Publications from my Nottingham Research Fellowship

Vaccines and treatments produced during the global coronavirus crisis demonstrated the importance of university research and teaching. There was widespread celebration of university–industry partnerships and collaborations across disciplines and geographical locations. However, simultaneously, higher education institutions in England faced serious financial and organisational challenges throughout the pandemic, which has implications for the relationship between teaching and research, for who undertakes each, and for the students’ experience of teaching and learning (some of whom become the next generation of researchers). The rapid movement to online learning created further tensions within an already demoralised, precarious and divided workforce. This paper considers the potential social good of universities’ two core missions, research and teaching in a post-pandemic world, exploring the inherently political nature of the link, as well as its encoded inequalities and dysfunctions. Drawing on documentary and secondary data analysis, this paper explores, first, the long-standing sectoral and institutional discrepancies through analysing trends in student recruitment rates and research funding. Second, it investigates how student and staff experiences of the link between research and teaching were changing in the pandemic, pointing to substantive equity issues in how the pandemic response affected access to research opportunities and to research-led teaching. The paper argues that a more equitable and inclusive university that appreciates the research-teaching nexus and is flexible and collaborative in nature is key to contribute to tackling global and local challenges, such as environmental destruction, climate change, conflict and socio-economic inequities. 

This paper examines the relationship between the two main missions of universities, research and teaching, in Hungarian sociology departments. It compares how university students and academics see the broader context and structural problems of knowledge production, as well as the research process in their own practice. The research underlying the article is based on mixed-methods, drawing on student record data as well as interviews with academics, and sociology BA, MA and PhD students and experts. 

Publications from the 'Sheffield Student 2013' project

The 'Sheffield Student 2013' longitudinal tracking project produced tremendous amounts of data, thanks to the continued interest of the students I interviewed as well as the former Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit and the University of Sheffield being committed to a total of four years of research into student experiences.  

As for the outputs: see a pilot study working paper, a collaborative paper from the first year results, the first and second year financial reports. Download the Five years of WPREU book here. Download a copy of the final report here. All academic papers produced from this project are listed below. 

Project close report
WPREU Five year book

journal papers from the 'Sheffield Student 2013' project

Drawing on a longitudinal research project that followed the under- graduate entrants of 2013 into, and through their university time, this paper provides a novel conceptualisation of transformative transitions via looking at the four dimensions of non-linearity, multiplicity, diversity and structure. To do so, it builds on Archer’s (2000, 2003, 2012) relational realist approach and work on reflexivity to show how students select and merge a diverse set of personal concerns to arrive at a modus vivendi. This capstone paper closes a series of publications from a four-year tracking study that collected interview data from a diverse group of 40 students on a yearly basis (n1=40, n2=40, n3=38, n4=33) at an English northern red brick university. The paper explores the changing focus of student experiences, from the social aspects of acclimatisation, to learning to be academic, and finally, becoming a graduate. The results presented here also point to the structural enablements and constraints that higher education institutions and policymakers should mitigate in responding to the inequalities of access and experience. In the context of a large-scale societal crisis, such as the ongoing pandemic, it is key that we understand how university can remain a transformative experience for all students.

(open access version)

There is currently much interest in the interconnections between research and teaching in Higher Education. This relationship is usually termed ‘the research/teaching nexus’. However, within this wide body of literature there has been little attempt to explore the emergent experiences of students across the entire length of their degree programme. Drawing on the results of a three-year qualitative study that followed 40 students through their whole student lifecycle, this paper explores how undergraduates in an English university experienced the research/teaching nexus, how those experiences developed over time, and how these changes can be variously enabled or constrained. Situating the findings in the context of the ‘post-truth’ society and the uncertainty of employment futures, the paper highlights how the nexus can also often serve to exclude students as much as it includes. 

(open access version)

In 2012, the UK government introduced the National Scholarship Programme – a scheme that aimed to ensure that young people from families with low household incomes would not be discouraged from entry into higher education by increases in tuition fees. Drawing on longitudinal evidence in the form of 80 semi-structured interviews conducted in an English Red Brick University over a 3-year period, this article uses Jenkins’ work on social identification to examine the processes by which these post-2012 undergraduates used and experienced the financial support made available to them as part of the Programme. The article explores how the initially categorical label associated with being a student in receipt of financial assistance was variously understood and experienced as they moved through their degree. Not only did the additional finance allow students to avoid excessive part-time work, recipients also felt increasingly valued by the institution when they began to recognise how their financial circumstances differed from their peers, and that the university had made this provision for them. It remains to be seen whether these, more intangible, benefits of non-repayable financial support will transfer to the system of ‘enhanced’ loans that have subsequently replaced maintenance grants and the National Scholarship Programme. 

(open access version)

There is a continuing trend within higher education policy to frame undergraduate study as ‘human capital investment’—a financial transaction whereby the employment returns of a degree are monetary. However, this distinctly neoliberal imaginary ignores well-established information asymmetries in choice, non-monetary drivers for education, as well as persistent inequalities in access, participation, and outcome. Non-linearity and disadvantage are a central feature of both career trajectory and graduate employment. This paper draws on the findings of a longitudinal, qualitative project that followed 40 undergraduate, home students over a period of four years in an English Red Brick University. Exploring the nature of career development over the whole student lifecycle and into employment, the paper examines how career strategies are experienced by lower-income students and their higher-income counterparts. It provides a typology of career planning and, in comparing the experiences of lower- and higher-income students, demonstrates some of the processes through which financial capacity and socio-economic background can impact on career planning and graduate outcomes. 

