The spirit of research

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The reinvention of the university as a research-focused institution has transformed the way in which research is defined in practice. It is now widely explained in terms of a narrow set of performative expectations. This paper draws on historical literature to trace the hollowing out of research from a broad, though often sceptical, conception shaped by the liberal education tradition to one that is now expressed and evaluated almost exclusively in terms of publication, grant getting, and doctoral completions. In so doing it is argued that there is a need to challenge neo-liberal assumptions about the purposes of higher education and reclaim what Truscot referred to as the ‘spirit of research’. This is essential both for authentic higher education teaching and as a set of scholarly, epistemic virtues. Such a conception, compatible with both the liberal education and Humboldtian traditions of the university, values research awareness over research productivity and provides a more secure link between research and teaching. Copyright © 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-751
JournalOxford Review of Education
Issue number6
Early online dateMar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


Macfarlane, B. (2021). The spirit of research. Oxford Review of Education, 47(6), 737-751. doi: 10.1080/03054985.2021.1884058


  • Research-active
  • Teaching-research nexus
  • Liberal education
  • Neo-liberalism
  • Performativity
  • Epistemic virtues


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