Conference review: Higher Education as a Critical Institution – the CHER 2016 Conference


Miguel Antonio Lim  (University of Manchester)

Now that next year abstract deadlines are coming up, it is just about time for reflections of what the conference season had to offer in 2016. 

This guest entry is written by Miguel Antonio Lim. He is Lecturer in Education and International Development at the University of Manchester. His research interests include the sociology of evaluation, international higher education, and professional expertise. He has worked on research projects around global university rankings and audit culture in higher education. Miguel has previously been EU-Marie Curie Fellow at Aarhus University and Executive Director of the Global Public Policy Network Secretariat. He has worked for the Asia Pacific Center at Sciences Po-Paris and taught at the London School of Economics.

The 29th Consortium of Higher Education Researchers (CHER) conference took place on the 5th-7th September at Cambridge University around the theme: ‘The University as a Critical Institution?’ While CHER is among the most popular and important research-oriented conferences in the field of higher education, the organizers noted an increased participation at the 2016 conference to almost 200 delegates.

CHER 2016 was marked by the strong presence of higher education researchers from around the world. There was a babble of languages spoken throughout the coffee breaks. Colleagues working in the UK, Russia, China, the USA, Germany, Italy, and the Nordic countries, among others, presented work about their various regions.

Apart from the geographical breadth of the conference, CHER 2016 also showcased a wide variety of disciplinary and methodological approaches towards the study of higher education. These were particularly apparent in the sessions of the conference in which Sue Wright, an anthropologist, and Vicky Boliver, a social policy scholar (using statistical methods) delivered their keynotes.

CHER 2014: Universities in transition – shifting institutional and organizational boundaries

Bojana Culum (University of Rijeka, Croatia)

Dr. Bojana Culum
(University of Rijeka, Croatia)

This review of the recent CHER conference in Rome is written by Bojana Culum, who is employed as an assitant professor at the University of Rijeka in Croatia.  

The 27th CHER (Consortium of Higher Education Researchers) Conference was held in Rome from September 8-10, 2014 and was organized by the Institute for Research on Firm and Growth (CERIS) of the National Research Council (CNR). I would like to thank our colleagues from the conference organizing committee as well as from the local organizing committe for ‘putting out another great show‘.

The day before the conference started was ‘reserved’ for the ECHER social event. Even tough the ECHER’s organizing committee unfortunately did not have the capacity to follow the last year’s workshop mode for early career researchers, our gathering offered us an opportunity to catch up with each one’s changes in life, work and plans for the close future, as well as to laugh and make some (business and pleasure related) plans for the next CHER conference and ECHER edition in Lisbon.

The theme of this year’s CHER conference was “Universities in transition: shifting institutional and organizational boundaries”, which addressed an emerging issue in higher education studies, and was ‘wrapped up’ in four tracks: (I) Changing functions, objectives, and scope of higher education and research institutions, (II) Collaborations across institutional and organizational boundaries, (III) Shifting boundaries in the academic profession and (IV) Core Themes in Higher Education Research. Key topics were about how higher education institutions are shifting or even blurring the existing traditional boundaries and assuming new functions, objectives and scope, and, on the other hand how they are externalizing functions and activities traditionally included in higher education institutions. Research papers focused also on the effects of universities entering new external organizations, or stepping across boundaries of the institution of higher education towards partnerships with non-academic public and/or private partners, as well as the changing relationships between the academics and the market, the shifting boundaries between science and business.

CHER Conference 2014

CHER Conference 2014

Two keynote speakers were invited to provide insights on the theme – Alicia Lam from the Royal Holloway University of London, and John Douglass from the University of Berkeley. They brought different perspectives and approaches related to institutional and organizational boundaries. Prof. Lam presented a recent research on shifting work boundaries and career in university departments, discussing how breaking boundaries emerged and how far the boundaries persist in the academic profession. Prof. Douglass discussed the new approach of Flagship University as an alternative to the World Class University paradigm, which is based on the concept of relevance rather than on the concept of ranking.

Call for Papers: CHER 2014

chercerisThe 27th Annual Conference of the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers (CHER) takes place in Rome, 8 -10 Sept. 2014 and is organized by the CERIS (Institute for Research on Firms and Growth) of the CNR (National Research Council).

This year, the conference is themed “Universities in transition: shifting institutional and organizational boundaries”.

The keynote speakers this year include Prof. Alice Lam (Royal Holloway University of London) and Dr. John Aubrey Douglass (Center for Studies in Higher Education- CSHE- University of California Berkeley).

Participants are invited to submit proposals of relevance for the conference theme. Types of proposals:

  • Research paper presentation
  • Panel presentation
  • Poster presentation

Please note that there will also be a best PhD paper award. Current or recently graduated PhD students (within the last 3 years) may submit research papers that result from their PhD thesis by June 30st and indicate they wish to participate in the Best PhD Paper Award competition. To be considered, papers should be single-authored by the PhD candidate, and up to 7000 words. The winner[s] will be announced during the Conference dinner.

For information about conference tracks and details on proposals submission, please see the Announcement and Call for Papers.

More information can also be found on the conference website.

Deadline for abstracts: 15th of February 2014. 

If you wondering how the CHER conference is like, check out our reviews from the earlier two conferences:

Early career researcher representation in CHER

Mari Elken  (NIFU / Hedda)

Mari Elken
(NIFU / Hedda)

Higher education as a research field is expanding and in recent years, an increasing number of early career researchers have  become active in the field.  The Consortium for Higher Education Researchers (CHER) recently included Mari Elken as a representative for early career researchers to the Board of Governors.  Currently, Mari works as a researcher at NIFU, and is in the last stages of her doctoral work at the University of Oslo. Mari is also a graduate of the Hedda master Programme in Higher Education and is the editor of the Hedda blog. This means that this time we turned the tables and the rest of the Hedda team put her into the spot of being interviewed about her new position. 

First of all, congratulations on your new task, how did you end up in this position? 

The debates about early career researchers’ role and position in the field have been going on for some time. This led to a small group of early career researchers at the CHER conference in Reykjavik in 2011 to establish ECHER – Early Career Higher Education Researchers. While ECHER is an independent network, this development was noted by CHER and last year in Belgrade, ECHER got the task to nominate someone for the CHER Board of Governors to highlight the voice of early career researchers.

This is what ECHER did this year in Lausanne at the 2013 CHER conference. I am very grateful and humbled that the ECHER group put me up for nomination and that CHER members supported ECHERs suggestion. I think this is an important development and shows that CHER takes the voice of early career researchers seriously. There are a number of issues that are common for many early career researchers in Europe and beyond, so it is wonderful that there is now an opportunity to discuss these in the wider context of higher education research and explore how the next generation can contribute to developing the field in a fruitful manner. So, I think this is really exciting!

So what exactly is ECHER?