Professor Rachel Brooks

Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean, Research and Innovation (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences)
39B AD 03
Mondays, 10.30am-1pm (and at other times by appointment)
Personal Assistant: Jodie Weller


Areas of specialism

sociology of education (particularly higher education); international student mobility; comparative education; youth studies; sociology of the family

My qualifications

BA in Modern History
University of Oxford
MA in Educational Studies (by research)
University of York
PhD in Sociology
University of Southampton

Affiliations and memberships

Editorial team
British Journal of Sociology of Education
Chair of executive editors
ESRC Council
Member of ESRC Council
Society for Research into Higher Education
Member of Governing Council
Journal of Youth Studies
Editorial board member
British Journal of Educational Studies
Editorial board member
ESRC's Peer Review College


Research interests

Research projects


Postgraduate research supervision



Brooks, R. and Hodkinson, P. (2020) Sharing Care: Equal and Primary Caregiver Fathers and Early Years Parenting, Bristol University Press.

Drawing on detailed qualitative research, this timely study explores the experiences of fathers who take on equal or primary care responsibilities for young children. 

The authors examine what prompts these arrangements, how fathers adjust to their caregiving roles over time, and what challenges they face along the way. 

The book asks what would encourage more fathers to become primary or equal caregivers, and how we can make things easier for those who do. Offering new academic insight and practical recommendations, this will be key reading for those interested in parenting, families and gender, including researchers, policymakers, practitioners and students.

Brooks, R., Gupta, A., Jayadeva, S., Abrahams, J. and Lazetic, P. (2020) Students as political actors? Similarities and differences across six European countries, British Educational Research Journal, 46, 6, 1193-1209.

Drawing on data from students, higher education staff and policymakers from six European countries, this article argues that it remains a relatively common assumption that students should be politically engaged. However, while students articulated a strong interest in a wide range of political issues, those working in higher education and influencing higher education policy tended to believe that students were considerably less politically active than their predecessors. Moreover, while staff and policy influencers typically conceived of political engagement in terms of collective action, articulated through common reference to the absence of a ‘student movement’ or unified student voice, students’ narratives tended not to valorise ‘student movements’ in the same way and many categorised as ‘political’ action they had taken alone and/or with a small number of other students. Alongside these broad commonalities across Europe, the article also evidences some key differences between nation‐states, institutions and disciplines. In this way, it contributes to the comparative literature on young people’s political engagement specifically, as well as wider debates about the ways in which higher education students are understood.

Brooks, R. (2020) Diversity and the European higher education student: policy influencers’ narratives of difference, Studies in Higher Education, 45, 7, 1507-1518.

Comparative studies of European social policy have pointed to significant differences with respect to the way in which diversity is valued and understood, contrasting nations that have adopted strongly compulsory and integrationist policies with others that have pursued more voluntary and pluralistic approaches. Within the higher education sector specifically, although there have been numerous European-level initiatives to encourage national governments to take action to widen access to university, we know relatively little about 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, this article suggests that dimensions of difference are not always valued equally and that, despite policy imperatives promoting higher education homogenisation across the continent, some significant differences between nation-states endure.

Brooks, R. (2020) Asserting the nation: the dominance of national narratives in policy Influencers’ constructions of higher education students, Sociological Research Online, 25, 2, 273-288.

Drawing on interviews with 26 higher education ‘policy influencers’ from six European countries (Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland, and Spain), this article considers the ways in which students were commonly understood by this particular group of social actors. It argues that, although a number of the characteristics of contemporary students identified by the interviewees are evident across many nation-states within Europe, they were frequently discussed and explained in terms of very distinct ‘national narratives’, with policy influencers often making reference to their country’s specific history and culture. The implications of such narratives for European higher education and geopolitical relations more generally are explored.

Waters, J. and Brooks, R. (2020) Mobilities and materialities in education: Geographical perspectives, Population, Space and Place, 26, 3, 1-3.

Editorial introduction to a special issue of Population, Space and Place.

Brooks, R., Lainio, A. and Lazetic, P. (2020) Using creative methods to research across difference. An introduction to the special issue, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 23, 1, 1-6.

This special issue explores some of the methodological challenges that are brought into play when scholars deploy creative methods to research across difference. This introductory article defines what we mean by ‘creative methods’ and discusses some of the strengths and weaknesses of using this approach within social science research. It then outlines how creative methods can be used to research across difference, specifically, and introduces the seven articles that make up the special issue.

Brooks, R. and Hodkinson, P. (2020) Out-of-place: the lack of engagement with parent networks of caregiving fathers of young children, Families, Relationships and Societies, 9, 2, 201-216.

This article explores the daytime social interactions of fathers in heterosexual households who have assumed primary or equal responsibility for the care of their young children. It outlines how, for most such fathers in our sample, contact with other parents during their day-to-day care was minimal. Many initially rationalised their isolation as a personal preference rooted in their own ‘introverted’ nature, but such individualised narratives underplayed how various systemic factors worked against their integration into parent networks. While these may include, we suggest, less intense pressures than mothers to engage with such groups in the first place, our primary findings concern barriers they faced, including: feeling ‘out-of-place’ in many daytime public spaces; a specific fear of being judged because of their gender; and the difficulty of meeting other fathers with responsibility for day-to-day care. The operation of these factors, we argue, provides evidence of the enduring nature of gender differences with respect to early years parenting and in particular, of the gendering of daytime public parenting spaces ‐ something that may represent a barrier to the extent and longevity of fathers’ caregiving roles.

Brooks, R. (2021) The construction of higher education students within national policy: a cross-European comparison, Compare, 51, 2, 161-180.

It is often assumed within much of the academic literature and by many of those working in higher education that universities across Europe are homogenising, converging around an Anglo-American model as a result of neo-liberal pressures and the aim of creating a single European Higher Education Area. However, drawing on an analysis of 92 policy documents from six different European countries, this article demonstrates that enduring differences remain – at least in so far as constructions of students are concerned. While European policy may assume that higher education students can move unproblematically across national borders, as part of the Erasmus mobility scheme, for example, the article shows that understandings of ‘the student’ differ in significant ways both across countries and, to some extent, within them. This has implications for both European policy and academic theorisation.

Abrahams, J. and Brooks, R (2019) Higher education students as political actors: evidence from England and Ireland, Journal of Youth Studies, 22, 1, 108-123.

Higher education (HE) students have often been viewed as important political actors in wider society, stemming largely from their activities in the 1960s. Nevertheless, like much of the literature on youth political participation, research has rarely explored the extent to which student political participation varies across nation-states. This article begins to redress this gap by drawing upon data collected from focus groups with undergraduate students in England and Ireland, alongside an analysis of relevant policy documents from both countries. Overall, we argue that, whilst English and Irish students expressed similar desires to be politically active, they differed in the extent to which they felt empowered to take up such roles and the perceived scope of their influence. Similar differences were evident, to some extent, in the way in which students’ political activity was seen by policymakers. These cross-national differences are explained with reference to contextual factors and, in particular, variation in the degree of HE marketisation in the two countries. There is also evidence to suggest that students are sensitive to the way in which they are constructed in policy, which affects their sense of themselves as political actors.

Brooks, R. (2021) Europe as spatial imaginary? Narratives from higher education ‘policy influencers’ across the continent, Journal of Education Policy, 36, 2, 159-178.

Europe is, in many ways, of central importance to discussions about higher education. Various European initiatives, such as the Bologna Process and the Erasmus mobility programme, have had a direct and material impact on the shape and nature of higher education across the continent. They have also been linked to wider political objectives, such as the inculcation of a European political identity, and the strengthening of the European political and economic space relative to other parts of the world. Nevertheless, the relationship between Europe and education has tended to remain rather marginalised within research. We know relatively little, for example, about how policymakers think about Europe and the extent to which it constitutes an important frame of reference for them. To start to redress this gap, we draw on an analysis of policy documents and interviews with key policy stakeholders to argue that the idea of Europe constitutes an important ‘spatial imaginary’ for higher education within the continent, and helps to frame the ways in which students are conceptualised. However, we also suggest that this is not played out in uniform ways; there are significant differences between both countries and different groups of policy actors within them.

Hodkinson, P. and Brooks, R. (2020) Interchangeable parents? The roles and identities of primary and equal carer fathers of young children, Current Sociology, 68, 6, 780-797.

Against the context of enduring gender inequalities in early years parental care, this article examines the experiences of UK fathers who had taken on primary or equal care responsibility for children aged three or under. Informed by qualitative interviews with 24 such fathers, the article explores a discourse of parental interchangeability that pervaded their accounts before outlining the ways that, in practice, most caregiving tasks did tend to be allocated to them or their partners primarily on the basis of factors other than gender. The men’s comfort in presenting themselves and their partners as interchangeable equivalents, along with the range of caregiving approaches they were taking on, suggests that they had begun to move beyond clearly differentiated motherly or fatherly roles. The study goes on, however, to show that certain emotional, organisational and social aspects of parenting sometimes continued to be centred on mothers. In explaining the endurance of these areas of maternal responsibility within otherwise interchangeable partnerships, mutually reinforcing sets of maternal pressures and paternal barriers are outlined.

