Bringing together various disciplinary perspectives and expertise Bringing together various disciplinary perspectives and expertise

This research area focuses on the relationships between the internal dynamics of higher education systems and their societal environments. The area has attracted an increasing number of research students in recent years and brings together various disciplinary perspectives and expertise, including sociology, anthropology, philosophy, psychology and pedagogy.

Research themes

Researchers in this area follow two interrelated strands of enquiry. The first interrogates strategies of policy and community engagement, including conceptualisations of ‘engagement' and ‘community' amongst academics and universities. 
The second theme explores patterns of participation and experiences in higher education as a consequence of the expansion and internationalisation of the sector, including access to higher education, transitions from further to higher education and international student experience.
Our researchers collaborate within the area on the elaboration of research proposals, in support of research students, and more broadly in a forum where ideas and findings about higher education transformation are debated. 



Geoff Hinchliffe: Exploring how conceptions of graduate identity can be used to understand the transition from student to employee. Also interested in seeing how the Capability Theory can be used to formulate a richer conception of employability that links to well-being.
John Elliott: Interest in the theory and practice of action research within the broad field of education and training
Yann Lebeau: Broad research interest in higher education policies and impacts on academic experiences.
Christine O'Hanlon: Writes about policy and practice in the 'inclusion' of students with special educational needs (SEN), and marginalised groups.
Spyros Themelis: Education, social mobility and social justice
Rebecca Westrup: Research focuses on the construction of learner identities. Her recent work has focused on the development of undergraduate students' learner identities within academic writing practices.
Edmund Barker: vocational transitions. HE in FE
Mr Habbab Bintwalah: The academic profession in Saudi Arabia
Julie Bounford: Researching academics' perceptions of community engagement.

Areas of expertise and interests of area members

  • The academic profession: Issues of initial training and professional development, The internationalisation of the academic workforce in the UK, trends in the international circulation of academics and consequences on national HE systems, as well as the implications of changing student identities and experience on academic practice.
  • The transformative impact of technology: Technology and pedagogical practice, the digital student experience on and off campus, issues of quality, access and equity in distance and open learning.
  • Globalisation and internationalisation of higher education: Forms of cooperation and dependencies in post-colonial higher education. Trends in international student mobility and implications for pedagogy. The "Bologna process" in Europe and beyond.
  • Higher education in society: Discourses and practice of community engagement. Universities in the local economy, issues related to the studentification of cities. Comparative perspectives on barriers to, participation in, and access routes to higher education. The public roles of higher education: universities and their constituencies in contexts of conflicts and transitions.
  • Student identities and learning cultures: Subject identities in mass higher education, HE funding and impacts on student experience and engagement. Learning environments and learning processes. Transitions in HE and between FE and HE. Student protests.


Drawing on the existing networks of its members, the area is developing collaborative research projects and dissemination events. The resulting increase in visibility of this research strength of EDU is already an impact on the recruitment of research students, and on the relations with researchers in other schools and institutions (HE research is by nature an interdisciplinary field attracting interest from throughout the social and management sciences). 


For further information about the area's activities, please contact Yann Lebeau (convenor):