Call for papers

Students in changing higher education landscapes

One-day conference, University of Surrey, 14th June 2019

Keynote by Rille Raaper, Durham University: Troubling the notion of student as consumer: Fabrications, contradictions and political engagement

Across many countries of the world, higher education landscapes have changed significantly over recent years. Market mechanisms have become more prominent, and politicians have become increasingly concerned about graduates’ transitions into the labour market. In some nations, although not all, students are now expected to make a substantial contribution to the cost of their higher education and, across mainland Europe, the Bologna Process has reshaped the nature of students’ experiences considerably. This one-day conference seeks to explore understandings of students in this shifting context.

We welcome papers – focussing on the UK, mainland Europe or further afield – that cover any aspect of the topic, including (but not restricted to) the following: representations of students in policy or media; the nature of students’ lives; staff understandings of students; staff-student relationships; students as consumers; students as political actors; student mobilities; comparative studies of students; and the impact on students’ experiences of their social characteristics, discipline of study and/or institution.

We hope to include papers from all career stages and a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. It is intended that the papers will provide the basis for a proposal for a journal special issue.

Abstract Submission: Please send abstracts of up to 250 words by 15th April 2019 to Rachel Brooks at the University of Surrey: There will be a £50 registration fee for attending the conference (to include lunch).

Reimagining the higher education student – call for chapter-abstracts

Higher education is of considerable importance to policymakers across the world, frequently viewed as a key mechanism for achieving a range of economic, social and political goals. Nevertheless, despite the importance attributed to higher education within policy, we have no clear understanding of the extent to which conceptualisations of ‘the student’ are shared across and within nation-states.

A central aim of the proposed edited collection is thus to bring together a range of scholars from different parts of the world and various disciplinary backgrounds (e.g. education, sociology, geography, media, political science, social policy) to investigate the ways in which contemporary higher education students are understood. The chapters will bring empirical evidence to bear on a range of dominant constructions of the student – for example, as consumers, significant political actors, future workers, dependent adults-in-the-making, as well as learners – and explore the extent to which these are patterned by nation-state, higher education institution, and the social characteristics of students themselves. Of particular interest is the ways in which these conceptualisations sometimes ‘jostle uncomfortably’ in relation to each other, with different stakeholders portraying students in somewhat contradictory or divergent terms

A proposal will be submitted to the Routledge/SRHE Research into Higher Education Series (see in spring 2019.

If you would like to have your work considered for inclusion in this edited collection, please send an abstract (of approximately 500 words) and a brief biographical statement to Rachel Brooks at the University of Surrey, UK ( and Sarah O’Shea at the University of Wollongong, Australia ( by 28 February 2019. Chapters could focus on one or more of the following areas:

  • Dominant understandings of higher education students within policy (either national or international policy) and the ways in which this reflects (or not) the relevant context
  • Perceptions of ‘being a university student’ as articulated by one or more of the following groups: students, higher education staff, policymakers
  • Media and /or marketing representations of students
  • Differences in understandings of students by particular social characteristics e.g. social class, ethnicity, gender, nationality
  • How understandings of students differ across national contexts and/or within particular national contexts
  • Ways in which academic scholarship has theorised students and the critical implications of this within the sector
  • Differences by academic discipline in the conceptualisation of students

New article: policy influencers’ narratives of difference

A new article from the project has just been published in Studies in Higher Education. In it, we explore how key policy actors conceptualise diversity with respect to the student population, and the extent to which such understandings are shared across national borders. Drawing on in-depth interviews with a range of ‘policy influencers’ in six European countries and an analysis of relevant policy documents, we suggest that dimensions of difference are not always valued equally – with those relating to ‘age’, for example, foregrounded in ways that differences by social class are not. We explore the reasons for this variation and consider the extent to which diversity narratives are underpinned by a social justice agenda. You can read the full article here.

SRHE annual conference 2018

We are looking forward to giving three papers from our project at the 2018 annual conference of the Society for Research into Higher Education, to be held in Newport, Wales, from 4-7 December. Anu and Jessie will be giving a paper on ‘Students: Being and Becoming Students of Higher Education’ (9am session on 7 December), while Rachel will be talking about ‘The Construction of Higher Education Students within National Policy’ (on 6 December at 11.30am). In addition, Rachel will be giving the keynote address at the Newer Researchers’ Conference on 4 December, entitled ‘Higher Education Mobilities: a cross-national European comparison’. Do come along and join us for one or more of our sessions!

Forum for International Education and Pedagogical Issues

We will be helping to launch the Forum for International Education and Pedagogical Issues in the School of Education at the University of Birmingham on 8 November. Rachel will be giving a talk entitled ‘Students as “objects of criticism”? Variations in the construction of higher education students across six European countries’, drawing on our analysis of policy documents across Europe. You can find out more about the event here.

New article: Students and university websites

A new article from the project has just been published in Higher Education. It is by Predrag Lažetić, and is called ‘Students and university websites—consumers of corporate brands or novices in the academic community?’.  It compares the positioning of students and corporate branding features on higher education institution websites within the higher education systems of Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Spain and Poland, and argues that  there is considerable diversity in the portrayal of student applicants, rather than a common construction as only consumers. You can read the full article here.

New article: constructions of students in English policy documents

An article from the project, entitled ‘The construction of higher education students in English policy documents’ has been published (open access) in the latest issue of the British Journal of Sociology of Education. The article argues that, contrary to assumptions made in much of the academic literature, students are not conceptualised as ‘empowered consumers’; instead their vulnerability is emphasised in documents by both government and unions. It also identifies other dominant discourses, such as students as ‘future workers’ and ‘hard-workers’, which articulate with extant debates about both the repositioning of higher education as an economic good and the use of the ‘hard-working’ trope across other areas of social policy. You can read the full article here.

Two research fellow posts available

We are currently looking for two new research fellows to join the project, to start as soon as possible (details below). Please do contact Rachel ( if you have any informal queries about the roles.

Salary: £32,236 to £36,261

The Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey invites applications for two post-doctoral research fellows to join the ‘Eurostudents’ project, funded by the European Research Council.  The project began in August 2016, and explores the different ways in which higher education students are constructed across and within six European nations.

The first research fellow post will initially be responsible for the strand of work that focuses on institutional perspectives, i.e. the ways in which the higher education student is constructed through official university texts and staff understandings. S/he will be required to: conduct a small number of remaining interviews with members of university staff; analyse all the staff interviews; and then contribute to the analysis of data and dissemination of findings from the project as a whole.

The second post will initially be responsible for the strand of work that focuses on student perspectives. S/he will be required to: analyse transcripts of focus groups with undergraduate students (in the six European countries); and then contribute to the analysis of data and dissemination of findings from the project as a whole.

The successful candidates will have a doctorate in a relevant topic area, and experience of analysing qualitative data and writing for publication. They will also have the ability to work well independently and as part of a team and, ideally, knowledge of one or more higher education systems in the countries covered by the project (Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain).

Closing date: 14th October 2018

Interviews: 6th and 7th November 2018

Further details and the online application form for the first post can be found here and for the second post here. Please do apply for both, if you are interested in both.

Creative and visual methods in comparative research

In June, we ran a successful seminar at the University of Surrey exploring the ways in which creative and visual methods can be used to research across difference. We are pleased to announce that various materials from the seminar (including films, audio recordings and slides) are now available here for all to watch and/or listen.