Brooks, R. (2018) Education and Society: Places, Policies, Processes, Red Globe Press.

This book offers a wide-ranging discussion of the key debates within the sociology of education. Covering everything from policymaking and the curriculum, to class, ethnicity and gender, and the ways that they and other social divisions intersect to produce inequalities, this timely publication provides a much-needed contribution to the study of education’s vital role in contemporary society. With examples drawn from such diverse contexts as Australian pre-schools, Finnish higher education institutions and English further education colleges, the text presents students with an international perspective and encourages them to engage critically with some of the core questions that lie at the heart of the topic: what is the purpose of education? who decides what formal education entails? and what impact does education have on both society and individuals? 

Brooks, R. and Waters, J. (2018) Signalling the ‘Multi-Local’ University? The Place of the City in the Growth of London-Based Satellite Campuses, and the Implications for Social Stratification, Social Sciences, 7, 10, 195.

Around 2009 some UK universities (based outside of the capital) began to open ‘satellite campuses’ in London. There are currently 14 such campuses at present, which have been developed primarily with an international student market in mind. Concerns have been raised, however, about the quality of teaching on these campuses and the fact that student attainment is ostensibly falling significantly below that for the ‘home’ campus. This project is the first of its kind to investigate, systematically, the ways in which universities are representing themselves in relation to these campuses (data include an analysis of prospectuses, YouTube content, websites and material garnered at open days). Using these data, we discuss the role that the City of London plays as a pivotal backdrop to these developments: the way it serves to substitute and compensate for lower levels of resources provided directly to the student from the university (here we consider accommodation, the outsourcing of teaching, the absence of a substantive campus environment and a general lack of focus on ‘pedagogical’ matters in almost all marketing materials). Instead, the universities place London at the front and centre of attempts to ‘sell’ the campus to potential students. The paper makes some innovative conceptual links between work in migration studies on the role and function of global cities in attracting workers and the way in which the city operates in this case to attract international students. These campuses feed into debates around the increasing inequalities evidenced as a consequence of the internationalisation of higher education, even when such developments are ostensibly ‘domestic’. 

Brooks, R. (2018) Higher education mobilities: a cross-national European comparison, Geoforum, 93, 87-96,

Within the extant literature on patterns of mobility of European higher education students there is some recognition that these differ across geographical space – in relation to variations in national uptake of the European Union's Erasmus scheme, for example. However, strong similarities are also often identified – about the way in which mobility is desired by students, higher education institutions and national governments, and how this is stimulated, in part, by various European initiatives such as the commitment to forging a European Higher Education Area. Moreover, while scholars have critiqued normative expectations of mobility – pointing out, for example, that not all students have the necessary social, cultural and economic resources to support a period of study abroad – there has been less critical focus on the way in which constructions of the ‘mobile student’ vary spatially. This article draws on a dataset of 92 policy documents from six European nations to argue that, while some convergence is notable, particularly in relation to the ways in which student mobility is placed centre-stage within internationalisation strategies, key differences are also evident – with respect to: the scale of desired mobility; the characteristics of the imagined ‘mobile subject’; the extent to which social justice concerns are brought into play; and the prioritisation given to outward mobility. These raise important questions about the degree of 'policy convergence' across Europe and the ostensible homogenisation of European higher education systems around an Anglo-American model.

Brooks, R. (2018) Understanding the higher education student in Europe: a comparative analysis, Compare, 48, 4, 500-517.

Higher education is of considerable importance to policymakers across Europe. Indeed, it is viewed as a key mechanism for achieving a range of economic, social and political goals. Nevertheless, despite this prominence within policy, we have no clear understanding of the extent to which conceptualisations of ‘the student’ are shared across the continent. To start to redress this gap, this article explores four key aspects of contemporary higher education students’ lives, considering the extent to which they can be considered as, variously, consumers, workers, family members and political actors. On the basis of this evidence, it argues that, despite assumptions on the part of European policymakers that there are now large commonalities in the experiences of students across Europe – evident in pronouncements about Erasmus mobility and the operations of the European Higher Education Area – significant differences exist both between and within individual nation-states.

Brooks, R. (2018) The construction of higher education students in English policy documents, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 39, 6, 745-761.

This article investigates the ways in which students are constructed in contemporary English higher education policy. First, it contends that, contrary to assumptions made in the academic literature, students are not conceptualised as ‘empowered consumers’; instead their vulnerability is emphasised by both government and unions. Second, it identifies other dominant discourses, namely that of ‘future worker’ and ‘hard-worker’. These 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. Third, it shows that differences are drawn between groups of students. Contrasts are drawn, for example, between international students, juxtaposing the ‘brightest and best’ with those who are considered ‘sham’. Finally, the article argues that the figure of the ‘vulnerable’ student and ‘thwarted consumer’ feeds into broader government narratives about its policy trajectory, legitimising contemporary reforms and excusing the apparent failure of previous policies.

Brooks, R. (2017) Representations of East Asian students in the UK media, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 43-14, 2363-2377.

While several studies have explored the ways in which Asian young people have been represented in the UK media over recent years, the majority of these have focussed on those of Indian and Pakistani descent, and often in relation to the rise of Islamophobia in the aftermath of 9/11 and the bombings in London in July 2005. To date, there have been few studies that have focussed on East Asian young people in general or East Asian students in particular, despite the increasing importance of educational migration to the UK from China and neighbouring countries, and the growing number of East Asian pupils in UK schools and colleges. To start to redress this gap, this article explores the ways in which East Asian pupils and students were represented in the UK press between 2010 and 2015. It outlines the neo-colonial and neo-liberal narrative that is constructed about East Asian education and students; demonstrates that a clear distinction is drawn between British East Asians and their non-British counterparts, reflecting the differing economic status of the two groups; and argues that the media does not always ‘manufacture consent’ for government policy.

Brooks, R., Byford, K. and Sela, K. (2016) The spaces of UK students’ unions: extending the critical geographies of the university campus, Social and Cultural Geography, 17, 4, 471-490.

This article seeks to further our knowledge of the university campus by focusing 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.

Brooks, R., Byford, K. and Sela, K. (2016) Students’ unions, consumerism and the neo-liberal university, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37, 8, 1211-1228.

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.

Brooks, R., Byford, K. and Sela, K. (2015) Inequalities in students’ union leadership: the role of social networks, Journal of Youth Studies, 18, 9, 1204-1218.

Drawing on a national survey of students’ union officers and staff, and a series of 24 focus groups involving both union officers and institutional senior managers, this article explores the characteristics of those who take up leadership roles in their (higher education) students’ union. We show that, in several areas – and particularly in relation to gender, ethnicity and age – union leaders do not represent well the diversity of the wider student body. In explaining these inequalities, we argue that friendship groups and other peer networks play a significant role in determining who does and does not take up leadership positions. Moreover, as friendship groups are often formed on the basis of ‘differential association’ and are thus frequently socially homogenous, inequalities tend to be perpetuated. Wider institutional cultures and societal norms are also implicated.

Brooks, R., Byford, K. and Sela, K. (2015) The changing role of students’ unions within contemporary higher education, Journal of Education Policy, 30, 2, 165-181.

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.

Waters, J. and Brooks, R. (2015) ‘The magical operations of separation’: English elite schools’ on-line geographies, internationalisation and functional isolation, Geoforum, 58, 86-94.

This paper examines the enduring separation and isolation of elite schools in England, in the face of increasing and substantial internationalisation. It presents the findings of a research project examining the geographical narratives produced by 30 elite schools on their websites and through their prospectuses, newsletters, blogs and twitter feeds. A critical visual and textual analysis was undertaken. Drawing on these data, the paper argues that elite schools remain highly focused on promoting and defending their separateness and isolation, despite extensive, documented international involvements. Work on institutional and carceral geographies and geographies of education have provided some theoretical justification for why this might be the case, and we explore these reasons here. The paper concludes with a plea for more work on the elite schooling sector in England, as their spatial practices (isolation and internationalisation) continue to have a weighty bearing upon society.

Brooks, R. and Waters, J. (2015) The Hidden Internationalism of Elite English Schools, Sociology, 49, 2, 212-228.

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.

Brooks, R. (2015) International students with dependent children: the reproduction of gender norms, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 36, 2, 195-214.

Extant research on family migration for education has focused almost exclusively on the education of children. We thus know very little about family migration when it is driven by the educational projects of parents. To begin to redress this gap, this paper explores the experiences of families who have moved to the United Kingdom primarily to enable the mother or father to pursue a degree. It argues that, in common with what we know of UK student-parents, both choices about and experiences of higher education are strongly differentiated by gender.


