Past Event details

Learning Gain: Different perspectives

Friday, 18 January 2019

This conference will explore findings from one of the 13 pilot projects into learning gain funded by the Office for Students. Working in collaboration with the University of Southampton, Royal Holloway, and the University of the Arts London, the University of Portsmouth have led a mixed-methods project. The aims of our particular project have been to explore different stakeholders’ perspectives of learning gain, as well as to develop psychometric measures of learning gain as defined by the development of non-cognitive skills (implicit theories of intelligence, self-efficacy and graduate capital to name a few), with a view to understanding the transformational potential of Higher Education.

With data from parents, employers, and of course students, our data allows for an in-depth understanding of different stakeholders’ conceptions of learning gain, as well as exploring the similarities and differences between them. We will explore learning gain through both a creative and economic lens, and will end by discussing how findings from the project may be used to inform policy and practice, especially through identification of where expectations are and are not being met. 

This conference has been made free via sponsorship from the project team.

Speakers bios and abstracts:

Professor Sherria Hoskins, University of Portsmouth 

Sherria is currently the Dean of Science at the University of Portsmouth.  Before beginning her degree in Psychology in 1991 she qualified as a Basic Adult Education tutor and taught adults with severe learning disabilities and those leaving school without basic reading, writing and mathematics skills.  This was the beginning of her passion for understanding learning and development and factors that can create inequities in this. 

Sherria combines her leadership role with a successful research and teaching career.  She has played a role in research teams generating over £10 million of research and innovation income.  As the lead researcher she has secured over £2 million of funding in the last three years. She is currently leading three high profile funded research projects.  The first is a UK project exploring Learning Gain in British Higher Education.  The second is a nationwide randomized control trial testing the impact of the intervention that she designed on the character development and attainment of school pupils.  The thirds is a UK project developing and evaluating an intervention to close the attainment gap in university graduates that is found in relation to social class and ethnicity. 

She has also led numerous community projects (e.g. A City that Counts – bringing mathematics peer mentoring to deprived areas) and two years working with the Institute of Physics, supporting their work in schools to improve the gender balance in this discipline.

Her current research takes a social cognitive approach to understanding how learner’s beliefs (e.g. implicit and self-theories) impact their learning behaviour (e.g. resilience, motivation, approach to learning and decision making) and academic outcomes.  She is specifically interested in whether we can influence those beliefs to positively impact learning expectations, behaviour and outcomes.


Dr Heike Behle, University of Warwick

Heike Behle joined the Institute for Employment Research as a Research Fellow in September 2004. Before coming to Warwick she worked at the Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB) in Nuremberg, Germany. Heike is a trained quantitative sociologist but applies both quantiative and qualitative methods in her research. Her Ph.D. dealt with the effects of insecure employment on the mental health of young people and evaluated an active labour market programme.

Heike is interested in employability gain as an outcome to higher, vocational and secondary education. She analyses the transferability of vocational and employability skills to a work place using quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods. She evaluates specific screening devices and profiling methods together with interventions to increase participants' employability with a specific focus on young people and stabilised mental health as an outcome. She is particularly interested in Intra-European Mobility, specifically for high-qualified workers.

Heike works for the LEGACY project and, as part of this role, is on a secondment to the Strategic Planning & Analytics Office.


Dr Emily Mason-Apps, University of Portsmouth

Emily is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth.

Emily completed her PhD in 2013, for which she ran a longitudinal study looking at predictors of language in typically-developing infants and infants with Down’s syndrome. Emily has worked as a researcher on numerous projects at the University of Bristol, the University of Reading, and the University of Portsmouth. Emily is interested in developmental psychology and educational psychology, and is passionate about conducting education research that aims to inform policy and practice, and therefore improve education for learners of all ages.

Emily joined the University of Portsmouth in October 2012. Before starting on the Learning Gains project, Emily worked on two longitudinal education research projects, exploring how learners’ implicit theories of intelligence (also known as mindsets) impact students’ attainment and learning behaviour. Emily was part of the team that established “Growing Learners” at the University of Portsmouth, and has worked with over 250 schools around Europe, delivering training to develop pupils’ learning resilience and attainment. She also worked as an Assistant Psychologist at the University of Reading on a Randomised Clinical Trial looking at the effectiveness of treatments for childhood anxiety.


