My research interests lie in the sociology of education and include: higher education; transitions from school to university and from education to work; lifelong learning; international education; citizenship education and political participation; the impact of friends and peers on experiences of education; and education policy. My current work focuses on three main areas:
Internationalisation of education
With Johanna Waters (University of Oxford), I have conducted research (funded by the British Academy) on the experiences of UK students who move abroad for their degree, and we have published widely in this area. We have also written about geographically-mobile students from other parts of the world (Student Mobilities, Migration and the Internationalization of Higher Education, Palgrave, 2011) and guest-edited a special issue of Globalisation, Societies and Education on international and transnational education more generally. Our current work (funded by the British Educational Research Association) focuses on internationalism in the schools sector.
Sociology of higher education
I have recently started a large, cross-national project (funded by a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council) which explores the various ways in which higher education students are constructed both across and within different European nations (further details can be found here). In addition, I am interested in the extent to which higher education students can be considered to be political actors. I have published a number of articles on the role of students' union leaders in the UK (see below for details) and have recently edited Student Politics and Protest: International Perspectives (Routledge, 2016) which explores the political engagement of students globally.
I have strong interests in research methods. I co-authored Researching Young People’s Lives (Sage, 2009) with Sue Heath, Elizabeth Cleaver and Eleanor Ireland and co-edited Negotiating Ethical Challenges in Youth Research (Routledge, 2012) with Kitty te Riele. Kitty and I have also edited two special issues of journals on ethical issues in youth research and, with Meg Maguire, have recently completed Ethics in Education Research (Sage, 2014).
Further details about all my research can be found on my personal website here.
I am on research leave in the 2016-17 academic year. However, in the past my teaching has included:
Sociology of Education (Final year undergraduate module)
The Family and Social Reproduction (Final year undergraduate module)
I am a member of University Senate and University Council, and was Head of the Department of Sociology from 2012-16.
Executive editor, British Journal of Sociology of Education
Editorial board member, Journal of Youth Studies and Sociological Research Online
Member of the ESRC’s Peer Review College
This article seeks to further our knowledge of the university campus by focussing on one particular aspect of most UK campuses: the students’ union. UK students’ unions have rarely been the subject of scholarly attention, despite them now occupying an important place within the higher education landscape. Nevertheless, in this paper we draw on a UK-wide study of students’ unions to explore, firstly, the role played by the buildings of the students’ union and, secondly, the ways in which aspects of the university’s campus influence union activity. We pay particular attention to the expansion of the university campus, in many institutions, from a single site to multiple sites, both within the UK and overseas. We contend that a focus on the materiality of the students’ union and the level of union activity (or inactivity) across various campus spaces can illustrate the values, ideologies and power relations that dominate contemporary British higher education.
This article explores the economic relationships between individual students’ unions and their wider institutions, and the ways in which they articulate with a pervasive consumerist agenda across the higher education sector. We draw on data from a UK-wide study to argue that students’ unions have an ambivalent relationship with consumerist discourses: on the one hand, they often reject the premise that the higher education student is best conceptualised as a consumer; yet, on the other, they frequently accept aspects of consumerism as a means of, for example, trying to protect their independence and autonomy. We explore whether this particular form of positioning with respect to consumerism is best conceptualised as a form of resistance, or whether it has become extremely difficult for students’ unions to take up any other position in a system that is driven by market logic.
Analyses of UK higher education have provided compelling evidence of the way in which this sector has been affected by globalisation. There is now a large literature documenting the internationalisation of British universities, and the strategic and economic importance attached to attracting students from abroad. Within the schools sector, it has been argued that parents are increasingly concerned about the acquisition of valuable multicultural ‘global capital’. Nevertheless, we know little about whether ‘internationalism’ and/or the inculcation of ‘global capital’ is an explicit focus of UK schools. To start to redress this gap, this article draws on an analysis of websites, prospectuses and other publicly available documents to explore the extent to which internationalism is addressed within the public face that schools present to prospective pupils, and the nature of any such messages that are conveyed.