Brooks, R. (2015) Social and spatial disparities in emotional responses to education: feelings of ‘guilt’ among student‐parents, British Educational Research Journal, 41, 3, 505-519.

This article explores the emotional responses to higher education of students with dependent children, and draws on 68 in‐depth interviews conducted with student‐parents in universities in the UK and Denmark. By focussing on one specific emotion—guilt—it contends that emotions are important in helping to understand the way in which particular groups of students engage with education, and the barriers they often face. Moreover, by considering four different higher education contexts (across two European nations), it suggests that emotional responses are spatially differentiated, and mediated by national policies and norms as well as the social characteristics of students.

Brooks, R. (2013) The social construction of young people within education policy: evidence from the UK's Coalition government, Journal of Youth Studies, 16, 3, 318-333.

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.

Brooks, R. (2013) Negotiating Time and Space for Study: Student-parents and Familial Relationships, Sociology, 47, 3, 443-459.

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.

Brooks, R. (2012) Student-parents and higher education: a cross-national comparison, Journal of Education Policy, 27, 3, 423-437.

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.

Brooks, R., Waters, J. and Pimlott-Wilson, H. (2013) International education and the employability of UK students, British Educational Research Journal, 38, 2, 281-298.

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.

Waters, J., Brooks, R. and Pimlott-Wilson, H. (2011) Youthful escapes? British students, overseas education and the pursuit of happiness, Social and Cultural Geography, 12, 5, 455-469.

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.


Brooks, R. and Waters, J. (2011) Fees, Funding and Overseas Study: Mobile UK Students and Educational Inequalities, Sociological Research Online, 16, 2.

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.

Waters, J. and Brooks, R. (2011) ‘Vive la différence?’: The ‘international’ experiences of UK students overseas, Population, Space and Place, 17, 5, 567-578.

As interest in the geographies of student mobilities grows, this paper examines the experiences of UK students overseas. More specifically, it considers the ‘international’ nature of their experiences, asking: to what extent do students actively seek out and encounter ‘cultural difference’ through their educational choices? International students are often described by those advocating the internationalisation of education as potential ‘global citizens’, cosmopolitans and ambassadors of inter‐cultural understanding. However, our research on UK students has suggested a more complex engagement with ‘diversity’ through international education. First, we examine the motivations of UK students, and show that whilst many claim to be seeking ‘something different’ from an overseas education, at the same time they also desire a ‘knowable’ destination. Film and television were very significant in terms of making certain places familiar to students and thereby influencing their decisions. Secondly, students' experiences of cultural diversity overseas were often confined to an international student community. This has several implications. Most obviously, it limits the extent to which students encounter cultures ‘local’ to the destination country. The separation and isolation of the international student community, however, does serve a useful function in terms of wider processes of elite class formation and social reproduction. Thirdly, we describe some instances of where individuals formed significant and meaningful relationships with foreign nationals, often as a direct consequence of their experiences of studying overseas. Clearly, this suggests a very direct engagement with ‘cultural diversity’, albeit of a certain kind.

Waters, J. and Brooks, R. (2010) Accidental achievers? International higher education, class reproduction and privilege in the experiences of UK students overseas, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 31, 2, 217-228.

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.

Brooks, R. and Waters, J. (2010) Social networks and educational mobility: the experiences of UK students, Globalisation, Societies and Education, 8, 1, 143-157.

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’.


Brooks, R. and Waters, J. (2009) A Second Chance at ‘Success’: UK Students and Global Circuits of Higher Education, Sociology, 43, 6, 1085-1102.

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.

Brooks, R. and Waters, J. (2009) International higher education and the mobility of UK students, Journal of Research in International Education, 8, 2, 191-209.

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.

Brooks, R. (2009) Young people and UK citizenship education: A gender analysis, Young, 17, 3, 307-326.

A number of commentators have highlighted the potential of citizenship education to offer young people a radical critique of society. For example, Aapola et al. (2005) have argued that it can provide a forum for contesting gendered power relations and their differential effect on young men and women from different class and ethnic groups, and for exploring the ways in which constructions of masculinity and femininity are dynamic and related to the public/private divide. However, it has also been argued that the playing out of ‘active citizenship’ (a common component of many citizenship programmes in schools and colleges) in the lives of young women, frequently means taking responsibility for themselves economically, while at the same time taking care of others. Indeed, some have suggested that current conceptualizations of citizenship — particularly its ‘active’ variant — have served to further social control rather than promote any critical engagement with social structures. In engaging with this debate, this article explores the impact of young people's socially focussed extra-curricular activities, undertaken in a number of different sixth-form colleges across the UK. Based on a year-long study of five peer-driven groups (including an Amnesty International group, a peer support group and a students' union executive), it considers gendered patterns in the take-up of these activities. In addition, it explores the extent to which such pursuits encourage participants to take a critical stance towards the world around them, placing particular emphasis on the structure of gender relations.

Brooks, R. and Everett, G. (2009) Post‐graduation reflections on the value of a degree, British Educational Research Journal, 35, 3, 333-349.

This article investigates the impact of a changing higher education system on young adults' priorities and motivations. A considerable number of studies have explored the impact of recent changes on patterns of participation within higher education. However, there has been less emphasis on how such changes have been played out in the experiences of graduates and, more specifically, in the interface between higher education and lifelong learning. To redress this gap, this article explores the changes to graduates' experiences brought about by the ‘massification’ of the higher education system. Research conducted amongst young people in Australia has suggested that as result of the normalisation of post‐compulsory education and the encouragement of high aspirations, young people have come to assume a one‐to‐one relationship between being qualified and having a lasting professional career. It has been argued that as a result of these assumptions, young adults are often disappointed when they do eventually enter the labour market, and experience uncertainties previously associated with the end of compulsory schooling. If young adults do indeed feel misled about the rewards of a higher education, it is possible that this may have a significant bearing on their perceptions of the value of engaging in further education and training in the future. Drawing on 90 life history interviews with graduates in their mid‐twenties, this article explores the prevalence of such attitudes in the UK and their impact on young adults' attitudes to lifelong learning.

Brooks, R. (2009) Young People and Political Participation: An Analysis of European Union Policies, Sociological Research Online, 14, 1.

There is now widespread recognition that, far from being politically apathetic, young people across Europe are engaged in a wide range of 'political' activities. While turnout at national and European elections among the 18-25 age group may be low, researchers have highlighted diverse and creative new forms of political participation. In relation to young women, in particular, Harris (2005) has presented a compelling analysis of the new 'borderspaces' opened up between public and private domains by young women through the use of new technologies. She contends that in the face of greater surveillance and regulation brought about by the shift to neo-liberal forms of governmentality, carving out a protected space for oneself is a political act, in itself. Moreover, the creative ways in which young women across the world use such spaces to question dominant narratives about the nature of contemporary girlhood, to resist discourses which construct young women as merely passive consumers, and to trouble conventional notions of 'youth participation' are highly political. Some EU representatives have indicated an awareness of these new forms of engagement and professed a desire to develop links between them and more traditional forms of party politics and policy making (Hoskins, 2005). Nevertheless, the degree to which these sentiments have been translated into policy remains unclear. This article draws on recent documents on young people, citizenship and political participation to assess the extent to which these new spaces of young women's politics are, firstly, recognised and, secondly, valued within EU policy.

Brooks, R. (2008) Accessing Higher Education: The Influence of Cultural and Social Capital on University Choice, Sociology Compass, 2, 4, 1355-1371.

Over recent years, sociologists of education have paid increasing attention to the higher education sector. They have highlighted the ways in which, despite the significant expansion in the number of university places available in many countries across the world, access to and choices about higher education continue to be strongly influenced by social class. This article provides an overview of recent literature in this field and explores how scholars have tended to explain this influence by drawing on Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of habitus and cultural and social capital.

Brooks, R. and Everett, G. (2008) New European Learners? An analysis of the ‘trendsetter’ thesis, Journal of Youth Studies, 11, 4, 377-391.

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 self-determined 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.

Brooks, R. and Everett, G. (2008) The prevalence of life planning: evidence from UK graduates, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 29, 3, 325-337.

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’.

Brooks, R. and Everett, G. (2008) The predominance of work-based training in young gradautes' learning, Journal of Education and Work, 21, 1, 61-73.

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’.

Brooks, R. and Everett, G. (2008) The impact of higher education on lifelong learning, International Journal of Lifelong Education, 27, 3, 239-254.

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.


Brooks, R. (2007) Friends, peers and higher educaton, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 28, 6, 693-707.

