EAIR Anniversary Book 1979-2018

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INTRODUCTION

The role of higher education is increasingly important to policy makers, practitioners and the public in the context of ‘massification’ and the rise of the knowledge society. The various stakeholders are interested to know whether higher education systems and institutions are fulfilling their tasks related to teaching, research and third mission activities. More specifically, there are important policy and strategic issues and challenges related to student learning, teaching, quality assurance, funding and staffing as well as career progression. Related to these issues and challenges, many questions pop up that warrant proper investigation and require evidence-based solutions. Higher education researchers (both discipline-rooted academics and institutional researchers) play a pivotal role in these investigations.

The latter category of institutional researchers became even more relevant and important in the more recent contexts of New Public Management (with stakeholders asking higher education institutions to account for their activities) and institutional autonomy (with more leeway for institutional strategies that would need to be built upon proper analyses of, for instance, institutional strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats).

In order to develop the profession of institutional researchers further the American Institutional Research (AIR) association was established in 1965 to understand the nature of the emerging field and to respond to the needs of its members. In the founding year of EAIR (1979), institutional re-search was a well-developed field and recognized management (support) function in the USA therefore. EAIR went through similar phases as AIR, with the major strategic advantage of being able to learn from its ‘big sister’. The association started with a small but enthusiastic group of people attending AIR, who realized that a separate organization back in Europe might better serve the needs of Higher Education institutions across the Atlantic, offering greater freedom to address different issues and to set their own agenda. The differences between institutional research practices in the USA (with specialized and compartmentalized efforts and activities) and Europe, paved the way for an independent European association.

The first EAIR Forum at the Sorbonne University, Paris, attracted 26 participants including 21 Europeans, half of them from administration and another half academics and directors of institutional research. During the first years, the Forum was organized under the umbrella of AIR. Much of the effort was on the shoulders of a few contributors with little personal or financial support, and events were hence rather informal and small. That said, important objectives were achieved in the early days, with, for example, the Uppsala Forum in 1982 as a landmark event. In 1985, EAIR set up a campus-based office at one of the founding partners´ higher education institutions, the University of Twente and this could be seen as the first phase of EAIR developing its own identity and attract-ing a larger audience to its Forums. The new association was formally registered in 1989 (under Dutch legislation) as a membership organization, although the ties with AIR continue to be cherished.

EAIR was established as a collegial association within higher education with a focus on the relation-ship between research, policy and practice in higher education in Europe. As argued above, EAIR has developed from its roots as a European ‘version’ of AIR, widening its sphere of interest to policy at all levels, institutional, national and international. Although the initials refer to institutional re-search, in 2009 the EAIR formally added ‘The European Higher Education Society’ to its logo and then appended the strap-line ‘Linking Research, Policy and Practice’. This reflects the direction that EAIR had taken in the intervening years: it had crossed boundaries between types of activities and seeks now to cater for a mix of researchers, lecturers, students, administrators, managers and policy-makers. Crossing boundaries means sharing best policy and management practices, learning from peers as well as exchanging and reflecting upon research findings.

Most probably the success of EAIR relies on three pillars. Firstly, institutional research is an important aspect for higher education institutions with increased autonomy and therefore it is key to get international experiences and knowledge in that field. Secondly, EAIR is a professional non-profit organization with lean structures, a professional secretariat and highly committed colleagues with volunteers in different functions at their own institutions also willing to invest time and energy in their EAIR tasks. Finally, the international network links to national and international institutional research associations are a crucial prerequisite for a global balance and position between research, policy and practice. These pillars are crucial to offer and support the services of the Association to its members and to the broader community.

Today, institutional research has reached a professional level with a growing number of academics and policy makers engaging in the task. However, institutional research needs further attention and development in Europe. As long as reporting is the most dominant task and as long as institutional research is not clearly recognized and rather isolated from other research within higher education institutions, EAIR´s mission remains to connect research with practice and to gain visibility for its impact on higher education development. In essence, professionals, equipped with sound knowledge, a comprehensive understanding of higher education developments and the unique-ness of the specific institutional context, and analytical skills related to the collection, analysis, and reporting of data and information are needed. These higher education professionals understand the institutional context and information and are an important enabler of effective strategic planning. Most probably this group of people more important in higher education development and change than ever before. Institutional strategies for adequate positioning, challenged by competition, will take advantage of the knowledge, skills and competences of this group. According to the EAIR philosophy though, their role will only flourish if their work is sufficiently connected to the academic research function and to practice. This unique mission makes EAIR a vital partner and under-lines the importance of this association in Europe. However, as MIT professor Alan Kay pointed out ‘the music is not in the piano’; even though EAIR’s mission, structures and procedures have been in place for a long time, it is the Association’s members (researchers, practitioners and policy makers) who bring things to life and determine the future of the Association.

To celebrate 40 years of EAIR therefore, we compiled this volume and thought it appropriate to ad-dress the rich variety of experiences and contributions to our Association. We start off with reflections of the founding fathers and mothers of the Association. We then give the floor to those that have been heavily involved (e.g. as Forum Chairs) in the organization of annual Forums. We also thought it appropriate to make space for those that have been attending the Forums on a regular basis over many years, while at the same time giving voice to those that are newcomers. Then we offer space to international associations from the field as well as to those that have been granted EAIR awards to reflect on their experiences. Finally, we underline and echo EAIR’s mission “linking research, policy and practice”. In the somewhat longer contributions to that last section, experts reflect on those linkages.