedding of employability within curricula in discipline-specific language. During the first phase of the project we will conduct a mapping exercise, which will involve surveying existing resources on History skills and on employability in History in the UK and abroad, cross-referencing with other disciplines, and identifying gaps.

History UK is seeking a postgraduate student for a short-term fellowship to support the first phase of this initiative. The History UK fellow will conduct desk-based searches of websites, blog posts, and social media for relevant case studies, reports, and other practical guides. They will write clear and concise summaries of their findings to help inform the resources that History UK will produce and curate. They will write at least one blog post for the History UK website on a topic of their choosing (relevant to the initiative), and may also be asked to assist in planning for the next phase of the skills passport project.

The fellow will be expected to do 30 hours work on the project in July, working flexibly at times that suit them. The renumeration for the fellowship is fixed at £500.

Person specification:

  • A postgraduate student (MA or PhD) in History, or a related discipline, based at a higher education institution in the UK;
  • Strong research skills;
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills;
  • Ability to work independently and with minimal supervision;
  • Excellent organisation and project management skills;
  • Attention to detail;
  • Experience of writing reports (preferable);
  • Interest in employability (preferable).

To apply: Send a two-page CV and a one-page cover letter to historyuk2020@gmail.com. In the cover letter you should explain why you are interested in the role, how you meet the person specification, and what you will bring to the initiative.

The deadline for applications is Weds 23rd June at 4pm.

Pandemic Pedagogy: A student perspective 1

By Conor Penna-FitzGerald (University of Roehampton)


My name is Conor Penna-FitzGerald and I am a postgraduate history student at the University of Roehampton. My project analysed how students experienced online learning during the pandemic in comparison to the ‘normal’ classroom experience.

Starting my research for this post, I had thought there would be an abundance of views and opinions on online learning to be found online. In reality, I was amazed at how little there was. On ‘The Student Room’, I found only two forums, both of which emphasised limited access to primary sources, as well as other learning resources, such as course readings. Instead, I conducted my own research and spoke to nine UK-based History students (all postgraduates) on their experiences of online seminars, the predominant teaching method adopted by universities during the COVID-19 pandemic. These offered mixed views on the value of online seminars over the usual classroom experience.

The most consistent positive response was that of praise for the history faculty at their university. Not only have they have provided high levels of support and adapted quickly to the changing circumstances, but they have helped to establish a sense of normality. By keeping to a clear schedule, lecturers have helped to mitigate feelings of discontent amongst students. They have also taken on extra responsibilities in terms of providing psychological aid, providing reassurance about student’s abilities. Furthermore, their willingness to use new technology is commendable. Ultimately, history lecturers have clearly maintained a high level of professionalism, which has positively shaped student experiences.

One of the most important positives of this situation, is that commuting is no longer an issue. Many of the students I spoke to were commuting students, and their strenuous, long, exhausting journeys have now been diminished. Not only has online learning made it easier to attend seminars, but much cheaper. One international student shared this sentiment: it is easier for them to stay in their home country and study, much cheaper, and more familiar. Another UK-based postgraduate student emphasised that not needing to commute made her feel much safer. She is reliant on public transport as she does not own a car, and with seminars often taking place in the evening, ‘Zoom’ seminars have worked well. This suggests that when pandemic restrictions do ease, universities should consider continuing their offering of online learning, as it ensures access to higher education for people with physical and mental health problems (e.g. anxiety). It allows students to bypass social insecurities that come from physical presence, enabling them to reach their full potential in a safer and more comfortable environment.

To my surprise, only one person I spoke to mentions the benefits of pre-recorded lectures. The reason why I was shocked by this is because they can now be watched at any time. This allows flexibility for students and allows them to study at their own pace. If students do not understand any content, they can pause the video and re-watch it until they understand it.

Despite these positives, online seminars have been much more divisive in terms of student experience. Many of the issues with them have been clear since the beginning of the pandemic. One of the factors which can ‘make or break’ the student experience is their internet connection, and most of the students I spoke to confirmed this. Buffering, pixilation, ‘robotic’ sounding voices, and eventual disconnection from seminars have all posed challenges. These disrupt focus, cause a loss of motivation, and ultimately dampen the online learning experience. I suffer from bad internet and have needed to turn off the webcam to increase the bandwidth, or dial into the seminar by phone. I often chose the latter option, leading to a virtually non-existent social experience due to not being able to see the other students.

To further illustrate this, the image to the right is a screenshot of what ‘dialling in’ to a ‘Zoom’ meeting looks like. As can be seen, it is like that of a normal phone call.  This has contriImage of Zoom 'dial-in'buted to an atmosphere which has been totally ‘unlike’ university, and for those who do have to dial in, it unfortunately permits the emergence of solitary emotions due to the lack of community. Even students who have been able to engage with a webcam have felt the same.

As social interaction has been minimal, communication between students has suffered. One student commented that online learning has been disappointing because of the inability to freely communicate with their peers about what they really thought about the readings, as well as how assignments and dissertations were progressing. This has added feelings of what I call ‘assignment isolation’ (undertaking stressful and demanding work completely on your own), which was seldom there when students were physically present together in class.