Theorists of friendship in contemporary society have suggested that our relationships with peers are characterised by their emphasis on openness, disclosure and emotional communication. Moreover, Beck and Beck‐Gernsheim argue that friendship, as a deliberately sought, trusting partnership between two people, can play an important role in countering some of the negative consequences of a market‐driven society, ‘acting as a shared lifeline to take the weight of each other’s confusions and weaknesses’. However, drawing on a series of in‐depth interviews with students from nine different higher education institutions, this paper will argue that such theorists overlook significant complexity in the ways in which young adults choose to ‘order’ their friendships. Indeed, it will suggest that highly individualised and ruthlessly competitive approaches to academic study can be maintained alongside more socially cooperative relationships with friends and peers, played out in non‐academic arenas. The paper will discuss the implications of this for both sociological theorising about friendship, and policy and practice within the higher education sector.

Brooks, R., Gupta, A., Jayadeva, S. and Abrahams, J. (2021) Students' views about the purpose of higher education: a comparative analysis of six European countries, Higher Education Research and Development, 40, 7, 1375-1388.

Across Europe, assumptions are often made within the academic literature and by some social commentators that students have come to understand the purpose of higher education (HE) in increasingly instrumental terms. This is often linked to processes of marketisation and neo-liberalisation across the Global North, in which the value of HE has come to be associated with economic reward and labour market participation and measured through a relatively narrow range of metrics. It is also associated with the establishment, in 2010, of the European Higher Education Area, which is argued to have brought about the refiguration of European universities around an Anglo-American model. Scholars have contended that students have become consumer-like in their behaviour and preoccupied by labour market outcomes rather than processes of learning and knowledge generation. Often, however, such claims are made on the basis of limited empirical evidence, or a focus on policies and structures rather than the perspectives of students themselves. In contrast, this paper draws on a series of 54 focus groups with 295 students conducted in six European countries (Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain). It shows how understandings of the purpose of HE are more nuanced than much of the extant literature suggests and vary, at least to some extent, by both nation-state and higher education institution. Alongside viewing the purpose of HE as preparing them for the labour market, students emphasised the importance of tertiary-level study for personal growth and enrichment, and societal development and progress. These findings have implications for policy and practice. In particular, the broader purposes of HE, as articulated by the students in this study, should be given greater recognition by policymakers, those teaching in HE, and the wider public instead of, as is often the case, positioning students as consumers, interested in only economic gain.


Jayadeva, S., Brooks, R., Gupta, A., Abrahams, J., Lazetic, P. and Lainio, A. (2021) Are Spanish students consumers? Paradoxical perceptions of the impact of marketisation on higher education in Spain, Sociological Research Online, 26, 1, 185-204.

This article examines how higher education (HE) students are conceptualised in Spain, drawing on an analysis of policy and institutional narratives about HE students, as well as on the perspectives of university staff and students themselves. More specifically, it will explore an interesting paradox that we encountered in our data: on the one hand, marketisation is less firmly established in the HE system of Spain than in many other European countries, and policy and institutional narratives in Spain present the HE system as being relatively unmarketised. On the other hand, the staff and students we interviewed presented the Spanish HE system and the student experience as having been dramatically transformed by marketisation. In analysing this paradox, the paper highlights the importance of not viewing countries as coherent educational entities. In addition—while broadly supporting scholarship that has pointed to a growing market-orientation of national HE systems across Europe—the paper draws attention to how the manner in which the marketisation of HE is experienced on the ground can be very different in different national contexts, and may be mediated by a number of factors, including perceptions about the quality of educational provision and the labour market rewards of a degree; the manner in which the private cost of education (if any) is borne by students and their families; and the extent to which marketisation may have become entrenched and normalised in the HE system of a country.

Brooks, R., Gupta, A., Jayadeva, S. and Lainio, A. (2021) Students in marketised higher education landscapes: an introduction, Sociological Research Online, 26, 1, 125-129.

Introduction to special section

Brooks, R. (2007) Young People's Extra-Curricular Activities: Critical Social Engagement – Or ‘Something for the CV’?, Journal of Social Policy, 36, 3, 417-434.

The government has argued in various arenas that ‘active citizenship’ is one way in which young people can be effectively re-engaged with their communities, and with the political process more broadly. As part of this analysis, it has placed particular emphasis on the potential contribution of youth volunteering. However, many researchers have argued that such initiatives are essentially conservative, placing emphasis firstly on the skills and competences necessary to make a contribution to the economy rather than more innovative understandings of citizenship, and secondly on the importance of active community participation rather than an understanding of welfare rights and social citizenship. In engaging with this debate, this article draws on a study of 21 young people (aged between 16 and 18) involved in a range of different voluntary, peer-driven and socially focused extra-curricular groups in sixth-form colleges. It argues that, for the young people involved in this study, the effects of becoming involved were complex, multidirectional and, in some cases, apparently contradictory. While in some ways the activities appeared to serve essentially conservative functions (for example, by developing sympathy for those in positions of power), in other respects they engendered a much more critical stance to some aspects of the young people's worlds.

Brooks, R. (2006) Young Graduates and Lifelong Learning: The Impact of Institutional Stratification, Sociology, 40, 6, 1019-1037.

The National Adult Learning Survey and the 1970 British Cohort Study have pointed to considerable differences by level of educational qualification in attitude to and participation in adult or ‘lifelong’ learning.They suggest that graduates are more likely than other groups to engage in adult learning, generally, and to be motivated to do so by the intrinsic interest of the subject matter. However, exploring the wider meaning attached to participation in such activities has been outside the remit of these studies. In an attempt to redress this gap, this article draws on life history interviews with recent graduates to consider the significance they attribute to taking part in lifelong learning. In particular, it focuses on the extent to which decisions about education and training after graduation can be seen as consonant with ‘individualized’ life plans, and the degree of similarity between these decisions and previous processes of ‘educational choice’.

Brooks, R. (2006) Learning and work in the lives of young adults, International Journal of Lifelong Education, 25, 3, 271-289.

It is clear that for many young people the balance between learning, work and leisure has shifted considerably over recent decades. Many students now work throughout the whole of their post‐compulsory education, entering the labour market well before any higher education applications have been made, and continue to work throughout their time at university. In part, this may be driven by: young people’s desires to maintain a particular ‘consumer lifestyles’; shifts towards flexible labour in many sectors of the economy that have provided more opportunities for student employment; as well as the increasing costs of studying for a degree. Within this context, many young people have become very practised at ‘juggling’ a job, an education and a social life. Drawing on a study of 30 graduates in their mid‐twenties, this paper explores whether the experience of combining education and employment may facilitate lifelong learning, through the ‘normalisation’ of these patterns or whether, conversely, the financial pressures that many young people experience during their post‐compulsory education act as a disincentive to pursue further learning.

Brooks, R. (2005) The construction of ‘age difference’ and the impact of age‐mixing within UK further education colleges, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 26, 1, 55-70.

‘Age’ is an important social category used to define individuals and groups within our society and, often, to structure access to power, prestige and status. However, within educational research, age has been relatively neglected when compared with other social categories such as gender, class and ethnicity. In an attempt to begin to explore the impact of age within schools and colleges, this paper focuses on students' and teachers' experience of mixed‐age learning groups within the UK further education sector. First, the paper outlines various assumptions about the distinctiveness of age groups that underpin much sociological theorizing as well as current educational policy within the United Kingdom. It then draws on an empirical study of six further education colleges in Yorkshire and the south‐east of England to suggest that the ways in which students and members of staff construct notions of ‘age’ and ‘age difference’ bear little resemblance to the models adopted by policymakers. Nevertheless, the paper goes on to argue that, although there was little consensus about where the boundary between ‘younger’ and ‘older’ learners should be drawn, most respondents were able to identify specific age‐related differences that they believed affected the process of learning. In particular, mixed‐age classes were believed to offer considerable advantages over more age‐homogeneous groups. The final part of the paper explores some of these putative advantages and discusses their significance in the light of current debates about the ‘postponement’ of adulthood and the nature of inter‐generational relationships.

Brooks, R. (2004) ‘My mum would be as pleased as punch if I actually went, but my dad seems a bit more particular about it’: paternal involvement in young people's higher education choices, British Educational Research Journal, 30, 4, 495-514.

Research on parental involvement in educational ‘choice’, as well as in educational processes more generally, has highlighted clear disparities between the close and active involvement of mothers and the more distant role of fathers. While this article does not question the broad patterns identified by such studies, it does suggest that, in some circumstances at least, fathers are both able and willing to become closely involved in decision‐making processes and to take on much of the ‘hard work’ of educational choice. Drawing on a longitudinal study of young people's higher education decision‐making processes, the article presents evidence of detailed paternal involvement. It then suggests that this apparent ‘anomaly’ can be explained by the mothers' and fathers' differential access to cultural and social capital; a lack of previous experience of active engagement with educational markets; and, in a few cases, young people's active resistance to the involvement of their mothers.

