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Colin McCaig

Professor Colin McCaig

Professor of Higher Education Policy


Dr Colin McCaig is a Professor of Higher Education Policy in the Sheffield Institute of Education, with 20 years' experience in education policy research. Colin's research interests are in the area of inequalities of access to higher education which he approaches through critical analyses of policies concerning the marketisation of higher education. A policy analyst by background, Colin's PhD thesis, Preparing for Government: Education policymaking in the Labour Party 1994-1999 (Department of Politics, University of Sheffield) was successfully defended in 2000. Colin also holds a Masters in Political Economy from the Department of Politics, University of Sheffield.

He has published widely in areas of education policy and has recently published a co-edited book on the impact of marketisation on equality of access to HE Equality and Differentiation in Marketised Higher Education: A New Level Playing Field? for Palgrave (June 2018); and a single-authored book on the Higher Education and Research Act for Emerald Publishing entitled: The marketisation of English Higher Education: a policy analysis of risk-based system (September 2018). 

  • About

    Colin is a Professor of Higher Education Policy and part of the Centre's Leadership Group; he leads on Post-16, FE and HE policy research within the Centre (with responsibility for encouraging academic publishing among centre members), and represents CDARE on various bodies including the Sheffield Institute for Policy Studies (as Co-Director); the Research Leadership Group (D&S) and Professors and Readers Group.

    He was entered in the 2014 REF and his work is central to a REF 2021 Impact Case Study on widening participation to HE. He is currently Director of the SIoE's team on the Formative Evaluation of National Collaborative Outreach Programme, a longitudinal study over four years (2017-21) and is currently engaged in projects for the Scottish Funding Council (developing an Evaluation Toolkit), HEFCE (an evaluation of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme) and for the University and College Union (on perceptions of the Teaching Excellence Framework). 
    He was Principal Investigator on the highly influential Office for Fair Access (OFAA) project tasked with designing statistical and qualitative tools to measure the Effectiveness of Institutional financial support on student success, reporting in December 2016. The Office for Students (OfS) requires all HE Providers (HEPs) to use these instruments when reporting on the efficacy of their support for students from poorer backgrounds. 

    Along with Professor Jacqueline Stevenson, Colin led the Evaluation of the National Networks Collaborative Outreach project (2015-17) for HEFCE. He co-directed research into the Impact of number controls, choice and competition: An analysis of the student profile and the student learning environment in the new higher education landscape (funded by an open call grant from the Higher Education Academy) with Professor Carol Taylor. 

    He has a long-standing interest in educational choice making among teenagers, working on a EEF funded evaluation of the ThinkForward Programme in London (a coaching intervention designed to deter young people from becoming NEET) and has carried out various evaluations of Aimhigher intervention activities designed to raise educational aspirations among secondary school pupils. He is Director of Studies for three current PhDs and supervises two EdD students. Colin is and Editor of the academic journal Higher Education Review, and co-convener of the High Education Special Interest Group within the British Educational Research Association (BERA).

  • Teaching

    Social Sciences and Humanities



    Ed.D policy module

    PG Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education 'The 'normal' student' module

  • Research

    Formative Evaluation of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) 2017-21

    Scottish Funding Council Toolkit for Fair Access (2018-20, 80,000 with CFE Research)

    Office for Fair Access Understanding the evaluation of outreach interventions to widen access to higher education to under 16 year olds in England from disadvantaged backgrounds (2017-18 £50,000)

    HEFCE Evaluation of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (2017, £40,000)

    Office for Fair Access (OFFA) Understanding the impact of institutional financial support on student success (2015-16 OFFA £53,000)

    HEFCE evaluation of the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (with IPSE, London Metropolitan University (2015-16 HEFCE £108,000.))

    HEA research grant (with Carol Taylor): "Evaluating the impact of number controls, choice of competitions: An analysis of the student profile and the student learning environment in the new higher education landscape". 2013 (HEA, £17,694)

    Research into the need for and capacity to deliver STEM related Apprenticeship Provision in England, 2013 (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, £99, 250)

    Evaluation of the ThinkForward Pilot, 2013-17 (Education Endowment Foundation, £46,000).

    Within Sheffield Hallam University

    Research into the BME Attainment Gap at SHU (2017-2018) for the Shaping Futures Board


    The Evaluation of National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCOs) for HEFCE, working with the Institute for Policy Studies in Education, London Metropolitan University (2015-2017)

    The Impact of the Schwartz Report 'Fair admissions to higher education' four years on, 2008 (for DIUS) with the Institute for Education Policy Research, Staffordshire University.

    Evaluation of ThinkForward Pilot, 2013-2015 (for Education Endowment Foundation) with the Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Essex

    Research into the need for and capacity to deliver technical apprentices, 2013, (for BIS) with the Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick

  • Publications

  • Other activities

    Editor of the Higher Education Review
    Co-Convener of the BERA Higher Education Special Interest Group
    Co-Director of the Sheffield Institute for Policy Studies
    Member of The Edge Foundation Research Review Group
    Editorial Board member: Higher Education Studies

  • Postgraduate supervision

    Nick Marshall, Catherine Rowlands, Ruth Squire, Catherine O'Connor, Richard Bell

  • Media

    Colin McCaig's main interests are in inequalities of access to higher education, the impact of higher tuition fees and of student number controls on university access and admissions policies.

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