Report Open Access

Determination of the State of Educational Research in Austria

Hesse, Friedrich W.; Matt, Ina; Reckling, Falk; Völker, Thomas; Possanner, Nikolaus

Executive Summary

The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) was commissioned by the Innovation Foundation for Education (ISB) to determine the status of Austrian educational research and its institutional structure, performance and international standing. The FWF conducted this study in collaboration with the Austrian Science Council (ÖWR).

Main results

The evidence gathered for this report shows that educational research in Austria, while facing considerable challenges is also characterized by a number of positive features that can be built upon:

Strengths: Austria already has a number of excellent research groups working on topics such as educational psychology, educational technology, dyslexia or phoniatrics. These groups, however, mostly operate at the ‘margins’ of educational research.

Apart from that, the participants in this study described (only) a few methodological approaches such as participatory research methods and action research as particular strong points with a clear focus on practical application predominantly on a local/federal state level. There appears to be a focus on teacher education and didactics, too.

Weakness: The main challenge identified by the various reports is a lack of funding of basic research. Compared to countries like Germany or Switzerland, the resources invested into educational research are quite small. This also goes hand in hand with very few proposals for FWF funding from educational researchers. The participants in the interview study and online survey stated that they did neither have the time nor the resources to produce high-quality proposals.

The bibliometric study shows that the output in terms of international peer-reviewed journal articles is comparatively low. In addition, the journal articles are mainly produced by a small number of research groups that operate at the margins of educational research: 44% of all publications came from five groups in Austria.

Educational research is fragmented and spread over different universities and departments. As a consequence, it is a challenge to develop coherent structures for the training of educational researchers.

Opportunities: There is a basic level of educational research in Austria that can be built upon. This is visible in the bibliometric study as well as in the fact that there are several researchers active in Austrian educational research who show high potential. What is needed is to draw the actionable conclusions from the evaluation of what is already there and take advantage of the current ‘window of opportunity’ (new funding through an excellence initiative).

The university colleges of teacher education have the potential of becoming more research-intensive institutions that cooperate to strengthen the link between research and practice (transfer and application).

Threats: One of the main threats identified by the international panel is ‘doing nothing’ as this would mean letting this particular ‘window of opportunity’ close again. The current trend towards a dependency on a few ‘high-potential’ individuals dominating the research landscape could become problematic if they left the system and if this were not accompanied by coherent and structured career paths for early-stage researchers.

Recommendations

Based on the evaluation of distinct strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of and for educational research in Austria, the panel has developed a set of recommendations. These recommendations address different levels of the educational research system: the policy level, the institutional level and the level of the individual researchers. Furthermore, they are structured along different areas of activity, specifically the development of policy strategy, on the basis of which dedicated funding programmes should be designed and implemented that go along with fitting concepts and modes of monitoring and evaluation. This structure, in the view of the panel, would allow for (1) more transparency and (2) for making visible the already existing strengths and capacities of educational research in Austria.

The primary goal would be to develop a strategy for educational research that defines particular focus areas and priorities. The report at hand can function as the empirical basis for developing such a strategy, which should address the following questions:

  1. What is already there, and where are the blind spots or gaps?
  2. Which areas of educational research should be funded and further developed? Which areas are less significant?
  3. Where is educational research headed on an international level?

While participatory research methods and action research are considered to be strengths of the Austrian educational research system (according to the interviews and survey), it would be appropriate to encourage and fund other approaches to extend the current strengths. For example, quantitative and mixed methods research approaches could be given some priority in future to broaden and strengthen the field of enquiry. Longitudinal studies, in particular, have been shown to have much policy significance and value in other countries, e.g., the Millennium Birth Cohort study in the UK and the National Educational Panel (NEPS) study in Germany. This could be related to broader topics such as health, equity, socio-emotional development as well as cognitive and academic outcomes. Such a strategy should also consider ‘best practices’ from other countries: which funding instruments exist in other countries? What works, and what can be adapted for Austria? One possibility of building capacity is to create dedicated funding opportunities for educational research. Like the Swiss SNSF, one could move in the direction of creating 4 to 5 centres of excellence, each devoted to a specific topic and hosted by one of the top Austrian research universities, including a small network of other researchers, for instance, in the best university colleges of teacher education.

As educational research in sum plays a minor role in the Austrian research landscape in total and in comparison to other countries, there is a need and a promising opportunity to change it now:

  • future educational research must become more interdisciplinary due to new demands, e.g., the application of data science for education;
  • it must be developed under a nationwide strategic perspective to overcome fragmentation;
  • it needs to be encouraged by motivating funding offers which include an appreciation of more interdisciplinary research and the use of mixed methods;
  • it needs to be part of a political interest in an evidence-based development of the educational system in Austria guided by educational research to inform the development.

in cooperation with Manfred Prisching and Lisa Hönegger (Austrian Science Council) Mark Neijssel and Alfredo Yegros, Carole de Bordes (CWTS Leiden) Maria del Carmen Calatrava Moreno, Brigitte Tiefenthaler and Katharina Warta (Technopolis)
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