The right to research, the responsibility to research

Professor Jean McNiff, Keynote Address

The focus of this presentation was to argue for (1) the right to research; (2) the responsibility to research. These ideas are relevant to all thinking persons and especially to those working in higher education settings. However, given that higher education is still recognised as the main legitimating body for emergent knowledge claims (rather than its close rivals Twitter, Google and Amazon), questions arise about what counts as worthwhile knowledge, who counts as a worthwhile knower, and who is allowed to express their opinion. It becomes a matter of ‘Who says?’ Responses to the questions are contested within higher education itself, as represented in personal and institutional preferences for methodological approaches, researcher positionalities, and the nature of relationships. It then becomes a matter not so much of informed consideration as of whose voices are authorised within a particular tradition: more a question of ‘Who says who says?’

The presentation raised the following questions: what are the responsibilities of higher education academics who are mandated to research, and how do they justify their choices? What kind of research do they undertake? How do they position themselves in relation to others and to the planet? The point is made that, while academics have a responsibility to different constituencies, including funders and students, their main responsibility is to the truth. Academics need to stand up for what is right, support those who cannot do research or speak for themselves, and find ways of enabling them to speak and be heard.

If research findings contribute to making the world a better place, it is a main responsibility of those who are able to research to take purposeful action in protecting the right of all – all – citizens to find ways to do research, speak for themselves and have their contributions valued.

Jean McNiff was a teacher and deputy head teacher before focusing on her work as a researcher and writer and moving into higher education settings. She is currently Professor of Educational Research at York St John University, where she teaches and supervises the PhD studies of academic colleagues, and is a visiting professor internationally. She also supports practitioners in schools, universities and everyday workplace settings as they conduct their action enquiries to find ways of improving their work. Her books, scholarly articles and web-based writings are used worldwide as resources on academic and workplace professional education programmes. Her abiding aim is to produce workable ideas and resources that say to practitioners, ‘You can do this too.’