research work

Why we must take the pulse of education research in Australia now

Australian education research is at a key turning point in a pandemic world where the dramatic effects of climate change demand our urgent attention. This blog piece explores the current challenges facing Australian Education research and the contemporary opportunities to create a future radical agenda for inclusive and compassionate education research. This piece has been adapted from the Community of Associate Deans of Education Research (cADRE) address* that I presented on 29 June at the recent AARE/cADRE Education Research Leaders’ Summit hosted by Professor Anna Sullivan on Kaurna Land at the University of South Australia. 

In Australia, we are in a post-election phase. We will have a new Labor government and a new Minister of Education, Jason Clare. We also have a number of other key federal portfolios that will particularly impact upon our sector including Linda Burney, Minister of Indigenous Australians; Ed Husic, Minister of Industry and Science and Anne Aly, Minister of Early Childhood Education and Youth. Australia has voted for change after a long period of Coalition government. 

Education research encompasses a rich transdisciplinary field including all education sectors such as home, early childhood, compulsory school years, senior secondary, higher education, vocational education, professional education, community, transitional and adult learning as well as initial and ongoing teacher education. Our field faces a series of external wicked problems, particularly demoralisation and burnout because of university job losses at a time, as Emeritus Professor Frank Larkins wrote earlier this year, when many universities report large profits. We face a severe lack of grant funding for education research with a significant decline in ARC funding. There is a pressing need to improve the national profile of educational research at a time of extreme change and cutbacks and a significant restriction of opportunities for HDR, early and mid-career academics to build research momentum because of excessive workloads and unrealistic performance goals. We witness the increasing casualization of higher education and more colleagues moving to teaching-focused positions. Science-based metrics are used to inaccurately measure education research outcomes and education researchers experience shrinking time for research and the narrowing of the purposes of universities to vocational skill development (Brennan et al., 2020 AARE Working Party report).

We have seen the previous Australian government increasingly outsourcing education research to organisations and groups outside of universities such as external organisations like AERO and private consultancies, NFPs, philanthropies and corporations. The previous Coalition government’s Australia’s Economic Accelerator (AEA) initiative committed significant funding to the commercialisation of Australian research as part of a package designed to improve commercialisation in Australia’s 6 research priorities which are all in areas of manufacturing. As Professor Tom Lowrie indicated in the recent cADRE/ACDE webinar, this funding initiative will not assist education. However, other funding possibilities include incubator and start-up hubs, philanthropic support, angel investors may be interested in funding our research. The previous government has also introduced funding for industry PhDs and fellowships. These priorities are likely to continue under the new Labor Government. It is, as Emeritus Professor Marie Brennan argued in the cADRE/ACDE webinar, ‘a dangerous time’ for education research in Australia.

There are also a number of key internal challenges also facing Australian education research. Firstly, we need to take a more collegial approach to peer reviewing for ARC grants, ERA, and other competitive research activities. This is an issue facing not only education but HASS as a whole. We also need to improve collaboration between universities and resist the pressure to endlessly compete for very scarce resources. There is a need to think creatively about succession planning in our field given the dramatic changes we are witnessing in the education research workforce with the retirement or retrenchment of many senior researchers; the lack of academic positions available to replace these experienced colleagues; the challenges many Senior Lecturers and Associate Professors face in gaining promotion given the dominance of science metrics to measure academic success in all fields and the difficulties early and mid-career education researchers are experiencing in building and sustaining research momentum. Professor Stephen Billett argued in the cADRE/ACDE webinar that this amounts to ‘a withering of the academic workforce’. Across Australia, Associate Deans of Research in Education report strong cultures of teaching in the field of Education which detract from a focus on research. Deans of Education are often focused on the budget-generating, politicised and rapidly shifting field of Initial Teacher Education to the detriment of other domains of Education research. 

cADRE would like to argue for a radical agenda for inclusive and compassionate education research that informs educational policy and practice. This would challenge the empty rhetoric of ‘excellence’ that we hear so much about in universities. Back in 1996, US scholar Bill Readings was one of the first people to query the ways in which the discourse of ‘excellence’ was replacing the development of culture as the key driving force in universities. While excellence has a convenient ring to it for university managers and governments, we believe we should be seeking transformational or disruptive Education research that has the power to make a real difference to the lives of Australian people of all ages. 

