Transnational collaboration in building educational research capacity in a new university: An applied phenomenographic investigation


  • Keith Smyth
  • Frank Rennie
  • Gareth Davies
  • Sonam Tobgay



educational research, research development, challenges and enablers, transnational collaboration, phenomenography


This paper reports on a phenomenographic investigation concerning the perceptions of primarily early career academics on the value and importance of educational research, and the challenges and enablers of establishing and building educational research capacity, within a new university in a developing country. The study was conducted as part of a three year project which itself is based within a longitudinal programme of collaboration between the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI). The paper outlines the transnational collaborations between the two universities to date, before considering key issues in the development of educational research and an educational research culture within universities that are not research intensive, and for whom educational research is a nascent or emerging area.

The rationale and methodological approach for the phenomenographic investigation, which seems to be the first phenomenography to address perceptions relating to the development of educational research within the context of a new university, are then considered. The main findings resulting from the phenomenographic process of thematic analysis are subsequently presented. This includes a synthesis and articulation of the findings in the form of a phenomenographic ‘outcome space’ that pertains to the academics’ motivations and perceptions in relation to the development of educational research at RUB. The paper then articulates how the findings of the phenomenography were applied in identifying and implementing tangible interventions to support the participants to engage in conducting and disseminating educational research projects relating to dimensions of their own educational practice. The paper concludes with recommendations and lessons learned relating to the development of educational research capacity in emergent and transnational collaborative contexts.

Author Biography

Keith Smyth

Keith is Professor of Pedagogy at the University of the Highlands and Islands, based at Moray College UHI in Elgin, and working across the UHI partnership to lead and support strategic learning and teaching developments, funded educational research projects, and staff engagement in educational scholarship and research.

Prior to joining UHI Keith was a Senior Teaching Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Higher Education in the Office of the Vice Principal (Academic) at Edinburgh Napier University. Keith's role at Edinburgh Napier involved strategic learning, teaching and assessment developments, and institution wide staff and curriculum development initiatives. He was Programme Leader for Edinburgh Napier’s professionally accredited, award-winning MSc Blended and Online Education, and also led Edinburgh Napier’s Digital Futures consultation.

Keith developed Edinburgh Napier’s Benchmark for the Use of Technology in Modules, which is based on the 3E Framework he originally developed for a cross-institutional curriculum redesign project. The 3E Framework has now been adopted by a range of institutions within and beyond the UK.

Keith was Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for Lead (Linking Education and Disability) Scotland between 2011 and late 2013. Wider professional activities include reviewing for a number of education and education technology journals, membership of various conference committees, and External Examiner duties for the MEd at the University of Hull.

Twitter @smythkrs



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Original Research