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Media Centre for Educational Research, Australia: what it is and why we need it

By Associate Professor Anna Sullivan, Board Chair and Director, Media Centre for Educational Research Australia, University of South Australia


MCERA Media Centre for Educational Research Australia

This is based on an EduResearch Matters Blog.  

In his address at the National Press Club, Vice Chancellor Barney Glover passionately defended the importance of “expertise and evidence” in public debate and the central role that universities must play in this. He argued:

“Universities perform an essential role in society. We must stand up for evidence. Stand up for facts. Stand up for the truth. Because if we don’t, who will? …

Because in an era where extremists and polemicists seek to claim more and more of the public square, our need for unbiased, well-researched information has seldom been greater. …

In this, academics and journalists have common cause.”

Australian educational researchers are taking this need to communicate research very seriously. Their research is world class and is often hugely influential in academic education circles. However little news of all of this gets into mainstream media in Australia and there is often no public discussion around it.

We want to help change this.

Education is central to the health of 21st century Australia. The crucial role of our educational institutions is to develop children, young people and adults – spanning many ages, cultures, ethnicities and social backgrounds – for their current and future lives as citizens, workers, family, and community members. This role demands high quality policy-making, educational practice and importantly, public dialogue informed by engagement with high quality research.

We believe Australian educational researchers should engage more with the mainstream media to help improve the quality of public discussion on educational issues and to increase the impact of their work in Australian government policy making. The quality of their work deserves no less.

Yes it is a challenge for educational scholars who are comfortable with the traditional academic discourse to know how to contribute to the public domain. Some are certainly meeting this challenge by writing blogs and using other forms of social media. However, again, peers and colleagues rather than mainstream audiences, seem to be the main consumers.

Not only do we want to encourage and enable educational researchers to access a mainstream audience, we want to make it easier for journalists, media workers and policy makers to access independent research and expert comment.

Mainstream media reports on education issues often draw on comments from people who are accessible but lack engagement with contemporary research. Journalists regularly source opinion from lobbyists, advocates and moral entrepreneurs who skew debate with their own agendas.

In times of “post-truth” where “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” it becomes increasingly important for us to do something.

That is why we have set up the Media Centre for Educational Research in Australia and we need universities and businesses to support us.

What is the Media Centre for Educational Research in Australia (MCERA)?

This Media Centre is a conduit through which high quality educational research and researchers will be made more accessible. It aims to help improve policy development, educational practice and public understanding of key issues for education.

The Media Centre will provide journalists and other users with authoritative, independent and accessible education news, evidence, insights, background and comments across the many different fields and sectors of education.

Media Centre for Education Research Australia

What will the MCERA do for journalists, policy makers and media workers?

We aim to regularly provide: –

Education Alerts: The MCERA will provide regular email alerts of the most newsworthy events, new research, reports and related material being published in academic journals around the world.

Rapid Responses: When an educational related issue hits the news, the MCERA will rapidly locate key experts on the topic, get their reaction and issue those comments to journalists who can choose to use the quote directly in their stories, as a background or follow up with an interview.

Round-ups: When controversial research comes out in academic journals, the MCERA will provide an overview and independent expert comment to help journalists understand and cover the research. This will support accurate and informed coverage.

Media Briefings: The MCERA will arrange media briefings very quickly, when an issue arises in the news which warrants an injection of expert opinion.

Greater understanding: There are issues that appear in the mainstream media which are complex and often difficult for journalists to report on. The MCERA will provide journalists with up to date information on complex issues so they can separate out fact from opinion and go back to fundamental research when needed.

Media Enquiries Service: Create a database of education experts and work collaboratively with media units in institutions to assist journalists to find an appropriate expert.

Media support for education academics: The MCERA will help educate and support education academics to work more effectively with the media.

Why educational researchers should engage with the media

Three major imperatives educational researchers should consider.

  1. Political imperative
    There is a political imperative for educational researchers to engage with the media. Politicians are increasingly calling for “evidence” to inform policy and practice. Yet the definition of “evidence” remains very narrow. NAPLAN and PISA results not do provide enough information about the complexity of educational issues. Politicians often refer to media reports and media comment to support their policy initiatives.
  2. Policy imperative: Research Funding for Universities based on Engagement & Impact
    University research funding is going to be determined partially by the assessment of research impact and engagement. The Australian federal government’s policy commitment claims it will not only allocate funding to researchers who spend their time trying to get published in journals, but also “incentivising the smart and talented people working in our labs and universities to better focus on research that has wider economic and social benefits”. This will have major implications for the field of education, as it is notoriously difficult to provide evidence of this research translation.
  3. Public imperative
    In this post-truth world it is more important than ever for educational researchers to get their work out into the public domain. Teachers, parents, education communities, politicians and policy makers are all consumers of media reporting and are influenced by the public discussion. Australia needs educational researchers to make deliberate forays into the Australian public arena through mainstream media so that quality research is disseminated to help improve the quality of public discussion.

The Media Centre for Education Research Australia is open

The Media Centre for Educational Research in Australia (MCERA) is now open.

We invite universities and businesses to support MCERA and help it grow.

Any organisation or individual committed to an excellent education system in Australia should consider supporting MCERA. With this support MCERA can help improve the quality of media reporting about educational issues, by making credible, independent educational research accessible, which is vital to Australia.

Media Centre for Educational Research in Australia (MCERA)

Media Centre for Education Research Australia (MCERA) is a recently established not-for-profit company. The aim of the MCERA is to provide a conduit through which educational research and researchers can be made more accessible to the media. It will provide journalists and other users with authoritative, independent and accessible insights from education research. This will enable the public, employers and indeed, any entity with an interest in education, to better understand and engage in discussion of education-related issues.

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