Legitimation, professionalisation and accountability in higher education studies: an intergenerational story

Bruce Macfarlane*, Damon Burg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
322 Downloads (Pure)


The core themes of research into higher education studies (HES) have previously been identified through quantitative approaches focused on publication patterns, but there is a lack of fine-grained, qualitative analysis about the development of the field. This paper provides an intergenerational analysis of the emergence of HES in the UK since the 1960s drawing on autobiographical accounts. It reveals that many who conduct HES research retain a strong sense of disciplinary affiliation and regard its continuing epistemological health as closely linked to maintaining open borders with other disciplines. The professionalisation of the field is regarded as a mixed blessing bringing with it challenges with respect to maintaining an accessible approach to scholarship and communication with public and policy audiences. HES provides a case example of how a new academic subfield has undergone generational challenges in, respectively, seeking legitimacy, being professionalised and most recently responding to greater demands for accountability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)459-469
Number of pages11
JournalStudies in Higher Education
Issue number3
Early online date19 Sep 2017
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2019

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Higher Education Transformations


  • Higher education studies
  • autobiographical research
  • intergenerational analysis
  • sociology of science
  • academic tribes and territories


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