Inclusive and compassionate education research would take a strengths-based approach to the education of all Australians, especially the education of First Nations, migrant, refugee, culturally diverse peoples, people who are differently abled, and all other sections of Australian society. An inclusive and compassionate education research agenda would broaden the scope education research ‘beyond the school/university fence’ to include public, adult, parental, environmental, civil and community education as Professor Stephen Billett argued in our webinar. It would advocate for the commitment of research funding and other resources to foster education research. It would engage in active and genuine partnerships with all of the important education stakeholders, particularly teachers, students, families, communities, Elders, organisations and citizens, to generate grass roots education research agenda setting using the scalable methodologies used in the NSW Deans grass roots education research agenda setting project, including artists who document and sketch the ideas put forward in world café style dialogues, as Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie Knowles outlined in the cADRE/AARE webinar. It would engage in respectful education research with, for and by these communities and citizens. It would provide for a dedicated and respectful focus in Education research on Indigenous knowledge in all domains of education including climate science. Inclusive and compassionate education research would be based on a relational, post-feminist ethics of care approach. 

There is also an important need for the federal Labor government to significantly broaden the national research priorities. There were significant calls at the AIATSIS Summit held on Kabi Kabi Country on the Sunshine Coast from 30 May to 3 June for the national priorities to include Indigenous issues. HASS fields also need to be reinstated as a matter of national research priority given the contribution HASS fields make to research innovation, creativity, transformation and inclusion. We need to lobby the Federal Minister for national targeted research funding for Education that goes beyond the narrow instrumentalist focus of AERO. 

We also need to shift the focus on the exchange value of education research or education research as a commodity on sale to the knowledge economy to Education research’s use value as Emeritus Professor Marie Brennan argued in our cADRE/ACDE webinar. This would involve engaging in research translation, where we educate the public about the value of the research we produce so that our research becomes publicly discussible for the community and for practitioners as well as governments, bureaucrats and funders. These strategies would consolidate our evidence about the Impact and Engagement value of our field in preparation for the ERA Impact and Engagement exercise in 2024.

AARE and ACDE are currently developing a coherent action plan for proactive strategies to enhance the national profile of inclusive and compassionate education research in Australia well into the future. Watch this space!

While I wrote this address, I would like to acknowledge that it was collaboratively workshopped with members of the cADRE Network Steering Group and built upon the recommendations developed at the cADRE/ ACDE webinar Reimagining education research in a post-election world that was held on 27 May (for video recording see ).

Professor Catherine Manathunga, University of the Sunshine Coast; Chair of Community of Associate Deans of Education Research (cADRE – a network of the Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE) 

Want To Know How To Get Funding For Your Project? We Talked To Stakeholders. Here’s What We Discovered.

Designing a research project that engages well with stakeholders is held up as the gold star when applying for funding. And we all know how competitive it is to get funding, so getting it right is key. 

If we don’t engage well with stakeholders, we risk having a project that doesn’t meet the needs of the people, organisations or communities we are trying to serve. Also, the success of a project is often measured by how well the project team have engaged with stakeholders. So, how do we engage in a meaningful way?

Our research project has been exploring a variety of ways to engage with different groups of stakeholders in our 3-year online community education project. Our research team is learning a lot about stakeholder engagement along the way and adapting our methods. We are keen to share what we have learnt.

Who did we engage with stakeholders?

We surveyed parents from defence families, educators and family workers to ask them what should be included in our funded project and what types of resources they thought would work best. We also engaged with experts in the field, such as Legacy staff and volunteers, psychology and social work academics, experienced educators and veteran parents.

What is stakeholder engagement?

Stakeholder engagement is sometimes called community engagement. It is a continuous collaboration with people:

  1. who will be affected by the project, or
  2. who are close to the project (geographically or through shared interests).

How do you work with stakeholders?

The key to the success of a project is how well the project team can identify and gather all the different interests of the stakeholders and manage through them.

Who are our stakeholders?

Knowing who your stakeholders are is a key starting point for engaging effectively. Stakeholders can be:

  • the end users of the program (in our project, children from military families and their educators, parents and family workers), and
  • those interested in governance (our steering committee)
  • those with influence (organisations such as Legacy and the Defence Community Organisation)
  • those who provide resources (our funders: The Ian Potter Foundation and the University of New England)

What’s a good framework for stakeholder engagement?