Overview of the quantitative findings

This session will explore the findings from the quantitative arm of the project.  We have collected longitudinal self-report questionnaire data from students at 3 time points during their degree across 4 institutions, with a view to understanding the transformational potential of Higher Education. These questionnaires included new measures of learner resilience, graduate capital and identity, self-theories (self-esteem, self-efficacy and false uniqueness) as well as pre-existing questionnaires (UKES, ASSIST, and Implicit Theories of Intelligence). We will explore the longitudinal development of these non-cognitive skills, the relationships between them, and the degree to which different factors (e.g. demographics) influence their development.


Richard Sant, University of the Arts London

My interest in the Creative Industries is underpinned by my experience of working in the London gallery world in the 1990s followed by a number of years running my own business dealing in early European textiles. Since 2003 I have worked in the Higher Education sector developing enterprise and employability education both in extracurricular settings and in the curriculum. At Portsmouth University I was Director of the Centre for Enterprise in the Faculty of Creative Industries and was course leader for MA Creative and Cultural Leadership. I have a particular interest in creating models of employability and developing ways to create new ways to measure it. At Solent University I designed the Employability Self Efficacy (ESE) test and at University of the Arts London (UAL) I have launched the Creative Attributes Framework. I am currently Head of Careers and Employability at UAL.


Learning Gain from a Creative Perspective

This presentation explores the notion of learning gain from the perspective of a creative education which is characterised by risk taking, proactivity, creativity, and ambiguity. In this context employability education prepares individuals for future employment in which graduates will be expected to create and shape their industry as much as find work within it. We will report on the results of our own participation in the project and also offer a contextual critique particularly raising questions around the meaning of learning gain for creative students.


Dr Valerie Anderson, University of Portsmouth

Valerie is a Reader in Human Resource Development in Portsmouth Business School.

Valerie’s academic career was preceded by extensive HRM and HRD management and consultancy experience in a range of different public and private sector organisations. Valerie specialises in research and teaching about learning and development in higher education and in organisational settings, she is also an experienced Research Methods tutor. Her textbook, Research Methods in HRM, is nationally recognised as a key text for undergraduate and postgraduate HRM students.

Valerie is a Co-Editor of the leading international research journal, Human Resource Development Quarterly, is Chair of the Research Activities Committee of the Universities Forum for Human Resource Development and is an active member of the Portsmouth Business School, Business Education Research Group (BERG). Valerie undertakes a range of applied research projects in collaboration with academics and practitioners in the UK and overseas.


Parents’ perspectives

This session will examine the key themes emerging from the parental perspective data. Data suggest that parents acknowledge the increasingly crowded occupational and career space their children must prepare for. Employability is a central feature of their expectations but, in addition to academic achievement, experiential learning is understood to be the mechanism for student’s personal and psychological development to support the achievement of employability. Parents value wider, non-academic experiences as a feature of learning gain seeing these as the basis of skill and identity-development that form important elements of the ‘probable futures’ of their children as they seek entry to professional and graduate-level work communities.


Dr Michael Tomlinson, University of Southampton

Michael Tomlinson is an Associate Professor at Southampton Education School, University of Southampton. His interests are broadly in the areas of the higher education and the labour market and he has extensively researched issues of graduate employability. In this field, he has pioneered a number of significant models, including the graduate career orientations model and, more recently, the graduate capital model. The latter has been actively incorporated in the University of Southampton careers and employability strategy.

He is the author of two key books which have brought together his thinking in these fields, Education, Work and Identity (Bloomsbury, 2013) and Graduate Employability in Context (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). He also serves on the editorial boards of Journal of Education and Work, British Journal of Sociology of Education and Higher Education Policy.


