Centre for International Education Research (CIER)

CIER Projects

CIER members have extensive experience in philosophical, historical, and socio-linguistic work as well as in large-scale, multi-country and interdisciplinary projects. 

Current projects

Gatekeepers of Knowledge Production on Higher Education: Journal Editorial Board Networks and Working Practices

This project explores how academic knowledge about higher education is shaped and sanctioned by the editorial boards of higher education journals. To do so, it will provide an analysis of editorial board practices in relation to the published aims and objectives of higher education journals. In particular the research will identify the range of different approaches adopted when recruiting new editorial board members; the extent to which editorial boards appear to be exclusive or open networks of scholars; and, the degree to which editorial boards overlap or interlock. The research will explore the likely extent that some scholarship about higher education is effectively excluded from publication for factors such as its geographical origination or authorship outside of known networks. By doing so the research will provide evidence of the inclusivity or exclusivity of knowledge production about higher education.

Duration of project: January 2024 to December 2024
Principal Investigator: Dr Rita Hordósy
Research team: Dr Martin Myers, Anto Castillo-Vega and Elizabeth Brown
Funding body: Society for Research into Higher Education Research Awards 


Quality of Lecturing Staff in TVET Colleges (South Africa)

Project 6.1 ‘Quality of lecturing staff at TVET colleges’ is part of the Department of Higher Education’s (DHET) research programme on TVET, funded by the South African government. At the heart of TVET lecturing within TVET colleges is an educational process that includes teaching, learning, a curriculum, the learning relationship between students and teachers and daily decisions taken by TVET lecturers in response to contextual factors that affect student learning in local college settings. A TVET lecturer needs to face students as individuals, meet the needs of employers and the workplace, deal with the expectations of government and the local community, and hold all of these factors in balance when working through a learning task with students. Debates continue about the role of technical ability versus professional qualifications and the implications for supporting TVET lecturer quality. 

TVET lecturers exist and function as individual agentic actors within the internal educational and student learning processes of a TVET college and the wider socio-economic and institutional environment. In South Africa, different progression pathways exist for TVET lecturers, with the resultant possibility of differing dimensions of TVET lecturer quality. The project also recognises the complexity of the student base in South Africa. TVET students can range from young school leavers, older people seeking to re-skill, and individuals seeking to re-adjust in the face of extremely difficult socio-economic circumstances.

In response Project 6.1 aims to develop an evidence-based understanding of the quality related aspects of the TVET lecturer role and complementary tools that support the identification, development and measurement of the various dimensions of TVET lecturer quality. This requires a broader definition of ‘quality’ as it pertains to TVET lecturers and the complex internal and external contexts within which they exist. Consequently, Project 6.1 adopts a broader notion of TVET lecturer quality in relation to student learning, knowledge, pedagogy and the curriculum, recognising that institutional structures and varying degrees of autonomy and agency can enable or constrain a TVET lecturer’s ability and capacity to understand and manage these domains. This is conceptualised in Framing Quality TVET Lecturers: holistic competencies, TVET knowledge and mediation within the skills system.

Duration of project: December 2021 to July 2023
Principal Investigator: Professor Volker Wedekind
Researchers: Dr Jo-Anna Russon and Zihao Liu
Funding body: Department for Higher Education (DHET) South Africa


Development Consultants and Contractors: For-Profit Companies in the Changing World of 'Aidland'

The objective of the project is to explore the growing role of private sector consultants and contractors within the UK's development sector. We are looking at seven consulting and contracting firms, selected primarily with reference to their aid-funded contracting history. We will examine their roles in the production, translation, implementation and evaluation of development knowledge and practice. 