Brooks, R. (2003) Discussing higher education choices: differences and difficulties, Research Papers in Education, 18, 3, 237-258.

Social psychological studies have long emphasized the importance of openness, disclosure and the sharing of plans for the future to young people's friendships. Recently, similar claims have been made within sociology, but applied to friendships and other relationships practised at various points throughout the life-course. From both these perspectives, it would be expected that as young people come to make decisions about their post-18 destinations, their deliberations would be discussed with close friends. Indeed, various large-scale surveys of the factors affecting young people's higher education choices have indicated that friends may play an important role in this process. However, while these have provided a useful measure of the proportion of young people who discussed their choices with their friends, they have been unable to illuminate the content and length of such discussions, the number of friends with whom discussions were held, or the nature of the friendships of the young people in the sample. Using qualitative data drawn from a two-year, longitudinal study with young people between the ages of 16 and 18, this paper illuminates the nature of such conversations with friends and others in the wider peer group. It argues that, contrary to the implications of previous quantitative studies, conversations about higher education courses and institutions were extremely limited. In seeking to explain the reasons for this it will highlight a number of difficulties young people had in talking to their friends about higher education, focusing largely on the significant differences between friends and others in the wider peer group, which were brought into sharp relief by the decision-making process. On the basis of this evidence, it suggests that discussions about higher education were inherently problematic for almost all the young people in the sample, and for this reason were avoided.

Brooks, R. (2003) Young People's Higher Education Choices: The role of family and friends, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 24, 3, 283-297.

Previous studies of higher education (HE) choice have tended to draw a strong contrast between the decisions made by young people from working-class backgrounds and those of their middle-class peers. This paper draws on a qualitative, longitudinal study to argue that such assumptions about social class homogeneity overlook the very different ways in which students from a similar (middle class) location come to understand the HE sector. It also suggests that while families have a strong influence on young people's conceptualisation of the sector, friends and peers play an important role in informing decisions about what constitutes a 'feasible' choice. Indeed, this paper shows how rankings within friendship groups were, in many cases, transposed directly onto a hierarchy of HE institutions and courses. On the basis of this evidence, it concludes that a two-step interaction between family and friends best explains the decision-making processes in which these young people were engaged.

Brooks, R. (2002) Transitional Friends? Young People's Strategies to Manage and Maintain their Friendships During a Period of Repositioning, Journal of Youth Studies, 5, 4, 449-467.

This paper draws on a longitudinal study of higher education choices to suggest that, for many of the young people who took part in the research, engaging in the decision-making process with regards to higher education highlighted, often for the first time, important differences between friends. Differences in academic attainment, higher education institution and, for some, proposed course of study at higher education and future career were not seen as value neutral. In almost all friendship groups, differences in these areas were explicitly or implicitly ranked. Recent theorizing on the nature of friendships would suggest that, as the young people became aware of such differences in social location, the equality of their friendships would come under increasing pressure and, in such circumstances, would be likely to change. However, there is compelling evidence from this research that, although the portrayal of equality became difficult for many of the young people, their friendships did not change in this way. Indeed, the stability of many friendship groups over the two-year period was notable. The paper argues that, instead of forging new friendships more congruent with their emerging social locations, the students used a variety of strategies to manage their existing friendships. After describing these strategies, the paper goes on to explore the likely reason why they were deployed and the implications this may have for our conceptualization of friendship. It will consider whether similar strategies are practised in other friendships over the life course, as an attempt to manage difference, or, alternatively, whether they are they symptomatic of the perceived 'transitional' nature of friendships in the years immediately preceding higher education.

Brooks, R. (2002) 'Edinburgh, Exeter, East London - or employment?' A review of research on young people's higher education choices, Educational Research, 44, 2, 217-227.

The short report reviews the research on the factors that influence young people's higher education choices. It considers the main messages that have emerged from empirical studies, looking in particular at: the sources of information young people use; the relative importance of factors in their decisions; and their judgements about the 'feasibility' of an application. The paper concludes by suggesting that, although much of the literature is underpinned by an assumption that if young people's access to information improves they will make 'better' decisions about their futures, the picture is rather more complex due to the socially embedded nature of decision-making. Both research and policy need to recognize that young people's access to, and interpretation of, information is often patterned by their gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status.

Brooks, R. (1997) Political Literacy or a ‘Sentimental Education'?—Programmes for coexistence in Israeli Schools, European Journal of Intercultural Studies, 8, 1, 61-73.

This article describes the provision of activities to promote co‐existence between Arabs and Jews in Israel, specifically in the secondary school sector. In examining patterns of change in this area it becomes clear that student and teacher participation in the activities has been determined by several main variables, including the level of political violence in the society, with which there is a negative correlation, the peace process which has had a similarly strong positive influence on the uptake of coexistence activities; and the changing roles of government and non‐governmental organisations in this field. The article also examines the theories and ‘purposes’ underpinning the activities, as perceived by Israeli educationalists. The former can be located on a broad spectrum ranging from a ‘human relations’ approach, stressing the affective capacities of students, to a more explicitly political, cognitive approach. There are significantly fewer differences among the ‘purposes’: the specific skills which educationalists hope students will develop. Many skills considered central to co‐existence activities were common to both the ‘human relations’ and ‘political’ approaches. This indicated either a lack of communication between representatives of NGOs from whom the theories are developed and articulated and the teachers and schools who implement the programmes, or an ultimate mutual dependence between the affective and cognitive modes of conflict resolution.

Brooks, R. and O'Shea, S. (2021) Re-imagining the Higher Education Student: Constructing and Contesting Identities, Routledge.

Drawing on the perspectives of scholars and researchers from around the world, this book challenges dominant constructions of higher education students. Given the increasing number and diversity of such students, the book offers a timely discussion of the implicit and sometimes subtle ways that they are characterised or defined. Topics vary from the ways that curriculum designers ‘imagine’ learners, the complex and evolving nature of student identity work, through to newspaper and TV representations of university attendees. 

Reimagining the Higher Education Student seeks to question the accepted or unquestioned nature of ‘being a student’ and instead foreground the contradictions and ‘messiness’ of such ideation. Offering timely insights into the nature of the student experience and providing an understanding of what students may desire from their Higher Education participation, this book covers a range of issues, including: impressions versus the reality of being a Higher Education student; portrayals of students in various media including newspapers, TV shows and online; and generational perspectives on students, and students as family members.

Brooks, R., Te Riele, K. and Maguire, M. (2014) Ethics and Education Research, Sage.
Brooks, R., McCormack, M. and Bhopal, K. (2013) Contemporary Debates in the Sociology of Education, Palgrave.
Brooks, R. and Abrahams, J. (2020) European higher education students: contested constructions, Sociological Research Online (Advance online access).

There are currently over 35 million students within Europe and yet, to date, we have no clear understanding of the extent to which understandings of ‘the student’ are shared across the continent. Thus, a central aim of this article is to investigate how the contemporary higher education  student understands their own role, and the extent to which this differs both within nation-states and across them. This is significant in terms of implicit (and sometimes explicit) assumptions that are made about common understandings of ‘the student’ across Europe – underpinning, for example, initiatives to increase cross-border educational mobility and the wider development of a European Higher Education Area. Drawing on data from students across Europe – and particularly plasticine models participants made to represent their understanding of themselves as students – we argue that, in many cases, there is an important disconnect between the ways in which students are constructed within policy, and how they understand themselves. The models produced by participants typically foregrounded learning and hard work rather than more instrumental concerns commonly emphasised within policy. This brings into question assertions made in the academic literature that recent reforms have had a direct effect on the subjectivities of students, encouraging them to be more consumerist in their outlook. Nevertheless, we have also shown that student conceptualisations differ, to some extent, by nation state, evident particularly in Spain and Poland, and by institution – most notably in England and Spain, which have the most vertically differentiated higher education systems. These differences suggest that, despite the ‘policy convergence’ manifest in the creation of a European Higher Education Area, understandings of what it means to be a student in Europe today remain contested.

Heath, S., Brooks, R., Cleaver, E. and Ireland, E. (2009) Researching Young People's Lives, Sage.
Brooks, R., Abrahams, J., Lazetic, P., Gupta, A. and Jayadeva, S. (2020) Access to and Experiences of Higher Education Across Europe: The Impact of Social Characteristics, in: Curaj, A., Deca, L. and Pricopie, R. (eds) The European Higher Education Area: Challenges for a New Decade, Springer.

