Educational research and development at the University of Oxford

After about a month that I have been in Oxford, I will try to reflect on my experiences here. First of all, it has been and still is overwhelming and I am very happy and grateful to have the chance to spend this Trinity Term at the Department of Education at the University of Oxford (thanks to the Faculty Development Programme of the University of St. Gallen and thanks to the Swiss National Foundation!). Of course, it’s difficult to decide what to include in such a reflection. I will split this post in three different parts: a) the Department of Education and the University of Oxford, b) research and teaching and c) the seminars that I’m attending and giving.

Department of Education at the University of Oxford (OUED)

I am visiting the Department of Education. We’re part of the Social Sciences Division at the University of Oxford. The Department organizes its research around three core topics:

  • Language, Cognition and Development
  • Economy, Policy and Society
  • Knowledge, Pedagogy and Design

The Higher Education Group  under Dr. Hubert Ertl that I’m visiting is part of the second topic. Our common project for the Term is “Academic Challenges of Non-Traditional Students in their Transition into Higher Education”.

In addition to being an academic visitor to the Department of Education, I am also very happy to be a senior visiting fellow to Linacre College.


Linacre College (view from the garden).

Research and teaching

Apart from the thematic clustering, research seems to be organized quite differently in the department. The most obvious difference is that PhD candidates usually only dedicate their time to their research. If it is not necessary to work for a living, PhD candidates will only “study” (as they call it). This means that they usually work quite independently at one of the multiple libraries of the University of Oxford or the University Colleges. Only if PhDs need to provide for their own living, they will try to work in a research project and thus, they will also have an office within the department. The normal research is then organized in projects which are usually funded by agencies or the government (see, for example, the projects currently undertaken by the Higher Education Group).

The Department of Education is only involved in graduate teaching and teacher education. It offers different Master of Sciences in Education as well as postgraduate certificates in Teacher Education which is a preparation for teaching in comprehensive schools.


The University of Oxford is organized around so-called seminars, public talks hosted by the different departments and colleges. At the Department of Education, there is a Monday Evening Seminar Series. In the first week, Professor Dorothy Bishop from the Department of Experimental Psychology vividly explained why educational neuroscience (although it has become very fashionable since 2005) will not have a practical impact on education in schools. Professor Bishop also has a blog on her research and for those interested, her slides can be found here.

While I’m here I also give two seminars: one already took place in the first week of term at the Linacre College. I talked about our mixed-methods study on students’ experience of their first year. The reactions from the audience were interesting as they first of all found it totally surprising that all students with Matura in the Swiss system are allowed to start studying while in the UK the entry requirements for some universities are quite high. My next talk will take place tomorrow in the Higher Education Group at the Department of Education where I will focus more on the Swiss education system and students’ transition from secondary to Higher Education. I’m very much looking forward to this and to the rest of my stay here.