Core components include a critical financial analysis to map and analyse financial flows and contracts; understanding policy contexts; detailed understanding of personal and institutional profiles in the sector, including governance, management techniques and influencing roles. Central to the research are detailed case studies of multi-million pound projects in eight countries, with seven in low and middle income countries. The case studies are grouped around three distinct themes:

  • finance
  • governance
  • education

Duration of project: October 2021 to September 2024
Co-investigator: Jo-Anna Russon (University of Nottingham)
Research Team: Emma Mawdsley (Principal Investigator, University of Cambridge), Jessie Sklair (University of Cambridge), Paul Gilbert (University of Sussex) and Brendan Whitty (University of East Anglia) 
Funding body: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Further information: Project webpage


Why Teach Research and Research Teaching? - Comparative View of the Tensions between Research and Teaching in Europe’s Universities

This project compares and contrasts the research/teaching nexus in selected case-study countries within the European Economic Area. A cross-case analysis of the link between research and teaching will also shed light on the potential domestic policy change derived from the Europeanisation of education. Given the prevalence of metricisation of both research and teaching, as well as the corresponding issues regarding equality and diversity amongst staff, the outcomes will reflect on whose research and teaching are propagated within the discipline of sociology. The outcomes of this project will contribute to debates on the purpose and future of universities, pointing to the different approaches in which the roles of universities can be understood.

Duration of project:
2019 to 2022
Rita Hordósy (Principal Investigator)
Funding body: Nottingham Research Fellowship


Translating GeoNutrition (TGN): Reducing Mineral Micronutrient Deficiencies (MMNDs) in Zimbabwe 

Mineral micronutrient deficiencies (MMNDs) remain a global challenge affecting the growth, development, health, and livelihoods of more than two billion people. MMNDs are especially prevalent in Low Income Countries of sub Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia. Women and children are at particular risk of MMNDs due to unequal access to nutrient-rich foods within the home. Constraints to reducing MMNDs, especially in SSA, include:

  • baseline data on the distribution of MMNDs, especially within a country
  • national research capacity to get the information needed to provide a sound evidence base, and potential solutions, for policy makers, private sector investors, and other interested parties (citizens, donors, public health professionals)

Translating GeoNutrition Aims:

  1. To co-design a national surveillance programme to establish baseline MMNDs in Zimbabwe
  2. To improve institutional and individual research capacity in Zimbabwe, including to test policy interventions for alleviating MMNDs and to promote private sector engagement 

Duration of project: 2019 to 2022
Martin Broadley - Principal Investigator, Simon Langley-Evans, Simon McGrath
and Juliet Thondhlana
Funding body: ESRC GCRF
Further information:
Project website


VET Africa 4.0: Reducing Inequality and Enhancing Sustainability through Skills Development

A new approach to vocational education and training in Africa is needed to address Agenda 2030's insights that development necessitates concentrated attention to overturning intersectional disadvantage and securing environmental sustainability, and not just to economic growth. Through case studies from South Africa and Uganda, this project looks at a range of contexts in which skills development takes place within complex skills and work ecosystems. These include massive infrastructure projects, both urban and rural; green skills initiatives alongside continued developments in extractives; and small community projects, including in post-conflict contexts, addressing both subsistence and entrepreneurship. By operating at both theoretical and applied levels across multiple cases, this research will contribute both to academic and professional knowledge of how VET in Africa works and how it can be improved to contribute to the needs of the most intersectionally marginalised, national development and the global SDG agenda.

Project duration: 2018 to 2021
Simon McGrath - Principal Investigator and Volker Wedekind
Funding body: Economic and Social Research Council and Global Challenges Research Fund
Further information: Project website


Combating Human Trafficking in Zimbabwe: The Role of NGOs in the Fight against Human Trafficking in Zimbabwe

This ESRC-GCRF funded project, aims to map the human trafficking activity in Zimbabwe through secondary analysis of NGO data and raise awareness of the trends, prevalent of different forms of human trafficking and the impact on gender and age, in order to inform policy and practice. Through interdisciplinary and participatory research with 4 NGOs involved with anti-human trafficking work in Zimbabwe, this project fills a major evidence gap about the role played by NGOs in the fight against human trafficking.

