IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Q&A with Professor Alison Fuller

Alison is Professor of Vocational Education and Work at IOE.

What is your role and what does it involve?

As Pro-Director: Research and Development

I am currently on study leave following 7 years in the role of Pro-Director: Research and Development. My role was to create the structures, culture and strategies that facilitate and support our excellent and wide-ranging educational and social research.

This was of course a team effort as I worked with the Research Leads in IOE's six departments, and our professional services, to identify research priorities and develop and implement effective initiatives and practices. These were designed to help us individually and collectively to achieve high-quality research income and publications.

In Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021

I was IOE's lead for REF 2021 - UoA 23 Education. We developed a very large submission (which required considerable planning and organisation involving colleagues from across IOE in the assessment of outputs, development of Impact Case Studies, and close working with the central UCL REF teams in the Office of the Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement).

What might 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'. I left school at 16 to pursue a career as a showjumper and I was successful at it. A highlight was representing Warwickshire to win the county show-jumping championships.

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 canvas, 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."

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 further developed research with the support of the ESRC-funded Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES), and contributed to a LLAKES impact case study for REF 2021 which showed the impact our research has had on policy and practice.

Collaborative Social Science

As a research leader within UCL, I was PVP for Collaborative Social Science and through this role founded and acted as the first Chair of the Collaborative Social Science Domain. The Domain aims to facilitate and grow cross social and non-social science research, aligning this goal with UCL's research strategy and UCL 2034.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list.

I was a member of the REF 2021 sub-panel for Education (UoA 23), which has recently completed its work, with the publication of results due in May 2022. I am currently on study leave continuing my research on apprenticeship and workplace learning, analysing the latest statistics and policy developments.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Recognise when you need advice, and don't be afraid or too proud to ask for advice.

What is your favourite joke?

"I was watching the London Marathon and saw one runner dressed as a chicken and another runner dressed as an egg. I thought: 'This could be interesting'." - Paddy Lennox (2009).

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.