SRHE 2017

You can catch Jessie next week at the Society for Research into Higher Education conference in Newport (6th -8th December). She will be presenting a paper entitled: ‘‘There’s a lot of us, if we wanted to make a difference we could’: Exploring undergraduate students’ understandings of themselves as ‘political actors’ in England and Ireland’. The paper explores early findings from the focus groups and policy documents in England and Ireland.


Whilst higher education (HE) students have historically been conceptualised as important ‘political actors’, arguably the extent to which they are able to have a voice in society is likely to differ in particular contexts and countries. In this paper we draw upon data collected from focus groups with HE students in England and Ireland alongside analysis of policy documents in each country to consider the extent to which students are constructed (and feel) like important political actors. Findings suggest that, contrary to perceptions that English and Irish students are largely similar, Irish students appeared more empowered than English students in relation to perceptions of themselves as influencing policy. Narratives present in the policy documents mirror these findings, with students in Ireland located as key political actors to a greater extent than in the English documents.

You can read the full outline paper here

Jessie will be presenting this paper as part of a symposium with colleagues:  Laura Bentley; Kirsty Finn; Adam Formby; Nicola Ingram; Vanda Papafilippou. The session is entitled: Political Identities and Generational Solidarities: Students and Graduates Negotiating Contemporary Crises and will take place on Friday 8th December at 9:00am. 

More information can be found in the conference programme 

Conference presentations this week

We’re having a busy time presenting our work at conferences this week. Anu and Jessie are presenting a paper on the construction of students in English newspapers and policy documents, as well as by students themselves, at the European Sociological Association in Athens. (The abstract of their paper can be found here.) Predrag is also presenting at the ESA – on the construction of students in university websites across Europe. (His abstract is here.)

Rachel has organised a two-part symposium (on spatial variations in the construction of higher education students) at the Royal Geographical Society’s annual conference – to be held on Friday. As part of this, she’ll be giving a paper on her analysis of English policy documents. More details about the symposium can be found here.

At the start of the week, Predrag was at the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers’ annual conference at Jyväskylä in Finland – again talking about his analysis of university websites across Europe.

Using creative and visual methods in comparative research: a one-day seminar

We’re delighted to announce that we have received funding from the International Journal of Social Research Methodology to run a one-day seminar on the use of creative and visual methods in comparative research during the 2017-18 academic year.

Increasing use is made of both creative and visual methods in social research. Nevertheless, to date there has been very little discussion of the extent to which such methods can be used in comparative research. Our seminar will explore some of the challenges of using these methods cross-nationally, examining the different cultural associations that may be brought to bear in different national contexts, and how these are accounted for in research design, data collection and analysis. It will also draw on the experiences of researchers working in this area, to explore how such challenges can most effectively be addressed.

We’ll be issuing a call for papers later in the year, and more details will appear on this website.


European Conference on Educational Research 2017

The Eurostudents team will be giving two papers at this year’s European Conference on Educational Research in August. Predrag will be presenting some emerging findings from our analysis of higher education institution website (further details can be found here), while Rachel will discuss the ways in which students are constructed in documents from a range of English policy actors (the abstract for her paper is here).

If you’ll be at ECER, do come along to our sessions to find out more!

New member of Advisory Group

We would like to extend a very warm welcome to Professor Marek Kwiek – Director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies and the UNESCO Chair in Institutional Research and Higher Education Policy at the University of Poznan, Poland – who has recently joined our Advisory Group.

Team members recently enjoyed a short trip to Poznan to meet some of Professor Kwiek’s colleagues and discuss some of the practicalities of our fieldwork in Poland. We are very grateful for their help and hospitality!

Symposium at RGS-IBG annual conference

We are delighted that our proposal for a symposium at the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference (29th August-1st September 2017) has been accepted. The title of the symposium is ‘Constructing the higher education student: understanding spatial variations’ and the abstract can be found here. We have organised it with Johanna Waters (University of Oxford) and it is sponsored by the Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group (of the Royal Geographical Society).

The symposium will be in two parts, and comprises the following papers:

Part 1

Constructing ‘spaces’ of student friendship: understanding the socio-spatial co-production of friendship in UK university halls of residences (Mark Holton, Plymouth University, UK)

Cohortness and more-than-neoliberal subjectivities: (mis)fitting into student life (Peter Kraftl, University of Birmingham, UK and Gavin Brown, University of Leicester, UK)

Black and minority ethnic experiences of a university campus in northern England (Graeme Mearns and Peter Hopkins, University of Newcastle, UK)

The role of the university – and therefore the student? (Richard Budd, Liverpool Hope University, UK)

The construction and spatial positioning of higher education students in English policy documents (Rachel Brooks, University of Surrey, UK)

Part 2

Constructing the international student in UK policy: the neocolonial subject (Sylvie Lomer, University of Manchester, UK)

A critical analysis of the Palestinian educational student im/mobility: motivation, challenges and identities (Nancy Amoudi, Leeds Beckett University, UK)

Academic mobility and precarity: study abroad as escape or emplacement among political actors (Rika Theo and Maggi Leung, Utrecht University, The Netherlands)

Implementing Study-to-work Policies for International Students in Switzerland: To what Extent are Federal Policies Re-interpreted at the Local Level? (Yvonne Riano, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland)

The meaning of discipline in constructing the implied student in higher education (Lene Møller Madsen, Lars Ulriksen and Henriette Tolstrup Holmegaard, University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

Do come along and join us!

Paper at BSA annual conference

Jessie and Rachel are looking forward to giving a paper based on some initial findings from the project at the BSA annual conference at the start of April. They will draw on their analysis of English policy documents (from government, staff and student unions and employers’ organisations) and nine focus groups with English undergraduates (see abstract below). This forms part of a symposium we have organised on ‘Constructing the higher education student and graduate’.

The choices and aspirations of higher education students in England

Within a climate of increased university tuition fees, students have arguably become increasingly constructed as ‘consumers’. For example, in England, the recent radical changes to HE funding are predicated upon the assumption that prospective students will: see a degree as a private investment (rather than a public good); be prepared to accumulate significant debt in order to acquire it; and actively ‘shop around’, comparing institutions and courses to secure the ‘best’ possible education (BIS, 2011). However the extent to which contemporary students understand their role within the institution and how this compares to policy constructions is yet to be fully explored. This paper draws upon early data collected as part of the five year European Research Council-funded ‘Eurostudents’ project to explore the extent to which there is congruence between these constructions in policy and amongst students themselves. We focus in particular on constructions and narratives of ‘choice’ and ‘aspiration’ of higher education students in England. Firstly, we analyse the ways in which decision-making processes are constructed in contemporary policy documents, including the white paper Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice (DBIS, 2016), which provides the basis for the Higher Education Bill currently passing through parliament. Secondly, we consider the extent to which these constructions are shared by students themselves, using data from focus groups in a diverse sample of higher education institutions. We explore whether students contest these constructions and/or offer their own alternatives. A key aspect of our analysis – across both the policy documents and focus groups – is the extent to which differences between students (and associated structural inequalities) are acknowledged and addressed.