PhD studentship

Media Representations of Higher Education Students: a cross-national comparison

Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Surrey

The Department of Sociology invites applications for a PhD studentship on ‘Media Representations of Higher Education Students’. This forms part of a wider project (called ‘EuroStudents’) funded by the European Research Council, which will explore the different ways in which higher education students are constructed across six European nations.

The PhD studentship comprises two strands of work. Firstly, representations of students within newspapers in the six countries will be analysed. A content analysis will be conducted for two national newspapers from each of the countries involved in the research (Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain). A broadly representative sub-sample of texts will then be chosen for further, detailed discursive analysis. In the second strand, two popular film or drama-based television programmes that feature students will be selected from each country and analysed using a discursive approach. Comparisons will be made within each country, across all six countries, and then in relation to the results of the analysis of news media.

The successful candidate will be part of the EuroStudents research team and also the vibrant research community within the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey. Further information about the research project can be found here.


The 3-year studentship is funded by the European Research Council. It covers Home/EU tuition fees and a maintenance grant of £14,057 per annum.

Entry requirements


Masters level degree in Sociology, Education, Media, Human Geography or a related subject

Experience of media analysis

Excellent oral and written communication skills


Knowledge of issues related to higher education

Knowledge of one of more languages covered by the project, in addition to English (i.e. Danish, German, Polish, Spanish)

Familiarity with one or more of the countries outside the UK involved in the research (i.e. Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Spain)


To apply, please send:

1. A covering letter highlighting: (i) why you are interested in this particular research project; (ii) why you are interested in doing a PhD; (iii) which specific skills and aptitudes you feel you would bring to the project.

2. A copy of your current CV including the names of two referees and the marks you have received for your master’s modules to date. (Please feel free to include a transcript of your marks, alongside your CV, if this is easier.)

3. A sample of your academic writing (e.g. an essay or dissertation).

These should be sent by email to Rachel Brooks: Please also contact Rachel for any queries you may have associated with this studentship.

Closing date: 5pm, 27th May 2016

Interview date: to be confirmed

Start date: 26th September 2016


Launch seminar



Wednesday, 21st September 2016, University of Surrey

Keynote speakers: Anna Mountford-Zimdars (King’s College London) and Michael Tomlinson (University of Southampton)

There is some evidence that, at least within countries with neo-liberal welfare regimes, students are constructed largely as consumers with contemporary policy texts. However, there is less consensus about whether or not students have taken up such an identity. Some scholars have assumed that this construction of student-as-consumer is having a profound effect on how students themselves approach HE. Indeed, Molesworth et al. (2009) contend that the inculcation of a consumer identity has brought about a more passive approach to learning, in which students place much more emphasis on their rights rather than their responsibilities, and on having a degree rather than being a learner. Others have, however, argued that, despite the increasing recourse to the language of economics in policy documents (in which students are positioned as consumers and universities as providers), in practice, the behaviour of students does not conform to this model (Dodds, 2011; Williams, 2013). Moreover, research has suggested that such identities may be differentiated by socio-economic characteristics, with only more affluent groups having the capacity to ‘shop around’, unencumbered by financial concerns or the ‘identity risks’ of moving away from home.

This one-day seminar will provide an opportunity to explore our current understandings of the contemporary higher education student, and the extent to which they are shaped by, for example, policymakers, the media, higher education staff and students themselves. Papers may focus on one or more of the following: the impact of tuition fees on understandings of what it means to be a student; students as consumers; media representations of students; students as political actors; policymakers’ understandings of students; and cross-national comparisons. However, other topics, relevant to the seminar theme, are also welcome.

Abstract Submission: Please send abstracts of up to 250 words by 13th May 2016 to Rachel Brooks at the University of Surrey: (There will be a small charge of £30 for attending the seminar.) You can book a place here.

Seminar Organisers: The seminar is organised by Rachel Brooks and colleagues in the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey. It will help to launch the five-year ‘EuroStudents’ research project based at Surrey, which investigates understandings of the higher education student across six different European countries.

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Keynote speakers for launch seminar

The seminar to launch the EuroStudents project will take place on Wednesday, 21st September at the University of Surrey. We will be posting details about this soon, along with a call for papers.

We are very pleased to have two great keynote speakers for the event: Anna Mountford-Zimdars, from King’s College London and Michael Tomlinson, from the University of Southampton.

Both have undertaken research in areas very relevant to the EuroStudents project. Anna has recently published a book on Meritocracy and the University, which provides a comparative analysis of higher education admissions in the US and UK, while Michael’s research has included a study of the impact of recent policy changes on student attitudes to learning in higher education.