In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Higher Education Research

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Purposes of Higher Education
  • Equity and Diversity in Higher Education

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Education Higher Education Research
Jennifer M. Case
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0146


Higher education typically refers to that sector of post-secondary education that offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees—as opposed to the vocational (further education) sector. Research in this area has tended to develop alongside the expansion of higher education (HE) systems, and thus the field has its longest history in the United States, which in the early 20th century began to massify college enrollments. Elsewhere, HE research took off from the 1970s and thus it is a relatively new field. The US literature has remained relatively focused on its national context, while the international literature has to some extent been led by the United Kingdom but has evolved to a reasonably integrated global conversation. HE research is a subfield of education research and thus also draws on other foundational social science disciplines, including philosophy, psychology, sociology, politics, etc. A particularly prominent strand in HE research has been focused on undergraduate teaching and learning, stemming from concerns that typically arise as the system expands the proportion of the age group that it enrolls. This work is now represented in textbooks that support the growing area of academic (staff) development work. Other work considers HE within society and tends to draw on political economy and organizational theory. Philosophical work debates the purposes of HE, drawing on historical debates and repurposing them for contemporary times.

General Overviews

As a research field, HE has developed quite recently, and thus overviews of the field tend to be relatively new. These overviews take the form of two kinds of texts, firstly, the “handbook,” which aims to introduce researchers to the field, and secondly, the “textbook,” which in this area are largely texts aimed at practitioners in HE.

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