Figure1: Stakeholder conceptual framework for ECDP (from Rogers et. al., 2021)

It helps our research team to use this framework for engagement. We aim to:

  1. communicate effectively and often (using a variety of methods)
  2. consult with stakeholders early in the project (start when planning the project)
  3. identify stakeholders’ limitations (What will hold them back? How can we help them to interact?)
  4. have a plan for engagement (the research team should discuss and plan)
  5. work on our relationships (take an active interest in stakeholders and let them know how much you value their input and support)

How do we engage well?

Engaging well with stakeholders will look different for every project. In our Early Childhood Defence Programs (ECDP) project, we have focussed on the areas shown in this diagram.

Figure 2: Stakeholder engagement for the ECDP project (from Rogers et. al., 2021)

Types of engagement

There are many ways to engage well with stakeholders. The ECDP project uses a variety of methods, including:

  • social media posts 1) Facebook: linking project progress with current events (e.g. Children’s Week, Anzac Day) 2) Twitter: highlighting academic publications related to the project
  • media engagement (in publications that our stakeholders might read)
  • surveys to get ideas for our programs and resources (targeting parents, educators and family workers)
  • website (for project information, goals, progress, plans, events and draft resources)
  • stakeholder committee meetings (twice a year via video conference)
  • liaison with funders and influences (for advice and ideas)
  • funding reports (formal and informal)
  • presentations (at research events and interagency meetings, then uploading these to our website)
  • funding applications (with influencers for project extensions and future projects)
  • competitions (to engage with stakeholders and community contributions to the project)
  • providing resources (for children, parents and family workers, educators, those supporting children with special needs, academics and policy makers)

What are the benefits of opening the door?

The benefits of opening the door to stakeholders have been both predictable and surprising for the ECDP project.

Predictably we have gained:

  • fresh ideas,
  • ways to strengthen the project,
  • better ways to solve problems,
  • allies,
  • new networks of support,
  • advice
  • refinement of our work
  • a closer engagement with our end users, and
  • new knowledge.

We were surprised to gain:

  • a higher level of interest from stakeholders than predicted
  • an increased sense of direction
  • regular bursts of praise, appreciation and enthusiasm, leading to
  • energy and project momentum.

What are the challenges?

Time and energy. Our research team is made up of academics and academics are time poor. Academics work in a space that is demanding more of their time than ever before.

Due to a very limited project budget, we have chosen to use a very low-cost website and manage all social media engagement. This takes a lot of time and energy.

Figure 3: ECDP logo from our website

Engaging well with our stakeholders in all the ways we do takes stamina. Overall, we have found it to be well worth the effort. Our social media following is growing steadily, and this might help us recruit participants for our control trials.

‘When you open up the door to let the wind in, the dust follows’ according to the Vietnamese proverb. We have found this to be true when we have had to deal with spam, bots and bizarre online comments. Luckily, this has been rare.

Our research team doesn’t think the ECDP project would ever be immune to irrelevance, but we think our efforts are helping us avoid meaningless outcomes. Making sure our project stays relevant to our stakeholders is a work in progress and one we really enjoy. We also believe it gives our project strength, direction and purpose.

Marg Rogers is a Lecturer in the Early Childhood Education and Care at the University of New England. Marg’s current research interests are about programming and resourcing parents and educators to build resilience and understanding in 2-5-year-olds from Australian Defence Force (ADF) families, professionalism, and narratives.

Doing my research work is like walking a city. How would you walk this city?

How do you feel about walking around a city? If you were in Sydney would you head down to the harbour? Join the throng of tourists and day-trippers taking in the sights? Or do you prefer to find the hidden gems? Perhaps you would insert yourself into a comfortable space that might have excellent coffee, interesting views, warmth: your place.

The well-known French scholar, Michel deDe Certeau, writes about walking in cities in his book The Practice of Everyday Life. Where we walk and how we walk determines the shape of the city. The places most people go receive the most planning attention. Some places are overcrowded so urban planners think about maximising the flow of humans and vehicles in those areas. Tourist attractions, like Sydney Harbour, are well attended to. The available infrastructure both shapes the nature of those who visit and those who visit shape the infrastructure. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Other places in the city are shaped by the waves of movement. Once grand old buildings become dilapidated and then gentrified. Inner city public housing areas and places of ill repute become trendy boutiques, markets and air bnbs.

De Certeau says “The long poem of walking manipulates spatial organizations, no matter how panoptic they may be: it is neither foreign to them (it can take place only within them) nor in conformity with them (it does not receive its identity from them). It creates shadows and ambiguities within them.”