There has been an increasing emphasis placed on the skills and attributes that university students develop whilst studying for their degree. These ‘narratives of employability’ often construct extracurricular activity (ECA) as an essential part of gaining post-graduation employment. However, these future-oriented drivers of engagement often neglect the role ECAs have within contemporary student life-worlds, particularly with respect to lower-income students. Drawing on a 3-year longitudinal study that tracked a cohort of 40 undergraduates throughout their student life cycle, this paper examines how students in a northern English red brick university understood the purposes of ECA, and how they chose to engage with it. The results suggest ECAs appear to be somewhat stratified in terms of timeliness of 20 engagement and motivation to participate. By extension, the paper argues that those recent attempts to measure and use ECA to narrate future ‘global’ employability are likely to reproduce well-established inequalities. As such, any further pressure to engage with ECAs solely in terms of employability could 25 result in the further marginalisation of lower-income students.

(open access version)

This paper explores how the various pressures of finance, employability, and part-time work are experienced by undergraduates studying in an English Red Brick University. Drawing on the results of a three-year qualitative study that followed 40 students throughout their three years of studies (n₁=40, n₂=40, n₃=38, n total =118), the paper details three dimensions by which students understood their part-time employment experiences: the characteristics of employment types; motivations for employment; and, the challenges of shaping their employment experiences around their studies. It is argued that the current shortfalls in the student budget and the pressures of the employability agenda may actually serve to further disadvantage the lower income groups in the form a ‘double deficit’. Not only are discrepancies between income and expenditure likely to mean that additional monies are necessary to study for a degree, the resulting need for part-time employment is also likely to constrain both degree outcome and capacity to enhance skills necessary for ‘employability’.

(open access version)

Drawing on a thematic analysis of longitudinal qualitative data (ntotal = 118), this article takes a “whole student lifecycle” approach to examine how lower and higher income students at an English northern red brick university variously attempted to manage their individual budgets. It explores how students reconcile their income—in the form of loans, grants, and bursaries—with the cost of living. Four arenas of interest are described: planning, budgeting, and managing “the student loan”; disruptions to financial planning; the role of familial support; and strategies of augmenting the budget. In detailing the micro‐level constraints on the individual budgets of lower and higher income undergraduates, the article highlights the importance of non‐repayable grants and bursaries in helping to sustain meaningful participation in higher tariff, more selective, higher education institutions. It also supports an emerging body of literature that suggests that the continuing amendments to the system of funding higher education in England are unlikely to address inequality of access, participation, and outcome. 

(open access version)

This article critically examines how undergraduate students in a red brick university in the North of England have experienced the threefold rise in tuition fees since 2012, with particular attention on how they have begun to understand and negotiate the process of indebtedness. Drawing on a corpus of 118 interviews conducted with a group of 40 undergraduates across their whole student lifecycle, analysis is directed toward examining how students have variously sought to respond to the policy, reconcile the debt with their decision to study at university and, begin to negotiate a life of everyday indebtedness. The findings are located in the context of wider neoliberal policy trends that have continued to emphasise ‘cost-sharing’ as a mechanism for increased investment within the higher education sector generally, and individual fiscal responsibility specifically. Given the lack of any other viable career pathways for both lower and higher income students, they had to accept indebtedness as inevitable and take what comfort they could from the discourses of ‘foregone gain’ that they had been presented with. Evidently, and as the students in our sample well recognised, whether those discourses actually reflect the future remains to be seen. There is also no evidence within our data that students anticipated the subsequent changes to the repayment terms and conditions – a fact that is likely to compound feelings of economic powerlessness and constrain their capacity for financial agency yet further. 

(open access version)

English higher education institutions are required to spend a proportion of their additional fee income on activities to widen participation, and this is overseen by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). In the past decade universities have invested the largest proportion of their widening participation spending in financial support for students. However, recent OFFA guidance encourages institutions to rebalance their spending away from financial support towards other outreach and success measures. Some universities have responded by pointing out the contribution of financial support to improving the student experience, contributing to students' success in higher education and beyond. Using two sets of institution-specific data, this paper looks at the relationship between student financial support, part-time work and the academic components of the student experience at the University of Sheffield, a 'northern redbrick university'. After pointing to the financial shortfall implied in the student support system, the paper describes how the need to take term-time jobs to pay basic living expenses is unevenly distributed across the student cohort, as is the impact of such work itself. While for many students a part-time job provides opportunities to gain relevant work experience or to save additional funds to broaden their future experience, for others who need to work to cover living costs, it can also have significant implications for their ability to engage in the value-added, self-directed elements of their studies and therefore, potentially, on their final outcomes. 

List of all Publications 

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Here is an up-to-date list of my publications. Please feel free to get in touch if you'd like to have a copy of the papers or the reports. 

Journal Papers

Book Chapters

Working Papers / Research reports