Despite profound changes to the higher education sector in the UK over recent years, which have tended to emphasise the role of prospective students as active choosers within a marketplace and encourage higher education institutions (HEIs) to place more emphasis on student engagement and representation as a means of improving the quality of the learning experience, the role of students' unions has remained largely unexplored. To start to redress this gap, this paper draws on a UK-wide survey of students' union officers and a series of focus groups with 86 students and higher education staff in 10 case study institutions. It outlines the ways in which students' unions are believed, by those closely involved with them, to have changed over recent years, focusing on: the shift towards a much greater emphasis on representation in the role and function of the students' union; the increasing importance of non-elected officers; and the emergence of more cooperative relationships between the students' union and senior institutional management. The article then discusses the implications of these findings for both our understanding of the political engagement of students, and theorising student involvement in the governance of HEIs
Historically, university cultures have been described as masculine in orientation, and the ‘ideal learner’ as male, white, middle class and unencumbered by domestic responsibility. Nevertheless, more recent work has highlighted certain spaces within the higher education sector which, it is argued, are more welcoming of female students and those with family commitments. While there may now be more institutional spaces open to student-parents and others with caring responsibilities, we know little about whether similar change has been wrought in the domestic sphere. Drawing on interviews with 68 student-parents, this article explores the various strategies UK students with dependent children used to find time and space, within the home, to pursue their studies. By comparing these to the strategies used by student-parents at Danish universities, the article considers the extent to which differences in gender norms and state policy with respect to both higher education and childcare affect day-to-day familial practices.
Since assuming power in May 2010, the UK's Coalition government has devoted considerable energy to formulating its policies with respect to young people. Evidence of this can be found in Positive for youth: a new approach to cross-government policy for young people aged 13–19, a policy text that outlines a wide range of measures to be implemented across nine government departments. Nevertheless, we know little about the understandings of young people that underpin Coalition policy or the political ideology that informs them. This article starts to redress this gap by exploring the ways in which young people have been constructed within education policy, specifically, and the extent to which such constructions constitute continuity or change with the understandings of previous governments. It argues that while some constructions of young people can be seen primarily as an extension of New Labour understandings, other constructions should be more accurately viewed as reconfigurations or, in some cases, as new understandings, initiated by the Coalition government.
The focus of this special edition of Youth Studies Australia is on questions, issues, challenges and (tentative) solutions in relation to ensuring that research with young people is conducted ethically. This introductory paper by the guest editors of this edition draws on ethical principles as outlined in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans and in the Fairbridge Code of Ethics for youth work. The authors explain how these principles can inform ethical youth research. In the process, they weave through comments to and from the remaining five papers, providing an authentic touchstone for the principles, as well as recommending the papers to you.
During its time in office, the UK’s Labour government gave a strong message that having caring responsibilities for a young child should not be seen as a barrier to engaging in education and training. Its widening participation strategy included a specific commitment to increasing the number of mature students in higher education (HE) – students who are more likely than their younger peers to have caring responsibilities for dependent children. Furthermore, considerable resources were devoted to encouraging teenage mothers to return to education and training soon after the birth of their child. Nevertheless, despite this policy focus, there have been relatively few studies of the experiences of ‘student-parents’ within HE. This paper draws on findings from a cross-national study (funded by the Nuffield Foundation) to explore the support currently offered by UK universities to students who have parental responsibilities for one or more children under the age of 16. It compares this support to that offered by Danish institutions, to assess whether differences in ‘welfare regime’, the structure of the HE system and pervasive assumptions about gender relations have any discernible impact on the way in which student-parents are both constructed within institutional cultures and assisted by institutional practices.
A common theme within the literature on higher education is the congested nature of the graduate labour market. Researchers have highlighted the lengths to which many students now go, in response to this congestion, to ‘distinguish themselves’ from other graduates: paying increased attention to university status; engaging in a range of extra-curricular activities; and pursuing postgraduate qualifications. Studies that have focused on the strategies of Asian students, specifically, have pointed to the important place of studying abroad as a further strategy in this pursuit of distinction. Given that there is now some evidence that the number of UK students enrolling on a degree programme overseas is increasing, this article explores the extent to which an overseas education can be seen as part of a broader strategy on the part of British students to seek distinction within the labour market and whether such an education does indeed offer tangible employment benefits.
