Professor Karen Smith

Professor of Higher Education and Professional Learning, BA, PgCert L&T, MA, PhD, PFHEA


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Personal profile


I am Reader in Higher Education. My research is centred around how higher education policies and practices impact on those who work and study within the university system. My work has focused specifically on transnational educators, international students, educational developers and innovative practitioners and has demonstrated how their experience of university is shaped by its policies, procedures and initiatives.

My work draws on a range of research methods (e.g. in-depth interviewing, activity-based focus groups, questionnaires) but I am particularly interested in drawing on relatively underused methods within higher education research (i.e. the biographical narrative interpretive method (BNIM) and critical discourse analysis (CDA)) and exploring their potential for this field.

I am programme director for the Professional Doctorate in Education. The EdD is a research-based programme, which will enable you to develop a range of research skills and strategies to support practice-based research. The research programme is supported by a series of Study Days that take place at UH;  individual supervision from a supervisory team; and a range of opportunities offered by UH’s Researcher Development Programme. To find out more about the programme, please see:

I lead collaborative research and development in the School of Education. My role focusses on supporting collaborative research with external partners (local authorities, public services, and other organisations). The research projects are designed to impact directly on policy and practice. My work involves drawing on research approaches and innovative research methods and methodologies which are appropriate for sensitive subjects and vulnerable groups. Research is designed collaboratively between the University and the sponsor and seeks to provide evidence that organisations can use, contribute to the personal development of the people involved, and be responsive to complex and changing contexts.



Research interests

  • Transnational Higher Education (TNHE) and its impact on personal and professional development; flying faculty teachers' expectations, experiences and motivations for TNHE; the design and delivery of courses for TNHE.
  • The interplay of higher education policy and practice; the representation of higher education policy in higher education research; interpretations of higher education policy (specifically: the QAA's Quality Code; SCQF; and institutional learning and teaching strategies); the development of higher education policy.
  • The experiences of undergraduate dissertation supervisors and students; support for dissertation students.
  • Transitions into and through university; new arrival, induction and first year experiences; experiences of postgraduate taught and international students.
  • The impact of collaborative practitioner research on professional learning and professional development. 
  • Research student supervision, including: transnational education and international student experiences.

Doctoral Supervision


  • Dr Graham Glanville (2020) 'Cultivating Computer Programming Self-Efficacy Through Supportive Social and Self-Regulated Learning Strategies for First Year Students in Higher Education' (EdD, University of Hertfordshire):
  • Dr Rajvinder Dass (2019): 'Perceptions of UK franchised TNE in Vietnam, and its impact on curriculum innovation' (EdD, University of Greenwich).
  • Dr Julian Spencer-Wood (2019): 'A study of the tools used to overcome communication and other difficulties encountered by direct entry Chinese undergraduate accounting and finance students entering UK higher education directly from the People's Republic of China' (EdD, University of Greenwich).
  • Dr Stephane Farenga (2019): 'A participatory study into the student experience of first year under-represented students in a UK university' (EdD, University of Hertfordshire):  [Principal Supervisor].
  • Dr Jennifer Smith (2018): 'Developing Pupil Understanding of School-Subject Knowledge: an Exploratory Study of the Role of Discourse in Whole-Class Teacher-Pupil Interaction During English Literature Lessons' (PhD, University of Hertfordshire): [Principal Supervisor]

Current doctoral supervision in the areas of:  the use of talk in classrooms; transition; student self-efficacy; dissertation writing; academic misconduct; belonging; transnational education and internationalisation. 

Teaching specialisms

  • Professional Doctorate in Education sessions on: methods and methodology; literature reviews; ethics; researching in two languages; academic writing; realitites of research. 
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (or equivalent) - courses on: learning, teaching and assessing; curriculum design and evaluation; continuing professional development in higher education.
  • Qualitative research methods, including: in-depth interviewing; discourse analysis; ethnography; narrative interviewing; action research
  • Educational development workshops on: research-teaching linkages; dissertation supervision; induction and transition; small group teaching; pedagogic research.
  • National researcher development workshops (for the SRHE) on getting published in academic journals.

Commercial and public engagement

  • Executive Editor of Teaching in Higher Education.
  • Former trustee of the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) and member of Publications committee. Current co-convenor of the SRHE Higher Education Policy Network.
  • Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (PFHEA) and HEA Associate.
  • Short-listed for the Vice Chancellor's Award for Business Facing Impact (2017) and Tutor of the Year (2020).
  • Reviewer for Studies in Higher Education and International Journal for Academic Development.
  • Previous external examiner for the University of Chester's MA in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (2013-2017), and the Keele University's MA Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (2009-2013).


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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