Project duration: 2019 to 2022
Juliet Thondhlana
Funding body: 
Further information: Project website


Transforming Education Systems for Sustainable Development (TES4SD) Network Plus

The Transforming Education Systems for Sustainable Development (TES4SD) Network Plus will develop sustainable institutional capacity in India, South Africa, Rwanda and Somalia to produce high quality research that will assist key stakeholders in these countries and at a regional and global scale to better understand how education systems can be transformed to support sustainable development. Countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are facing unprecedented challenges in relation to sustainable development including poverty and inequality and managing the risks posed by climate change. The sustainable development goals (SDGs) represent a holistic response to these challenges.Education has enormous potential to act as a driver for sustainable development and the education SDG is centrally implicated in the realisation of all of the other SDGs. At present, however, education systems in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are some way off achieving the education SDG (goal 4). Our vision, consistent with global, regional and national agendas, is for systems of life-long learning that can provide learners with the skills, competencies, values and transformative agency required to meet the challenges of environmentally sustainable and socially just development. The 'wicked problem' that education systems face in realising this vision is how to simultaneously address the current learning crisis in LMICs whilst transforming education systems to become drivers of SD. This challenge needs to be addressed simultaneously across all sectors of the education and training system and at the global, regional, national and local scales.

Project duration: 2019 to 2022
Leon Tikly (Bristol) and Simon McGrath (Nottingham)
Funding body: ESRC GCRF
Further information: Project website


Photography as Political Practice in National Socialism

This project explores the role of photography in understanding, teaching, and commemorating National Socialism and the Holocaust. It brings together an interdisciplinary team from History, Education and Computer Science, led by PI Prof Maiken Umbach, with the National Holocaust Centre and Museum as project partners.

Project duration: December 2018 - May 2022
Gary Mills
Funding body: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Further information: Project website


Internally Displaced Persons and Covid-19: Leveraging local low cost Covid-19 solutions in informal settlements in Zimbabwe   

This project focuses on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) residing in two informal settlements in Harare, Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is among the latest countries in the Southern African region to be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst the government has responded well to the pandemic, it has also faced a number of challenges. One such challenge is within low-income communities such as informal settlements. 

Despite the measures put in place based on public health education as guided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) including hygiene measures, isolation, quarantine, social distancing and the wearing of masks, IDPs are an economically disadvantaged and secluded population, with limited access to the critical public health information and resources necessary to comply with the recommended Covid-19 hygiene standards. Overcrowded conditions, access to clean running water, soap and sanitisers are some of the issues IDP communities face, compounded by a lengthy lockdown that has predisposed IDPs to economic hardships.  

Bringing together an interdisciplinary team of three Zimbabwe universities, two UK universities and a local NGO, this impact-oriented project aims to complement the government’s current response to the pandemic by adapting locally developed low cost Covid-19 solutions to fit IDPs’ needs. It also seeks to empower IDPs to make Covid-19 products using locally available resources for use by their households; and develop a  transformative public health education for both adults and children to ensure that appropriate Covid-19 information is accessible by the IDP population.

Project duration: August 2020 - February 2022
Principal Investigator:
Juliet Thondhlana
Funding body: Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)
Further information: Further project information


Disabled Refugee students Included and Visible in Education (DRIVE): Challenges and opportunities in three African countries

Refugees flee crisis situations, but then experience new crises in settlement contexts. This affects access to, and success in, education. Refugee populations include disabled people who have been 'invisible' in policy and service provision. Girls are the most vulnerable in this group. Little is known about the challenges and opportunities disabled refugee students face to be included in education, especially in the Global South, which hosts most of the world's refugees. This interdisciplinary project aims to understand the educational inclusion and exclusion of disabled refugee students, particularly girls, in South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe - countries with different approaches to settlement. Using quantitative and qualitative methods in a multiple case study, we will deliver evidence that will impact policy and practice, such that these students become visible and included in education. This will benefit individuals, families and societies and contribute to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all.