This paper draws upon the findings of a recent project examining the motivations of UK students seeking higher education overseas. We argue that notions of fun, enjoyment and the pursuit of happiness abroad featured strongly in young people's stories, in contrast to an emphasis in recent academic and media accounts on overt strategising around educational decision making. Several students wanted to escape the UK, particularly the rigidity of British higher education; the perceived flexibility of a liberal arts education was extremely appealing. Others saw education overseas as a chance for personal reinvention. Moving the focus away from stressing the negative effects of academic-related pressures upon young people, in this paper, we argue that education can offer up new possibilities for fun and excitement, which for privileged individuals work alongside more strategic objectives around the accumulation of cultural capital. Cet article tire des conclusions d'un projet récent examinant les motivations des étudiants britanniques cherchant une formation supérieure à l'étranger. Nous soutenons que les idées du plaisir, amusement, et la poursuit du bonheur à l'étranger figuraient fortement dans les histoires des jeunes, au contraire à une importance accordée à des objectifs stratégiques liés aux décisions scolaires dans des comptes-rendus académiques et médiatiques. De nombreux étudiants voulaient échapper au RU, particulièrement la rigidité de l'éducation supérieure britannique; la souplesse perçue d'une éducation aux arts libéraux leur était très intéressante. Des autres ont cru l'éducation à l'étranger comme opportunité d'une réinvention de soi. En déplaçant l'accent d'un mise en relief des effets négatifs des pressions académiques sur les jeunes, nous soutenons dans cet article que l'éducation peut ouvrir de nouvelles possibilités au plaisir et à l'excitation, lesquels complémentent des objectifs plutôt stratégiques liés à l'accumulation du capital culturel. Éste articulo se examina las motivaciones de alumnos Británicos cuales buscan estudiar al extranjero. A diferencia del énfasis de algunos informes académicos y periodísticos sobre estrategias de tomar decisiones educativas, discutimos que los conceptos de diversión, placer y la búsqueda de la felicidad salieron con frecuencia en los cuentos de jóvenes. Varios alumnos querían escapar al Reino Unido, particularmente la rigidez de la enseñanza superior Británica, y la flexibilidad percibida de una edu
An article in The Guardian in 2006 claimed that: 'some bright students have found an answer to the fees nightmare: in Europe'. It went on to argue that the introduction of variable fees in the UK in 2006 had encouraged some UK students to consider moving overseas for their degrees and, in particular, to European countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands, which charged low fees or no fees at all. While there have been a small number of further press reports which have indicated that changes to the funding of higher education in the UK have encouraged more young people to consider seriously the possibility of studying abroad, we still know relatively little about the impact of financial factors on a decision to pursue a degree overseas. Although many researchers have explored the economic rewards which often accrue in the medium- or long-term as a result of overseas study, the academic literature has much less to say about both the impact of fee differentials on young people's decision-making, and the resources upon which they draw to fund a period of study overseas. In an attempt to redress this gap, this paper draws on data from a qualitative study of young UK citizens who had either completed a degree abroad, or were seriously considering moving overseas for this purpose, to explore the impact of short-term economic calculations on their decisions, and the sources of funding upon which they drew. In doing so, we argue, firstly, that there are important differences between mobile students: those who moved abroad for an undergraduate degree tended to be from more privileged backgrounds than those who moved for postgraduate studies and, as a result, considerably less sensitive to price differentials. Secondly, we suggest that, despite important differences in economic capital, both undergraduates and postgraduates were able to draw on significant cultural resources. This raises questions about the extent to which overseas opportunities can be opened up more widely, to include a greater cross-section of young people.
To date, scholarship on international students has generally focused on flows from non-western economies to the main English-speaking destination countries (such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia). In contrast, we draw on a qualitative study of 85 UK students who have either completed or are considering undertaking a degree programme overseas. We found that, in opposition to a common image of ‘international students’, UK students are not overtly motivated by ‘strategic’ concerns. Instead, they are seeking ‘excitement’ and ‘adventure’ from overseas study and often use the opportunity to delay the onset of a career and prolong a relatively carefree student lifestyle. Despite these ostensibly ‘disinterested’ objectives, however, UK students remain a highly privileged group and their experiences serve only to facilitate the reproduction of their privilege. The paper calls for a more critical analysis of the spatially uneven and socially exclusive nature of international higher education.
A recurrent theme in the literature on transnational mobility – and particularly that pertaining to the young and/or highly skilled – is the individualised nature of such movement, as people move to take advantage of opportunities in an increasingly interdependent world. Drawing on research with 85 young adults who had moved overseas for their higher education, or were seriously contemplating doing so, this paper subjects this claim to critical scrutiny. Indeed, it suggests that while internationally mobile students are clearly only a subset of the broader category of transnational migrants, they nevertheless demonstrate important ways in which mobility is often socially‐embedded, grounded within networks of both family and friends. It then points to the socially reproductive nature of such ties, and discusses their implications for the development of ‘mobility capital’.
