New hub for schools and educational sciences research

31 March 2020

Municipal lecturers have key roles in Uppsala’s new research environment.

The University and Municipality of Uppsala are now getting together in a joint arena for educational research with a strong practical emphasis. The project, part of the Government’s ULF initiative, is intended at bridge the gap between the classroom, teacher training and research in educational sciences.

Three years after the Government launched ULF (Utveckling, Lärande, Forskning, i.e. “Development, Learning, Research”) to boost collaboration between academia and youth education, Uppsala Municipality has opened a new research environment directly connected with Uppsala University. This joint infrastructure enhances the scope for long-term research with a highly practical orientation, based on teachers’ own questions and issues.

“When I trained as an upper-secondary teacher, we often discussed the gap between research on school education and the actual work done in schools. In teachers’ rooms, school staff chuckled at researchers secluded in their ivory towers; and academics thought school teachers lacked a grasp of theory and research. With shared spaces, we can bridge that gap and enable a new, learning-centred research landscape to emerge,” says Olle Nordberg, a senior lecturer at the University who is also a senior Swedish teacher at upper secondary school, working for Uppsala Municipality.

The ULF initiative is in line with the clause in the Swedish Education Act stating that education must rest on a scientific foundation and proven experience. In plain terms, this means that teachers must base their professional practice on research, and development of school education must be permeated by a scientific approach – two guiding principles that ULF now provides the scope to pursue on the intended scale.

“Development has long been held back by a ‘we and they’ structure. Where schools have had no means to profit from the expertise possessed by teachers with doctoral degrees, the higher education sector has been unable to meet teachers’ needs. So, initially, we made great efforts to establish mutual trust. Now the joint arena is in place, and the inauguration was full of optimism for the future,” says Elisabet Nihlfors, senior professor of pedagogy and one of ULF’s founders.

Elisabet Nihlfors, senior professor of pedagogy

Today, Uppsala University has ULF agreements with three principals: the municipalities of Uppsala and Enköping, and NTI Upper Secondary Schools of Technology. Uppsala Municipality has headed development in the new research environments, which consist of the three parts of NTI, divided according to the themes of subject teaching, leadership and equity in schools. Each environment comprises both physical and digital meeting-places where teachers, school managers and researchers together seek to identify issues for the profession; survey the current research status of these issues; and – if further knowledge is necessary – formulate questions as a basis for future research.

“Research often already has answers to the questions that concern the profession, but that hardly helps if communication is deficient on both sides. Now we have a model for working together to reconcile issues and research, to make a functioning whole. The question is whether we can also do this in a context in which there are some joint services provided by school education and academia, as in health care. If so, I’m convinced that ULF can be a success factor in retaining competent teachers, and even attracting them back into a profession that is otherwise at risk of suffering staff shortages,” says Elisabet Nihlfors.

Facts

  • ULF (Utveckling, Lärande, Forskning, i.e. “Development, Learning, Research”) is a Swedish national pilot project, concerning practice-based research in school education, that is being implemented on the Government’s behalf in 2017–2021.
  • Its purpose is to develop sustainable models of cooperation between academic institutions and schools focusing on research, school activities and teacher training.
  • ULF is organised in four hubs, and Uppsala University is primarily responsible for one. In total, 25 higher education institutions and close to 100 municipalities are involved in ULF.

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