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Institute of Education

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Q&A with Professor Alison Fuller

1  What is your role and what does it involve?
My aim (as Pro-Director for Research and Development), is to create the structures, culture and strategies that facilitate and support our excellent and wide-ranging educational and social research. This is of course a team effort. I work with the Research Leads in the IOE’s six departments, and our professional services, to identify research priorities and develop and implement effective initiatives and practices. These are designed to help us individually and collectively to achieve high quality research income and publications. A key objective is to generate research findings and insights that through active engagement with our major stakeholders can have a positive impact on a wide range of significant national and international societal and educational issues. As a research leader within UCL, my role includes building on and extending the IOE’s interdisciplinary collaborations, aligning this activity with the goals of UCL 2034 and ensuring that we realise the full academic benefits of merger.

2  How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I joined the IOE in 2013 as Professor of Vocational Education and Work, moving into the role of Pro-Director (Research and Development) in 2014. Previously, I was Director of Research and Professor of Education and Work in the School of Education at the University of Southampton. Whilst at Southampton I developed strong research collaborations with colleagues in Sociology and Health Sciences, undertaking research projects on ‘widening access to higher education’ and ‘apprenticeship’. I am currently working in a multi-disciplinary team led by Professor Jackie Bridges (Southampton) on an NIHR funded project ‘Creating Learning Environments for Compassionate Care’, as well as on a project funded by the IOE hosted ESRC LLAKES Centre, called ‘Employee-driven Innovation, Work and Learning in the Healthcare Sector’, with Southampton sociologists Professor Susan Halford, Dr Kate Lyle and Dr Rebecca Taylor.

3  What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your students about the subject you teach?
Never to underestimate them! My teaching ranges across a broad canvass, including vocational education, work transitions, apprenticeship, workplace learning and workforce development. I am fortunate to teach students from a diverse range of professional backgrounds, ages, and from different countries. This ensures that teaching and learning is two-way, with my own ideas and understandings challenged and deepened by the expertise and experience that my students bring to our discussions.

4  What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
Several years ago, my long-time collaborator Professor Lorna Unwin and I undertook an ESRC funded project on apprenticeship. We wanted to understand why the lived experience of apprentices participating in ostensibly similar programmes differed so markedly. Through case study research in a range of companies, we realised how the organisational and pedagogical features of the apprentices’ learning environment characterised the nature and quality of their learning and development experience. As an outcome of this research, we developed the concept of the ‘expansive – restrictive continuum’. From this we generated a tool that employers and providers, as well as researchers, can use to analyse the characteristics of apprenticeships and, more broadly, of workplaces as learning environments for all groups of workers. We developed an ‘impact case study’ based on this work for REF 2014 which showed the impact that the expansive – restrictive framework has had on policy and practice.

5  Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list.
We have recently completed the field work in the ESRC LLAKES project on employee-driven innovation, work and learning in healthcare. Our analysis of the data has started to generate research findings and we are now thinking about their implications for health care policy and practice. An important part of our strategy is to involve our case study organisations and the wider policy and practice communities in helping us to identify and promote the key messages. To this end, we recently held an internal debrief and workshop with representatives of our four case studies, followed by an external public policy event (at the BMA in central London) where two panels of leading policy-makers and practitioners and a diverse audience of stakeholders engaged with the key questions raised by our findings for policy and practice.

6  What would it surprise people to know about you?
I think people might be surprised to know that horse riding was an incredibly important part of my ‘youth’, and that I was a successful showjumper. A highlight was representing Warwickshire to win the county show-jumping championships.

7  What other piece of research outside of your own subject area interests you?
Having recognised how important the support of key colleagues has been to my career development, I am interested in research into women and leadership and the importance this places on the role of relationship building, mentorship and coaching in facilitating progression.