Evidence-based practice experiences of course leaders in small-specialist land-based higher education institutions in the United Kingdom


Currently, UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are required to evidence that they meet or exceed government benchmarks for institutional performance at course level. In most HEIs, the management of these metrics falls under the remit of the course leader, who has responsibility and accountability towards them. Generally, course leaders have access to central departments who manage and manipulate this data, and even to course administrators who can assist in data preparation (Moore, 2018), but in small-specialist land-based (formerly known as agricultural) institutions the size of the HEI often requires course leaders to play a much more involved role in these areas (Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, 2005). Moreover, because small-specialist HEIs generally are teaching-focussed institutions relying on tuition fees as their main source of income (Brockhurst, Miller and Westwood, 2014), market fluctuations can have much more dramatic consequences. Due to their position within the institution, course leaders are ideally placed to translate institutional policy into appropriate curriculum and pedagogy strategies (Milburn, 2010) and to bridge academic and pastoral care for both cohorts and individual students (Blackmore et al., 2007). The impact and influence of course leaders on the institution are therefore far greater in regular HEIs. This makes a thorough understanding of this role and how course leaders in small-specialist HEIs use evidence critical.

It is currently unknown how course leaders in small specialist institutions make decisions that affect metrics used for benchmarking, but the changing nature of higher education means rankings and league tables are becoming ever more important (Gunn and Fisk, 2013). For small specialist institutions, who lack the data processing units of large universities, doing well will become a challenge. The onus will be on academic staff to find and utilise data to inform decisions. Therefore, a greater understanding of how evidence-based practice can support course management decision making would be useful not only for course managers themselves, but also for the institution and for the student experience. At the institutional level evidence-based decision making would provide an evidence trail for external and internal audits, and could inform quality enhancement and student experience initiatives, which would then positively impact on metrics used in HE benchmarks.

Research Focus

This project will attempt to answer the following research question:

How do course leaders in small specialist land-based higher education institutions in the United Kingdom experience evidence-based practice and how do these experiences influence their practice?

Find the public registration for the project here: https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/5E2AT

Find the project OSF folder here: https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/D26UV

Relevant output from this project

van Veggel, N., Howlett, P. and Engward, H. (2022) '“Finding balance through compromising”. A grounded theory explaining evidence-based practice by course leaders in a small-specialist land-based higher education institution'. BELMAS Annual Conference 2022, The Hilton, Liverpool, 8-10 July 2022. LINK

van Veggel, N. (2021) 'Enhancing the quality of a GT project through interviewing the self - a methodological development'. Health Science Community of Practice Seminar, Queens University, [online], 24 July 2021. LINK

van Veggel, N. (2020) 'Rocking reflexivity in Grounded Theory research'. Methodology Matters - FHEMS PGR Summer Workshop, Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, 23 June 2020. LINK

van Veggel, N. and Howlett, P. (2018) ‘Course leadership in small specialist UK higher education – a review’. International Journal of Educational Management, 32(7), 1174-1183.  DOI: 10.1108/IJEM-09-2017-0250

van Veggel, N. (2018) 'Classic grounded theory to investigate evidence-based course leadership'. Grounded Theory Network Symposium, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, 22 November 2018. LINK

van Veggel, N. (2017) 'Evidence-based professionalism in small specialist HE course management – reflexive thoughts on ongoing research'. Work Based Learning e-Journal, 7(1), 1-19. LINK