Policymakers across Europe have increasingly emphasised the importance of paying close attention to the social dimension of higher education and taking further steps to ensure that the composition of Europe’s universities more adequately reflects the diversity of the wider population. While there have been a number of studies that have explored this through analyses of European- and national-level policy and others that have assessed a range of quantitative indicators related to student diversity, this chapter assumes, in contrast, an interpretivist stance; it is interested in the perspectives of those studying and working ‘on the ground’ within the European Higher Education Area. Specifically, we seek to answer this research question: To what extent do students and staff, across Europe, believe that higher education access and experiences are differentiated by social characteristics (such as class/family background, race/ethnicity/migration background, gender and age)? In doing so, we draw on data from a large European Research Council-funded project, including 54 focus groups with undergraduate students (a total of 295 individuals) and 72 in-depth individual interviews with members of higher education staff (both academic and non-academic). Fieldwork was conducted in three higher education institutions in each of the following countries: Denmark, UK-England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain—nations chosen to provide diversity with respect to welfare regime, relationship to the European Union and mechanisms for funding higher education. We explore commonalities and differences between staff and students and between different countries, before identifying some implications for policymakers keen to promote further social inclusion within Europe’s higher education institutions (HEIs).

Brooks, R., Abrahams, J., Gupta, A., Jayadeva, S. and Lazetic, P. (2021) Higher education timescapes: temporal understandings of students and learning, Sociology, 55, 5, 995-1014.

This article draws on data from six European countries (Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain) to explore the higher education timescapes inhabited by students. Despite arguments that degree-level study has become increasingly similar across Europe – because of global pressures and also specific initiatives such as the Bologna Process and the creation of a European Higher Education Area – it shows how such timescapes differed in important ways, largely by nation. These differences are then explained in terms of: the distinctive traditions of higher education still evident across the continent; the particular mechanisms through which degrees are funded; and the nature of recent national-level policy activity. The analysis thus speaks to debates about Europeanisation, as well as how we theorise the relationship between time and place.

Waters, J. and Brooks, R. (2021) Student Migrants and Contemporary Educational Mobilities, Palgrave.

This book explores questions around the meaning and significance of international student migration. Framed in relation to the mobilities – and immobilities – of international students, the book highlights various key themes emerging from the rich interdisciplinary scholarship in this area, including socio-economic diversification in mobile students, the differential value of international higher education, and citizenship and state-building projects. It also discusses the importance of considering ethics in relation to student migrants. This pioneering book will be of interest and value to scholars of student mobilities and the international student experience more widely, as well as practitioners and policy makers. 

Jayadeva, S., Brooks, R. and Lazetic, P. (2021) Paradise lost or created? How higher-education staff perceive the impact of policy on students, Journal of Education Policy. (Advance online access)

This paper explores how university staff in Denmark, Germany, and England perceived higher education (HE) policy as impacting the experience of being a student in their respective countries. While, in each nation, different policy mechanisms were identified as having triggered transformations in the experience of being a student, the transformations themselves were described in a strikingly similar manner across all three countries: staff stressed that students had become more instrumental in their approach to learning; that the student experience had become more circumscribed; and that students were under greater stress. We analyse how staff’s narratives about the impact of policy on the experience of being a student were mediated by their own ideas about what constituted ‘good education’, which in turn were strongly rooted in national traditions. Furthermore, in each country, staff’s assessment of the impact of specific policies on HE differed sharply from those of policy actors. Our findings contribute to the scholarship on the marketisation of HE, through drawing attention to how the rationality underpinning policy does not determine how it is engaged with by key stakeholders on the ground, and by demonstrating how the neoliberalisation of HE can unfold in different formats, some more explicit than others.  

Brooks, R. (2021) Students as consumers? The perspectives of students’ union leaders across Europe, Higher Education Quarterly (Advance online access)

Various scholars have argued that higher education is becoming increasingly similar across Europe as a result of processes of marketisation and neo-liberalisation, as well as the creation of a European Higher Education Area. While much of this body of work has focussed on governance, institutional structures and reforms related to teaching and learning, some have suggested that the subjectivities and perspectives of students have also altered – becoming more consumer-like in their orientation. Nevertheless, there has been relatively little work across the continent that has explored, in a comparative manner, the perspectives of students themselves or of those who represent students. This article starts to redress this omission by drawing on interviews conducted with students’ union leaders across six European nations to examine the extent to which they shared the same understanding of students, focussing specifically on the concept of student-as-consumer.

Brooks, R., Gupta, A. and Jayadeva, S. (2023) Higher education students’ aspirations for their post-university lives: evidence from six European nations, Children's Geographies, 21, 2, 177-190.

While there is now a relatively large literature on young people’s aspirations with respect to their transitions from compulsory schooling, the body of work on the aspirations of those within higher education is rather less well-developed. This article draws on data from undergraduate students in six European countries to explore their hopes for their post-university lives. It demonstrates that although aspirations for employment were discussed most frequently, non-economic plans and desires were also important. Moreover, despite significant commonalities across the six nations, aspirations were also differentiated, to some extent at least, by national context, institutional setting and subject of study.

Brooks, R. and Waters, J. (2021) International students and alternative visions of diaspora, British Journal of Educational Studies, 69, 5, 557-577.

This paper explores the contemporary relationship between international student migration and diaspora formation. It argues that international students have been largely absent from recent discussions of ‘knowledge diasporas’, where migrants’ ‘home’ states attempt to harness and co-opt the skills and knowledge of their émigrés. This is surprising, given students’ evident role in knowledge circulation and exchange. In this paper, we foreground the significance of international students but also explore their relationship to diaspora formation from a different angle. We argue that some states are increasingly engaging in (sometimes seemingly contradictory) policies designed to obstruct overseas diaspora formation, and these policies centre on their international student populations. Through a number of case studies and drawing on the secondary literature, we demonstrate the ways in which states are strategising to repatriate international students following their studies overseas. More broadly, we argue, this represents an alternative to popular notions of brain circulation and knowledge diasporas, chiming with a far more long-standing concern with ‘brain drain’.

Jayadeva, S., Brooks, R. and Abrahams, J. (2022) The (stereo)typical student: how European higher education students feel they are viewed by relevant others, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 43, 1, 1-21.

There is a growing body of scholarship on how students see themselves, and also on how they are conceptualised by other social actors. However, what has been less explored is how students believe they are seen by others, and how this impacts them. Drawing on focus groups with students across Europe—and particularly plasticine models students made to depict how they felt they were seen by relevant others—this paper will illustrate how the four most common ways in which students felt they were constructed were as hedonistic and lazy; useless and a burden; clever, hardworking, and successful; and a resource to be exploited. It will argue that such stereotypes had significant material impact on students’ lives and how they experienced being a student. Finally, it will analyse how specific national contexts accounted for a range of variations in how students articulated these constructions.

Brooks, R. and Waters, J. (2022) Partial, hierarchical and stratified space? Understanding ‘the international’ in studies of international student mobility, Oxford Review of Education, 48, 4, 518-535.

This paper analyses the way in which ‘international’ is mobilised in relation to international student mobility (ISM), focusing on three areas in particular: its role in motivating students to undertake ISM; how it shapes experiences of ISM; and, finally, how conceptions of the international influence the impacts of ISM (in terms of students’ identities and labour market outcomes – the dominant themes within the extant literature). It argues that particular ideas of ‘the international’ determine where students choose to study and how those destinations are framed and positioned hierarchically. Similar ideas also underpin students’ experiences of ISM, with social class and family background playing an important additional role. The impacts of ISM are also related to conceptions of ‘the international’: students’ post-study identities were seen as ‘international’ but also ‘transnational’, ethnic, religious or racially constructed. Finally, we show how an ‘international’ degree is seen as a valuable commodity in many labour markets, but that the literature paints a more nuanced picture, where such qualifications are valued in particular employment sectors, attached to particular countries and not, as might be assumed, universally valorised. Furthermore, conceptions of an ‘international career’ are predictably limited and proxy for Anglophone countries located in the Global North.

Brooks, R., Gupta, A., Jayadeva, S., Lainio, A. and Lazetic, P. (2022) Constructing the Higher Education Student: perspectives from across Europe, Bristol, Policy Press.

Amid debates about the future of both higher education and Europeanisation, this book is the first full-length exploration of how Europe’s 35 million students are understood by key social actors across different nations.

The various chapters compare and contrast conceptualisations in six nations, held by policymakers, higher education staff, media and students themselves. With an emphasis on students’ lived experiences, the authors provide new perspectives about how students are understood, and the extent to which European higher education is homogenising. They explore various prominent constructions of students – including as citizens, enthusiastic learners, future workers and objects of criticism.

Hook, G., Moreau, M.-P. and Brooks, R. (2022) Student-Carers in Higher Education: Navigating, Resisting and Reinventing Academic Cultures, London, Routledge.

This timely volume explores the ways that university institutions affect the experiences of student carers and how student carers negotiate the (often conflicting) demands of care and academic work.