In addition to this, online learning has made it easier for students to fall behind. It has been much harder for students to ask questions about lectures that have been pre-recorded and uploaded online. If a student needs clarification, they must take the time to email their lecturer and wait for their response. Students who dial into seminars to ask questions are also unable to use any ‘raise hand’ functions. Again, students would then have to email their lecturer after class and once again wait for their response. The online teaching format additionally (although inadvertently) allows for procrastination, due to recordings being available to watch anytime. It therefore requires the student to exercise more discipline over their time, which before the pandemic would have been structured in a clear university timetable.

Many of the problems described here reflect wider issues associated with the lockdowns and remote working, and so ways of combatting them are unclear. Nevertheless, even small steps could improve the student experience of university. If the student uses wireless internet, for example, the purchase of an ethernet cable would result in a much more stable internet connection. These cables vary in expense but are typically rather cheap! Moreover, for students who feel that university is now ‘no longer like university’, a group chat could go a long way in helping maintain contact with their peers. This would not only aid social interaction, but also allow students to discuss and assist each other in their assignments, reading, and dissertations. In this way, even if online learning is not seen as effective as campus-based learning, it does serve a purpose.


We’d like to thank Conor for sharing the results of his research into how the pandemic has affected History students and would love to hear more from academics and their students, either on this blog or via Twitter @history_uk – get in touch if you’d like to have your say.

We’re currently collecting feedback on the Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook and would encourage you to fill in the survey here.

In addition, we’ll soon be announcing a follow-up project on pedagogy after the pandemic. So watch this space!

Pandemic Pedagogy 2.0: A summary

As we bring our series of blog posts following up on the Pandemic Pedagogy initiative to a close, we thought it would be useful to summarise the interesting contributions that we’ve received. Looking back through them, we thought that they fell into three broad categories. First, there were several posts that addressed the issue of accessibility and building a sense of community among the student (and staff) body:

Second, several contributors reflected in a broader sense on the staff and student experience of teaching and learning during the pandemic:

Finally, we had three posts that explored innovative approaches to teaching and learning, from fieldtrips to assessment via the role of paper (remember that?) in the digital classroom:

To these we can add the posts that were published last year as part of the original Pandemic Pedagogy initiative, which you can find by looking back through the blog.

We hope that you have found these posts to be useful in thinking about your own teaching and learning experiences during the pandemic.

Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this series of blog posts. We hope that you have found them useful. If you would like to contribute another short blog post or podcast/video that addresses how the pandemic has changed or affected history teaching and learning in higher education then please email Dr Sarah Holland (sarah.holland@nottingham.ac.uk), History UK’s Education Officer. We’d also love to hear your views on the Pandemic Pedagogy initiative and on these blog posts via our Twitter account.

Pandemic Pedagogy 2.0: Emma Battell Lowman – Compassion in the Classroom during COVID

In our next post in our Pandemic Pedagogy 2.0 series, Emma Battell Lowman, of the University of Leicester, discusses the importance of building a relationship between staff that is reciprocally compassionate (inside and outside the classroom), especially during the pandemic.  

The post is based on a presentation at the East Midlands Centre for History Learning and Teaching workshop that took place on 11 January 2021 and will be published on the EMC website as well (https://eastmidlandscentreforhistorylearningandteaching.education/).


I’m a big fan of Dr Theo Gilbert’s work on the importance of compassionate practice in Higher Education. Here, “compassion” isn’t an emotion, like empathy, it’s a “psycho-biologically mediated motivation/an intention to notice, not normalise, one’s own distress or disadvantaging, or that of others, and take action to reduce or prevent it.” Theo’s practices build connections in the classroom that reduce stress, improve achievement, and support wellbeing for staff and students. By fostering connection and mutual support, they help us to push back against the fear, uncertainty, and doubt saturating the individualised, marketized, neoliberal, UK university sector. 

Some of our employers seem to be conveniently ignoring the fact that we are currently in national lockdown and almost a year into the devastations of the COVID-19 pandemic. But this isn’t normal, we’re not Ok, and neither are our students. And yet, we’re still here – professional and academic services staff – working however, whenever, and wherever we can to continue supporting our students and each other. We don’t need lunchtime wellbeing webinars, we need strategies that help us pool our efforts so we can get through this.

“Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, Responsibility” are “the 4 Rs” of Indigenous education and research identified more than 30 years ago by Cree educational expert Verna Kirkness. The work of critical Indigenous researchers and experts directly informs my pedagogy and politics, and the concept of reciprocity is particularly important here. Compassionate practice in the COVID classroom isn’t just about noticing distress or disadvantage impacting students, it’s also about making space for reciprocal care.

We want and need to support our students, and I see colleagues doing so in creative, kind, and expert ways. But we’re missing something crucial if we limit this to a one-way relationship of care. I admit to my students when I am not well, not just because I do sometimes need to adjust activities or availability, but also so that students who might be struggling see honest communication and self-reflection as acceptable and encouraged in our educational environments.

One day I was struggling because a friend was assaulted, and I had a full day of teaching. I let my students know, we checked in for a few minutes then went into our activities. Consequence? They stepped up in class, and several reached out via email to extend care to me and share their own stories. The reciprocal care helped create learning relationships in the class with high levels of trust despite the challenges of our first online semester. These gave rise to strong positive supportive interactions around skills and content, and a remarkably successful semester, in these difficult times.


If you would like to contribute a short blog post or podcast/video that addresses how the pandemic has changed or affected history teaching and learning in Higher Education then please email Dr Sarah Holland (sarah.holland@nottingham.ac.uk), History UK’s Education Officer.