Working-class students invited to share experiences of university in new research study
Emily Dickens, a PhD student within the Leeds School of Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett, is investigating the challenges that students from working-class backgrounds feel that they face when starting – or considering starting – a university course. Through her study, she wants to discover new ways that universities can support a wider range of students in feeling welcomed and included.
Emily explained: “Degree-level qualifications are highly sought by employers in the UK – so widening access to higher education as much as possible is incredibly important. In my study, I am exploring how UK universities – which, historically, have been geared towards people from privileged backgrounds – can welcome and support ‘non-traditional’ students.
“The government has introduced initiatives to encourage non-traditional students to apply to university. However, published statistics around free-school-meals status and low-participation neighbourhoods still show that there are underrepresented minority groups at university.
“And, despite having the right qualifications and gaining their place at university, research has shown that many working-class students still feel like they don’t fit in and belong when they get there.”
Emily is looking for current and former students of any UK university – as well as those who may have looked into a university course but decided against studying – who consider themselves to be from a working-class background, to take part in her study and share their opinions and experiences.
Volunteers will take part in an online one-to-one interview with Emily (using Microsoft Teams). They will discuss their own personal experiences and expectations of UK university whilst virtually exploring their university campus. For those who have not attended a university previously, Emily will use and explore Leeds Beckett as an example.
Emily said: “I want to encourage participants to creatively re-imagine their universities and share their opinions and recommendations of how they could be more inclusive for everyone. Through our conversations, I hope to illuminate any possible challenges or obstacles faced by working-class students during their time at university, and start to consider what positive changes could be made to help them feel that they fit in.”
Before the interview, volunteers will be asked to consider places or aspects of their university that are significant to them in terms of meeting or challenging their expectations of university life. Emily will then visit these spaces with them through photos or screenshots during the interview and ask a series of questions about those areas and more broadly about their experiences of education and belonging.
Participants in the interviews will also be invited to take part in the next stages of Emily’s study – which include a focus group discussion, a creative workshop to imagine ideal university spaces, and an exhibition to celebrate the creative works produced.
If you are interested in taking part in the study, please contact Emily Dickens at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0113 812 5284. You can also find more information and send through details of your availability to take part through Emily's online form.
All participants will receive a £20 Love2Shop voucher via email as a thank you for their time.