The book maps the experiences of student carers in academic cultures, exploring the intersectional ways in which gender, class, race and other social categories define who can take up a position as a student and a carer. It is framed by concerns of equity and diversity in higher education and ways that diverse people with wide-ranging care responsibilities are able to access and engage with degree-level study. The book promotes the idea of a more inclusive and equitable higher education environment and supports the emergence of more ‘care-full’ academic cultures which value and recognise care and carers.

The book will be highly relevant reading for academics, researchers and post-graduate students with an interest in higher education, social justice, gender studies and caring responsibilities. It will also be of interest to postgraduate students in sociology of education as well as higher education policymakers.

Brooks, R. and Hodkinson, P. (2022) The distribution of ‘educational labour’ in families with equal or primary carer fathers, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 43, 7, 995-1011.

Parental involvement in education has taken on a new importance in contemporary society as a result of the rise of ideas associated with ‘parental determinism’, the desire of neoliberal states to shift responsibility for educational outcomes onto families, and the increasing salience of educational qualifications in processes of social reproduction. Nevertheless, extant research has indicated that such responsibilities typically fall on mothers rather than fathers. Drawing on a two-wave study, this article explores the experiences of UK families in which fathers had taken on at least equal responsibility for the care of their young children, focussing specifically on whether the ‘labour’ associated with education was also distributed more equally. It shows that education was a notable area in which inequalities continued to be played out – because of assumptions about maternal responsibility, but also the active role performed by schools and parent groups in reinforcing traditional gender roles.

Hodkinson, P. and Brooks, R. (2023) Caregiving Fathers and the Negotiation of Crossroads: Journeys of Continuity and Change, British Journal of Sociology, 74, 1, 35-49.

This article addresses the sustainability of extensive paternal involvement in caregiving by applying a temporal approach to understandings of the journeys of primary- and equal-carer fathers and their families. Drawing on a second phase of interviews with UK fathers first spoken to five years earlier, we explore continuities and changes in their roles, identities and outlooks as their caregiving journeys progressed and their children became older. Specifically, we explore how fathers and their families negotiated significant moments of change that had the potential to prompt reflection or reorientation, moments that we term caregiving crossroads. Through doing so, we highlight how, in spite of shifts in their arrangements and understandings, the embeddedness of fathers’ caregiving routines, bonds and identities had apparently enabled their commitment to counter-normative roles to endure through such crossroads. We also outline, however, how gendered limitations to some aspects of the scope of their caregiving seemed also to persist as their journeys as fathers progressed.

Waters, J. and Brooks, R. (2022) Geographies of education at macro-, meso- and micro- scales: young people and international student mobility, in: Hammond, L. et al. (eds) Children, Education and Geography: Rethinking Intersections, London, Routledge,

Increasingly, work on geographies of education is attentive both to the large-scale patterns and flows of student mobilities (globally) and to their everyday spatialities - what might be described as banal and mundane educational experiences. Both perspectives are vital when attempting to understand contemporary student and young people’s geographies. In this chapter, we use international student mobilities as a lens through which to consider the benefits of enlisting micro, meso and macro perspectives. These perspectives highlight different issues but together reveal the importance of geography - international student mobilities are fundamentally geographical and played out at a variety of scales. The chapter considers global flows, regional dynamics, urban mobilities and campus/classroom experiences. To conclude, the chapter discusses what links might be drawn with conversations around younger (pre-university) children’s educational mobilities – what we know and what gaps in the literature would seem to remain.

Waters, J. and Brooks, R. (2024) The art of internationalisation: ‘unstrategic’ dialogical cosmopolitanism within secondary schools in England, Social and Cultural Geography, 25, 2, 316-337.

This paper explores English schools’ engagement with ‘internationalisation’ in the context of funding cuts and a highly pressured audit culture. The broader literature suggests two reasons why schools might partake in ‘internationalisation’. The first concerns the ‘strategic cosmopolitan’ – schools are complicit in facilitating cosmopolitanism amongst the pupil body so that young people may attain ‘positional advantage’ in a crowded international or global labour market. The second invokes a deeper sense of ethics and a more equal ‘exchange’ of ideas. We use ‘art’ as a lens to explore this latter conception: proposing that artistic pursuits enable a more dialogic notion of internationalisation to develop. Focussing on international exchanges between schools in the Global North and Global South that foreground specifically artistic projects (involving drama, literature, fashion, textiles, art, creative writing, film making, dance and music), we illustrate a potentially more ethical, rich and meaningful form of ‘internationalisation’, which does not obviously conform to the notion of inherent and demonstrable (capitalised) value. We propose that educational value might be understood differently: in non-strategic, intrinsic and more essential ways, and that, furthermore, internationalisation can be fun.

Brooks, R. and Waters, J. (2023) An analysis of the UK’s Turing Scheme as a response to socio-economic and geo-political challenges, Higher Education (online advance access)

Following its departure from the European Union in 2020, the UK left the Erasmus+ student mobility scheme, replacing it with the ‘Turing Scheme’. The scheme is underpinned by four key objectives that address what the government sees as particular socio-economic and geo-political challenges: to promote ‘Global Britain’, through ‘forging new relationships across the world’; to ‘support social mobility and widen participation across the UK’; to develop ‘key skills’, bridging ‘the gap between education and work’; and to ensure ‘value for UK taxpayers’ in international student mobility. In this paper, we draw on an analysis of the websites of 100 UK higher education institutions to explore the messages given to students about the Turing Scheme. In particular, we focus on geopolitical positioning through ‘Global Britain’, the perceived importance of socio-economic diversification through ‘widening participation’, and the underexplored role played by third parties in the provision and administration of the Turing Scheme (and study abroad more broadly).

Brooks, R., Gupta, A., Jayadeva, S. and Lainio, A. (2023) Constructing ‘ideal’ students within contemporary higher education (editorial introduction), International Studies in Sociology of Education

This is the editorial introduction to a special issue of International Studies of Sociology of Education on the 'ideal' student

Sahin, B. and Brooks, R. (2023) Nation-bounded internationalization of higher education: A comparative analysis of two periphery countries, Higher Education Research and Development, 42, 5, 1071-1085.

Internationalization of higher education (IHE) has become one of the most prominent strategies in national policies and universities’ agendas during the past three decades. IHE provides numerous benefits to nations, institutions, and higher education stakeholders and plays a vital role in improving the quality of education and research. However, it is difficult to argue that all countries equally benefit from IHE; that is, power inequalities between countries in the world are reflected in universities’ efforts and outcomes regarding internationalization. To analyse the effects of national boundaries on IHE, this article presents qualitative research conducted in two European countries: Poland and Turkey. Thirty-six semi-structured interviews were conducted with international office professionals. The results revealed that IHE in Poland and Turkey, as examples of peripheral countries in terms of IHE, is restricted by political instability, economic impotency and socio-cultural legacies. These factors lead to a nation-bounded internationalization experience for higher education institutions and individual stakeholders in both countries. The results also revealed some differences between the two countries and it is argued that decentralized internationalization strategies designed based on nations’ unique characteristics are needed to drive the progressive values of IHE forward.

Brooks, R. (2023) Higher education studies today and for the future: a UK perspective, British Journal of Educational Studies, 71, 5, 517-535.

This article explores the state of higher education studies today, suggesting that in many ways it can be considered a vibrant field. In the UK, this is evidenced by the relatively large number of REF2021 submissions that had a higher education focus, and the emphasis higher education institutions are increasingly placing on conducting their own pedagogical research (in some respects, driven by market imperatives). In addition, the field has become more strongly international in its orientation, with more collaborative work, and a greater number of scholars engaging with issues beyond their own nation-state. However, the article also argues that there are various ‘threats’ bound up with this greater internationalisation – not least, the limited definition of the ‘international’ that is often implicit in our scholarship.

Brooks, R. and Rensimer, L. (2023) The European Universities Initiative and European spatial imaginaries, Globalisation, Societies and Education (advance online access)

The European Universities Initiative (EUI), launched in 2019, fosters the development of networks of universities across Europe with the aim of enabling students to obtain a degree by combining studies in several countries and strengthening collaboration in both teaching and research, and by extension, the international competitiveness of European universities. As well as constituting one of the European Commission’s most significant policies, with respect to higher education, over recent years, the initiative also provides a useful lens to explore how European higher education is understood by a range of social actors. Indeed, drawing on relevant policy documents and interviews with key policy actors, this article examines what broader messages about the European higher education space (actual and ideal) are conveyed by public discussions about EUI networks. The analysis reveals significantly different perspectives about: the geographical boundaries of the European higher education space; the extent to which European higher education should be inclusive and/or aim to promote excellence; whether higher education constitutes a vehicle for further Europeanisation; and the role of nation-states in a changing Europe.

Gupta, A., Brooks, R. and Abrahams, J. (2023) Higher education students as consumers: a cross-country comparative analysis of students’ views, Compare (advance online access).

