HERDSA conference 2006 home page
  Keynote speaker: Professor Ronald Barnett, DLit(Ed), PhD, MPhil, BA, PGCE, DipEd, ILTM, FRSA, FSRHE
  Photo of Ron Barnett



Pro-Director (Longer Term Strategy) & Professor of Higher Education


Institute of Education, University of Londo
20 Bedford Way , London, WC1H OAL (email: r.barnett@ioe.ac.uk)

Profile and interests

International profile for my work on the conceptual understanding of the university and higher education. My key question: is it possible to sustain an educational idea of the university in the C21?

Considerable experience of senior management and leadership positions both in the Institute of Education and elsewhere. Often being invited to chair or to serve on major committees. Have a particular interest in bringing my scholarly research to bear on practical matters of institutional policy and change, especially quality enhancement and academic development.

Also, have a particular commitment to my teaching, especially to my doctoral students (and have been admitted as a Member of the UK’s Higher Education Academy).

Prizes/ awards (in addition to book prizes below)

  • DLit(Ed), conferred by the University of London for my scholarly work;
  • ‘Award for Outstanding Contribution to Higher Education, Research, Policy and Practice’, first annual award of the European Association for Institutional Research (EAIR)
  • Fellow, Society for Research into Higher Education

Current national positions and other major responsibilities

  • Chair, Society for Research into Higher Education; also Chair of its Management Committee.
  • Chair, Research Degrees Committee, University of London (and member of UofL Council & Senate)
  • Chair, Meeting of Professors, Institute of Education, University of London
  • Chair, Academic Advisory Council, American InterContinental University, London
  • Member, Steering Group, ESRC Teaching and Learning Programme
  • Editor, London Review of Education
  • Co-Director, Centre for Higher Education Studies, Institute of Education

Major Works (all Open University Press)

  1. The Idea of Higher Education (1990) [national prizewinner]
  2. Improving Higher Education: Total Quality Care (1992)
  3. The Limits of Competence (1994) [national prizewinner]
  4. Higher Education: A Critical Business (1997)
  5. Realizing the University in an age of supercomplexity (2000)
  6. Beyond All Reason: Living with Ideology in the University (2003) [national prizewinner]
  7. (with Kelly Coate) Engaging the Curriculum (2005)
  • Editor/co-author of 7 other books and author of 200+ papers/chapters/ reports.

International exposure

Invited speaker in 25+ countries (last 12 mths incl: China/ Chile/ Brazil/ Japan/ Mexico)

Previously: Dean of Professional Development (Institute of Education, 1995-2002)

  1. Leadership, management and development of the 60 higher degree courses in the Institution
  2. Quality systems across the Institute, both academic and support departments;
  3. Oversight of staff development and staff appraisal;
  4. Establishing and overseeing the Institute’s Learning and Teaching Strategy.

Consultancies have included many of the key organizations in UK Higher Education, incl:

  • National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (Dearing Report): led team and wrote report analysing responses to the Committee's public consultation.
  • Higher Education Funding Councils for England and Wales (incl. ‘Barnett Report’ on national quality systems)
  • Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals
  • Higher Education Quality Council
  • University of the West Indies

Abstract - Willing to Learn: being a student in an age of uncertainty

What keeps students going? Most do keep going and complete their studies. How do we account for this phenomenon, surely a largely unremarked and yet extraordinary human phenomenon? - That individuals should give themselves up to a challenging project of human learning lasting several years. We cannot account for it by way of stories simply about the acquisition of knowledge or skills. We need a different vocabulary, and a different description of this situation.

The complexity of the situation is compounded by the fact that, characteristically, the student is plunged into a state of uncertainty. Not only are their studies bounded by uncertainty (there are examinations to be attempted, with uncertain outcomes!) but students are faced with complex problems for which there are seldom, if at all, ‘right’ answers. They also often have a sense of connections, albeit hazily formed, between their studies and a wider world, itself a source of further uncertainty. This realization, of the openness, and indeed infinitude, of their learning and their words and their actions, often produces anxiety in students.

Students, therefore, are not just knowing or practical subjects. They are human beings, each with his or her own being. We may account for their persistence on their course through their having, in each case, a will to learn. But then, two questions arise:

  1. What is the relationship between the will and the intellect? (For Schopenhauer, ‘the will is the substance of man, the intellect the accident’: was he right?)
  2. Is the will general or specific?

We can only answer these questions in any serious way by resorting to a vocabulary of ‘being’, ‘becoming’, and ‘will’. En route, other terms such as ‘spirit’ and even ‘bunjee-jumper’ will come our way. And with the answers to our two questions – which turn out to be linked with a single set of answers – may come a new conception of teaching itself.