While the literature on highly skilled international migration has grown substantially over recent years, the motivations and experiences of an important sub-group — the internationally mobile student — have remained under-researched. In an attempt to redress this gap, this article draws on in-depth interviews with 85 young adults, to explore the choices and motivations of UK students who choose to study abroad for the whole of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. While studies of east to west migration have typically emphasised the importance of an international higher education as a high-prestige, first choice option for those students who can afford it, we argue that, for UK students, choices are configured differently. For many of our respondents, overseas education offered primarily a ‘second chance’ at accessing elite education. There is an erratum for this article at: http://soc.sagepub.com/content/43/6/1085/suppl/DC2 http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0038038510373333
In the context of increasing academic interest in the internationalization of education and the international mobility of university students, this article draws on findings of a recent research project examining students from the UK as they seek higher education overseas before entering the labour market. The discussion is framed around four key themes (the importance of `second chances'; `global circuits of higher education'; `experiences of travel' and `labour market outcomes'), which address the motivations and experiences of 85 individuals who are seriously considering or have recently obtained an international degree.
This paper draws on life history interviews with young adults in the UK to consider Manuela du Bois-Reymond’s claims about the increasing prevalence of ‘trendsetter learners’ across Europe. Du Bois-Reymond has argued that certain groups of young adults are at the forefront of developing new forms of learning in response to what they perceive to be the failings of formal education namely the disjuncture between theory and practice within the education that they are offered and a lack of respect from many of the teachers with whom they come into contact. These young adults, she contends, are the ‘trendsetter learners’, creating youth cultural capital that helps them to realise selfdetermined ways of living and learning. In considering some of these claims, this paper draws on data from the ‘Young Graduates and Lifelong Learning’ project funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council. Between September 2005 and January 2006, 90 in-depth life history interviews were conducted with graduates from six higher education institutions. Our findings suggest that the degree of autonomy, freedom and creativity in young people’s patterns of learning that underpin du Bois-Reymond’s analysis is over-stated. We argue that, while du Bois-Reymond’s work makes an important contribution to conceptualising the ways in which young Europeans engage with learning, her dichotomy between ‘trendsetter’ learners and their ‘disengaged’ counterparts overlooks: complexities inherent in this relationship, the social status attached to particular forms of more traditional education and training, and the structuring nature of much workplace learning.
At a time when ‘personal development planning’ is being rolled out across the UK higher education sector, this paper explores young adults’ inclinations to plan for the future in relation to work, relationships and other aspects of life. Although Giddens has emphasised the prevalence of strategic life planning (or the ‘colonisation of the future’) in all strata of contemporary society, du Bois Reymond has argued that there are important differences by social class, with young people from more privileged backgrounds more likely than their peers to engage in such life-planning activities. This paper draws on interviews with 90 young adults (in their mid-20s) to question some of these assumptions about relationships between social location and propensity to plan for the future. It shows how, within this sample at least, there was a strong association between having had a privileged ‘learning career’ (such as attending a high-status university and identifying as an ‘academic high flier’) and a disinclination to form detailed plans for the future. In part, this appeared to be related to a strong sense of ontological security and the confidence to resist what Giddens terms ‘an increasingly dominant temporal outlook’.
This article draws upon results from an ESRC‐funded research project exploring young graduates’ attitudes to, and experiences of, further education or learning postgraduation. Respondents’ narratives indicated a strong emphasis upon job‐based learning, or training, over and above an oft‐stated desire to do further study ‘for its own sake’. Whilst the majority of graduates expressed contentment with their work‐leisure‐education balance, a significant number also marked up a desire for ‘leisure‐learning’ which was not ‘yet’ possible due to the demands of work and work‐based training. This prompts questions about how we, and the graduates, conceptualise the ‘use’ of having a degree in an era of higher education massification, exploring issues of ‘generic’ skills and personal growth. It also raises questions about the role and function of wider ‘lifelong learning’ practices for those in their twenties, as well as the status of the work‐leisure‐education balance of young professionals, and whether this encourages or discourages efforts to develop a ‘learning society’.
The UK’s National Adult Learning Survey has emphasised that graduates are more likely than other groups of people to engage in further learning and to be motivated by the intrinsic nature of the subject matter. However, beyond this we know relatively little about the learning of graduates as a specific group. In particular, we know very little about how experiences of higher education affect attitudes towards learning in the years after graduation. To start to redress this gap, this paper draws on in‐depth interviews with 90 graduates from six different UK higher education institutions, five years after they completed their first degree. It argues that, in the case of many of these young adults, the influence of higher education on further learning was exerted at three levels in relation to: the process of learning; the construction of learner identities; and understandings of the relationship between learning and the wider world.
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