Project duration: March 2020 to August 2022
Principal Investigator:
Elizabeth Walton
Co-Investigators: Joanna McIntyre, Juliet Thondhlana, Roda Madziva
Funding body: Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), British Academy (BA), Education and Learning in Crisis
Further information:


Learning to Heal the Nature-Culture Divide: Exploring Educational Approaches

Despite global calls to develop paradigm-shifting approaches to education for ecological justice and multispecies survival, there are major gaps in our understandings of how this learning can happen in modern societies. This fellowship will enable in-depth development of such knowledge through collaboration with researchers who are experimentally combining art, embodied pedagogy, non-western psychoanalysis and multispecies learning to develop methodologies that can recalibrate how human beings relate with the rest of our natural world. It specifically explores commonalities, tensions and conditions for integrating approaches being developed in post-imperial Europe and settler-colonial North America, two key sites of innovation in this field.

Project duration: June 2021 to August 2022
Principal Investigator: 
Sarah Amsler
Funding body: Leverhulme Trust


The South African Vocational Education and Skills Development System 1970-present: An Institutional Analysis Of Systemic Reform And Institutional Resilience

Globally, vocational education and skills development systems are subject to much attention and reform. They are arguably the most complex parts of national education systems as they are subject to competing imperatives (economic, social, educational, cultural) and yet they are poorly understood. This research focuses on one country, South Africa, and traces the ongoing reforms to the skills and vocational education system over five decades, from 1970 at the height of apartheid, through periods of resistance, the introduction of democracy, and to contemporary challenges. Despite significant and ongoing reforms to legislation and policy, and major political, economic and social upheaval, many of the key features of the system have remained stable. Drawing on historical-sociological perspectives, neo-institutional theory and policy sociology, this project analyses how and why education and training institutions change (or resist change) and what the South African case reveals about the underlying processes that shape institutions over time.

Project duration: December 2018 to August 2022
Principal Investigator: 
Volker Wedekind
Investigator: Jo-Anna Russon
Funding body: British Academy (BA)


Towards Ordinary Life – Developing the Model for Working with Refugee Pupils in Schools in Sweden

An innovative model for inclusive practice of refugee children has been developed through a small-scale collaboration between Nottingham and Lund Universities. Towards Ordinary Life builds on that prior work by developing a set of pedagogical tools for wider European application, initially in Sweden. It will support practitioners in schools, communities, and teacher education to establish transformative and inclusive approaches to refugee education.

Project duration: 1 March 2021 to 30 April 2023
Principal Investigator: Joanna McIntyre
Funding body: Open Society Foundations


The Hub for Education for Refugees in Europe (HERE)

In 2020, the Open Society Foundations generously agreed to provide funding to support the establishment of a Hub for Education for Refugees in Europe (HERE). The hub aims to review, collate, foster and disseminate research and knowledge and to bring together key stakeholders with academics and other experts in the field of refugee education. HERE will establish the knowledge base and curate published information about refugee education across Europe from academic and non-academic sources since 2015 in an online database, and establish the HERE network through online and related activity aimed at exchanging knowledge and developing research and practises on refugee education across Europe. The longer term aim is for HERE to become a sustainable Europe wide base for policy makers, researchers, agencies and relevant bodies supported by future funding bids. 

Project duration: 1 March 2021 to 30 March 2023
Principal Investigator: Joanna McIntyre
Research Team: Volker Wedekind (Co-Investigator), Jo-Anna Russon (Project Manager), Lucy Hunt and Yousef Aleghfeli (Research Associates)
Funding body: Open Society Foundations
Project website


The Art of Belonging

Since 2015 cities across Europe have increasingly become destinations for young forced migrants. This project brings together city leaders, artists, and researchers to promote integration and increase social participation in communities affected by migration. Given that participation in the arts can enhance place-making and encourages social belonging, this project will develop, implement, and evaluate arts-programmes for migrants in case-study cities in England and Sweden. It will understand barriers to social integration amongst refugees and host communities, especially relating to gender This will lead to knowledge translation from this empirical study to develop sustainable solutions to social integration and citizenship.