Employers’ perspectives

This talk will present an empirical and conceptual analysis of employers’ perspectives on graduate employability and how they conceive the relationship between higher education and employment. This is based on part of the HEFCE-funded project, involving interviews with 20 graduate employers of varying size and profiles. The talk will show that much of employers’ discourse on graduate employability is couched largely in terms of capitals which graduates differentially develop and deploy to their own, and organisations’, advantage.

These are a significant feature of what constitutes an ‘ideal’ graduate and which can significantly inform their selection decisions. Moreover, this research builds on a growing body of research which has emphasised the socially constructed nature of employer engagement and their relationship with HE graduates. The implications for higher education policy and Learning Gain are further discussed.


Dr Jessica Gagnon, University of Portsmouth

Dr Jessica Gagnon is a sociologist of higher education whose research is primarily focused on inequalities in higher education. She is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Education and Sociology at the University of Portsmouth, where she leads the University of Portsmouth Higher Education Forum, an inter-disciplinary hub for the development, implementation and promotion of world-leading research in the field. She has a track record of securing research funding and publishes widely around inequalities in higher education. In addition to being a researcher on this Learning Gain project, she leads the Office for Students funded Changing Mindsets project and she is a researcher on several other funded projects.


Learning Gain: Students’ perspectives

This presentation will explore students’ perceptions of learning gain through qualitative data collected from focus groups across the project partnership. The data allows for an in-depth understanding of students’ conceptions of learning gain, including what they had hoped to gain before starting their course, what they believe they had gained so far, and what struggles they faced in their efforts to meet the learning gain expectations they had set for themselves or that they believed their parents or future employers expect of them.


Professor Arnaud Chevalier, Royal Holloway, University of London

Arnaud is a professor of Economics at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research interest is in labour economics and in particular the economics of Education and the economics of the family. He has published in prestigious economic journals such as the Journal of Political Economy and the Economic Journal. He is currently the head of the Economic department at Royal Holloway and was the employment expert for the Teaching Excellence Framework (2018). He was the editor of the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (series A) and currently serves on the board of the IZA world of labor.


An Economic Perspective

Going to higher education can be seen as an investment albeit one where the costs and returns are unknown at first. We use information on how the expectations on grades, debt, and future earnings evolves over time, to further our understanding of how the perceived (financial) returns to higher education are formed, and whether these informational gains differ for students originating from different backgrounds.



10.30-11:00     Registration with refreshments

11:00-11:15     Welcome & Introduction to the Project
Sherria Hoskins, University of Portsmouth

11:15-11:45     Keynote: Graduates’ transition from HE to the labour market: Are we producing employable graduates?
Heike Behle, University of Warwick

11:45 – 11:55  Question and answer 

11:55 - 12:30   Key Findings:

Overview of quantitative data (Students)
Emily Mason-Apps, University of Portsmouth

Learning Gain from a creative perspective
Richard Sant, University of the Arts London

12:30 – 12:15  Question and answer

12:45-13:30     Lunch

13:30-13:50     Small group interactive session: What do you believe parents, employers, and students expect that students will gain from university?

13:50-15:10     Key Findings continued:

Parents’ perspectives
            Valerie Anderson, University of Portsmouth

Employers’ perspectives
            Michael Tomlinson, University of Southampton 

Students’ perspectives  
            Jessica Gagnon, University of Portsmouth

An economic perspective  
            Arnaud Chevalier, Royal Holloway

Including 20 minutes for Q&A

15:10-15:25     Break with refreshments

15:25-15:45     Panel – Alumni from University of Portsmouth, Royal Holloway, University of the Arts London and University of Southampton

15:45-16:00    So what: implications for research, practice and policy
Sherria Hoskins, University of Portsmouth

Network: Student Experience
Date(s): Friday, 18 January 2019
Times: 11:00 - 16:00
Location: SRHE, 73 Collier St, London N1 9BE
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Event Files
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Students Expectations about HE
The quantitative data
Graduates’ transition from Higher Education to the labour market
Students’ perspectives of learning gain
Employers’ perspectives
Learning Gain from a Creative Perspective
Welcome and Introductions
Learning Gain: Parent’s perspectives
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