When you are a local you know what you like, the places that make you feel at home. Tourist destinations are not your regular haunts. You know exactly where to park at the shopping centre and your favourite café is where the proprietor knows your order. You practise your everyday life. It might not make as great an impression on the footpath, but the route is well worn by you.

For researchers our research work is like our local space. We know it well. We have found, or are in search of, the secret nooks and crannies of our field. We wander the streets of our research life every day. We are the local. We are shaping the space and that space is shaping us.

But what happens when something unexpected happens? Or the expected turns out to be different?

My research journey

For me it was having children during my candidacy. I had planned my study, forged out a little nook, but then the design became untenable, so I had to move. Moving from a space you find comfortable is painful but often necessary. We can try to force our circumstances into the original cranny, but it’s now stressful and unproductive.

Both the French philosopher, Michel Foucault and American feminist scholar, Donna Haraway write about irruptions ( a ‘sudden, violent or forcible entry: a rushing or bursting in’). They talk about how circumstances come together in such a way that there is a shift. Foucault might encourage us to have a look at the irruption and try and work out why the irruption occurred at that point. Haraway might encourage us to test the conditions that allowed the irruption, to find the chemical makeup. The irruptions in my research life have been ones I cannot ignore: a young baby, bills to pay, and difficulty in recruiting participants into my research project. It meant my research went in directions I could not anticipate.

I had a choice to work hard to bring it back on track, subjecting my research to delays, or to take a more scenic route and find a new place to settle. These are the Foucauldian irruptions.

I have no regrets about the products of my research. In fact, I am proud of my motley crew of weird and wonderful creations ( including my research into blogging and a longitudinal study of first year university students as they record their social integration on Facebook.)

People telling me my work is not good enough have populated my whole research career. Those people no longer get my time. My outputs are the way they are because they were forged in adversity, chance, brutal failure, consideration of what I believed was important, and privilege I didn’t know I had. These creatures, brewed in the irruptions of Haraway, are part of the history that got me to where I now stand.

There is no right way to finish a research project

Everyone has different irruptions in their research journey and everyone works with them or bulldozes over them for different reasons or in different ways. There is no right way to finish a research project. To researchers out there: anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

It can be difficult to keep up with the rapid changes in our contemporary research landscape, for example cuts to research funding, the changing dimensions of altmetrics and measurement of ‘impact’, precarity, proposals for a national interest test, and increased pressures related to the balance between teaching, research and leadership. Researchers need to remember that the advice we are given was often developed in a different time under different circumstances. The key is to work out what you value and what your values are. Then the decisions you make will align with the path you find yourself walking.

It might take longer than you anticipate, but where you end up will feel satisfying. Research is about finding places no one has been. You become the expert in that space. Everyone else is a neighbour or tourist. But taking the time to get there also means you meet wonderful people along the way who support you and know you. That is much more valuable than the advice of people who do not take the time to find out who you are.

Returning to the metaphor of walking in the city. If you were to walk to the top of the tallest tower and look down on the network of roads and people, it might look planned, straight, considered. Plenty of people have taken that path and many know where to go. You can tell by the structures. But when you get down to ground level, the steps people are taking are not all in unison. They wander, stop, turn around, bump into things.

This is the practice of everyday life. As you choose where to walk, you shift the way things are done. Sure, there are certain structures in research work that cannot be ignored, but how you live within them or away from them is up to you. Endeavour to be considered and considerate and don’t let the tourists at your local tell you how to practice your research life.


I have the pleasure of delivering a pre-conference keynote for 2018 AARE Conference. The above is an abridged version of my presentation. The opportunity to share my own research journey (so far) is very exciting. I have blogged a lot about my experiences with learning the research trade. Trying to bring it all together for my presentation was trickier than I realised.


Naomi Barnes is a lecturer in Literacy in the Faculty of Education in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership at the Queensland University of Technology. She teaches in Curriculum and Pedagogy and Specialist Studies in Education. Naomi’s research is in digital rhetoric. She focuses on qualitative critical network analysis and how multiple modes of communication are at play in online human networking. She is interested in the relationships humans have with each other online, particularly in social media, and the socio-cultural theories and philosophical traditions which help us better understand how technology has changed the way we communicate. Naomi is also interested in the policy and pedagogical implications of these changes in communication.


Naomi is presenting her paper ‘Taking a road less travelled: Navigating irruptions in a research journey’ at the 2018 AARE Conference on Sunday 2nd December at 9:30 am