The rapid expansion of neo-liberal regimes has effectively transformed how students – their role and purpose – are understood in society. Scholars, especially in the Anglophone North, have shown how dominant policy narratives tend to position students as consumers. More recent studies have begun to explore students’ views on this construction. However, much of this work focuses on a particular country; thus, how students’ opinions may vary across contexts remains largely underexamined. Redressing this gap, this article explores students’ perspectives on being constructed as consumers in Denmark, England, and Spain. It discusses similarities and differences across and within these countries. The paper shows that most students find this construction profoundly problematic and counter to the ideals of education as a public good. Yet, different, often contrasting, themes from students’ narratives signify the relevance of the funding regime and the level of stratification within HE sectors in shaping students’ understanding of consumerist discourse across Europe.

Brooks, R. and Waters, J. (2023) Student Mobilities: An Introduction. In: Wyn, J., Cahill, H., Cuervo, H. (eds) Handbook of Children and Youth Studies. Springer, Singapore.

This chapter provides an overview of the Handbook section on ‘Student Mobilities’. It first discusses the concept of ‘mobilities’ and how it relates to students and education. It then briefly introduces each of the following five chapters before drawing out three overarching themes of the Handbook section: the inherently political nature of much of the activity explored in the various chapters; the challenges to traditional understandings of (mobile) young people; and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brooks, R. and Timms, J. (2023) Improving access to, and success on, sandwich courses for students from widening participation backgrounds, London, TASO (Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education).

This report was commissioned by The Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) to address gaps in our knowledge about the barriers to students from widening participation (WP) backgrounds accessing, and succeeding on, sandwich year courses. Sandwich courses are defined as undergraduate degree programmes that include a year-long placement in industry or part-time work-experience alongside a degree-course. Existing research has demonstrated that considerable advantages follow from taking a sandwich course, particularly in relation to accessing professional-level employment on graduation, and that these advantages are often heightened for those from WP backgrounds. Nevertheless, it is also known that students from WP backgrounds are much less likely to take up the opportunity of a sandwich year. Although there has been some limited research on the reasons for this, such studies have often focussed on a single higher education provider (HEP), or a single degree subject. In addition, while some of these studies have made recommendations about how the problems they identify can be addressed, in no cases have recommendations been tested with prospective users. To address these gaps, this research provides a broad understanding of the barriers to accessing, and succeeding on, sandwich courses experienced by WP students – and to develop and test a Theory of Change to help remove the identified barriers.

Lee, J., Brooks, R. and Abrahams, J. (2024) Students, community and belonging: an investigation of student experience across six European countries, Higher Education Research and Development, 43, 4, 906-921.

Despite existing empirical work that explores the multiple ways in which students develop a sense of belonging in higher education, there is a dearth of comparative research about the extent to which the concepts of community and belonging are central to what it means to be a student and how students in different national contexts (beyond Anglophone countries) construct community and belonging. Drawing on qualitative data from students from six European countries, we provide an account of conceptualisations of community and belonging. Specifically, this paper extends discussions around community and belonging in higher education through comparative inquiry. Notwithstanding the individualised and consumerist framing of students accompanied by market reforms in higher education across Europe, it shows that the notion of community and/or belonging features prominently in students’ narratives. We also demonstrate how a sense of community and belonging is experienced on different levels. Crucially, the emphasis placed on community in students’ sense of belonging varies by the country, pointing towards the continued influence of distinctive national traditions, structures and norms of higher education. Our analysis contributes to wider debates about the development of a European Higher Education Area and its impact on European homogenisation.

Rensimer, L. and Brooks, R. (2024) The European Universities Initiative: further stratification in the pursuit of European cooperation?, Compare (advance online access)

The European Commission’s flagship European Universities Initiative (EUI) announced in 2017 laid out a novel regional approach to internationalisation by promoting the establishment of integrated transnational networks of universities, or alliances. Launched in consecutive pilot rounds, the EUI provided a fixed-sum grant to each alliance with the expectation that participating institutions and national governments co-fund their activities. Given the hierarchical structure of the European higher education space and varying national support for the Initiative, capacities of institutions to participate appear both unequal and exclusionary. This study draws on documentary evidence and interviews with EUI alliance representatives, exploring accounts from three distinct alliances from the 2019 pilot round. With nuances between the examined cases, it argues that the design of the EUI, intended as a vehicle for enhancing cooperation and excellence, intensifies vertical stratification of European higher education by supporting relatively advantaged institutions with respect to international partnership opportunities and resources.

Brooks, R. and Waters, J. (2023) International student mobilities: themes and issues, in: Pinson, H., Bunar, N. and Devine, D. (eds) Research Handbook on Migration and Education, Edward Elgar.

In this chapter, we provide an overview of some of the most significant debates pertaining to contemporary international student mobility. Specifically, the chapter draws on extant literature (both empirical and theoretical) in sociology, geography and education to consider five prominent themes: changes in the geographies of student mobilities; socio-economic diversification in mobile students; migration, citizenship and state-building projects; learning and classroom experiences; and ethics and international student mobility. These themes are not exhaustive, but reflect what we see as some of the most significant developments in the academic literature over the past ten years (Waters and Brooks, 2021). We this hope that this chapter helps to build a better interdisciplinary understanding of international student mobility (ISM), by bringing together scholarship from different areas of enquiry, whilst also pointing to some fruitful directions for future work in this area.

Brooks, R. and Timms, J. (2023) Widening participation to sandwich courses: temporal challenges, Studies in Higher Education.

Within the UK, sandwich courses, i.e. degree programmes that include a year spent on a work placement, usually during the third year of a four-year course, are increasingly offered by higher education institutions to maximise the proportion of their graduates moving into employment and, particularly, jobs that are deemed ‘graduate-level’. Indeed, there is evidence of a strong positive correlation between participation in sandwich courses and employment. Although this positive impact is particularly marked for students from widening participation (WP) backgrounds, such students are also significantly less likely to undertake a sandwich course. The article draws on 50 interviews with higher education staff and students to argue that many of the most significant barriers experienced by WP students are related to various temporal challenges. In doing so, it expands the body of work on the frequent mis-match between hegemonic university time and the time of students from under-represented backgrounds. In addition, it argues that WP students are less able than their more privileged peers to take advantage of the ‘slow time’ necessary to undertake a work placement, and that the rhythms of external actors are also relevant when explaining the challenges faced by WP students. 

Brooks, R. and Waters, J. (2024) Global Britain and cosmopolitan nationalism, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education (forthcoming)

The term ‘Global Britain’ was widely used by the UK government between 2016 and 2021, in part at least, to signal its ambition to reorient the nation’s foreign policy on departure from the European Union. There was, however, considerable uncertainty about what the term meant beyond this, with some commentators suggesting that it denoted a significant de-prioritising of relations with European nations, others arguing that it represented a reassertion of colonial perspectives, and yet others contending it was largely an empty concept, devoid of any real meaning. In this article, we draw on a range of policy documents to consider whether it can be considered as a form of ‘cosmopolitan nationalism’ – i.e. a policy agenda that promoted both a sense of nationalism and a global outlook. In developing our analysis, we focus on the area of education, in particular – not least because this was one of the few policy domains where the language of ‘Global Britain’ was, until recently, still used (in the promotion of the Turing Scheme). We argue that while, prima facie, the term seems a potentially plausible case of cosmopolitan nationalism, the significant limitations to the ‘global outlook’ that is deployed suggest that it was far from ‘cosmopolitan’ in its reach and ambition.

Brooks, R. and Rensimer, L. (2024) Higher Education Actors’ Responses to the Ukraine-Russia Conflict:
an analysis of geopolitical spatial imaginaries, Journal of Education Policy

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, on 24th February 2022, was met with widespread condemnation across Europe, with many universities and higher education-focussed national and regional organisations issuing their own public statements about the invasion and subsequent conflict and, in some cases, taking specific action in relation to one or both of the countries. This article draws on an analysis of 55 such statements to examine what they reveal about how higher education organisations conceptualise the European HE space, and the position of Russia and Ukraine within it. Specifically, the article considers what spatial imaginaries – pertaining to higher education – are evident in the statements about the Ukraine conflict issued by higher education organisations across Europe, and the extent to which the statements provide evidence about the role of these organisations as normative policy actors.

Brooks, R., Courtois, A., Faas, D., Jayadeva, S. and Beech, S. (2024) International student mobility within Europe: responding to contemporary challenges, Higher Education (advance online access)

In this article we provide an introduction to the special issue on ‘Challenges to International Student Mobility within Europe’. We first discuss the current context of such mobility, and justify our focus on Europe, in particular, by outlining some distinctive features of this geographical region. We then outline the contributions of the articles that make up the special issue – in terms of the challenges they identify, the ways in which they theorise international student mobility, and the responses they proffer. Throughout, we acknowledge the rich extant literature on international student mobility, and weave this into our discussion as appropriate.