Project duration: 1 March 2021 to 1 September 2022
Principal Investigator: Joanna McIntyre
Co-Investigator: Volker Wedekind
Funding body: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) / Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through JPI Urban Europe


Self and Agency in Displacement: The Case of Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children in Greece

The study examines forced migration through the lens of an overlooked group, displaced children, in one of the major host, yet under-researched, countries of the European periphery, Greece. By taking a child-centred approach to displacement that acknowledges refugee and asylum-seeking children as social actors and co-creators of knowledge, the study disrupts the adultism and the emphasis on vulnerability and victimhood that tend to dominate these fields. 

The project ethnographically documents the impact of displacement on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children’s (UASC) pre- and post-flight experiences and the intricate ways that structure and agency are interwoven in their self-narratives. It aims at making a significant empirical and theoretical contribution to the fields of forced migration, education and childhood studies and the related policies and practices.

Project duration: 1 March 2021 to 31 January 2024
Principal Investigator: Eugenia Katartzi
Funding body: British Academy (BA)


Modes of Engagement: Comparing Real and Virtual Platforms for Holocaust Learning

Project duration: 25 August 2021 to 3 October 2022
Principal Investigator: Gary Mills
Funding body: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)


Towards IDPs Economic Empowerment: Leveraging the Matarenda Entrepreneurship Model Toolkit

This project aims to test and refine an entrepreneurship training toolkit for the ground breaking non-credit based  Matarenda entrepreneurship model, founded by the ZAOGA Forward in Faith Ministries (ZAOGA-FIFMI). While the model has impacted the lives of many poor people, especially members of ZAOGA-FIFMI, it lacked a training toolkit to enable its use with diverse groups. The toolkit was created by the ZAOGA-FIFMI as part of a UKRI/GCRF/Newton funded project researching Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with a team of education academics and trainers from ZAOGA FIFMI and NANZ (the NGO who work closely with the IDPs community), the toolkit will be further developed and trialled with IDPs representatives, using the train the trainer approach, who will thereafter continue to train other members of the community to empower more people. Results will be used to improve and further adapt the toolkit for use with other vulnerable populations within ZAOGA FIFMI and NANZ national and international networks. 

Project duration: 15 November 2021 to 31 August 2022
Principal Investigator: Juliet Thondhlana
Co-Investigator: Roda Madziva, School of Sociology and Social Policy
Funding body: Economic and Social Research Council


Strengthening the Capacity, Functionality and Performance of TVET Colleges: A Research-Led Approach

A central driver in this large-scale Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) South Africa research programme, is for the TVET College sector to be capacitated and underpinned by an appropriate vocational pedagogy and lecturer development programme. The issue of TVET lecturer quality is a central feature of the DHET programme and Professor Volker Wedekind is bringing his expertise to the research by leading Project 6.1: Quality of lecturing staff at TVET colleges.

Project 6.1 adopts a broad notion of TVET lecturer quality that encompasses aspects of TVET lecturer knowledge, pedagogy and the curriculum, and the wider institutional structures that enable or constrain a TVET lecturer’s ability and capacity to understand and manage these aspects of their role. This conceptualisation encompasses three domains that a ‘quality’ TVET lecturer needs to navigate: TVET knowledge, holistic competencies and mediation within the skills ecosystem. 

Drawing on theoretical and conceptual work and a series of workshops and interviews the project will produce two key outputs for the DHET programme:

  1. Report synthesising the key concepts and evidence base that underpins a broader agentic and institutional understanding of TVET lecturer quality
  2. An evidence-based toolkit that aids the identification, development and measurement of quality related aspects of the TVET lecturer role

Project duration: 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2023
Principal Investigator: Volker Wedekind
Co-Investigator: Jo-Anna Russon
Funding body: Department of Higher Education and Training,South Africa



Centre for International Education Research

School of Education
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