Past Event details

Webinar: Students´ sense of self: Identity and belonging in HE

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Webinar link:
password 120220


This Webinar is part of Share your Research: A programme of Online Webinars. This series is intended to facilitate the sharing of cutting edge and innovative research, globally. These webinars enable lively debate and constructive feedback from interested peers. These sessions are open and free for all to attend.  

 Chair: Mark J.P. Kerrigan, Plymouth College of Art

 1. Sense of Belonging in Science Undergraduates, Rebecca Barnes, University of Sheffield

My research examines sense of belonging in students in a Russell Group science department, and how belonging differs according to various demographic categories.

Sense of belonging is of critical importance for outcomes at all stages of education. Scholars such as Vincent Tinto have shown that belonging is related to engagement and self-confidence, and in turn to achievement and retention of university students. Sadly, belonging can be hard to come by, especially for some students from underrepresented groups.

This presentation concentrates on quantitative data gathered to investigate sense of belonging in the undergraduate population of a Russell Group science department. Surveys developed by others (Yorke, 2016 and Ribera, Miller and Dumford, 2017) were used, thus allowing comparison with other contexts. Survey responses were dichotomised according to several demographic characteristics, then analysed by graphical visualisation and statistical tests. This type of analysis allows trends to emerge which can then be investigated further through qualitative approaches.

As expected based on the existing literature, British BAME students reported significantly lower belonging than their White British counterparts, as did students who reported a disability compared to those who did not. In both cases, this seems to be related to the quality of relationships with other students, rather than to the behaviour of staff or of the university. Friendships have been shown by others to be extremely valuable in developing a sense of belonging, making this correlation between peer relationships and overall belonging unsurprising.

Belonging is fragile and should be bolstered by interventions throughout the programme that help students to form quality relationships with each other and with staff. This is an important equity question to help all students succeed.

2. The fallacy of the single story: the higher education journeys of BAME students and individual narratives of identity and representation, Janet Oosthuysen, Leeds Trinity University

The aim of this research is to provide a qualitative, longitudinal study of the higher education journey of a group of BAME students. It plans to analyse the individual narratives from the viewpoint of the student. The rationale for this is the BAME achievement gap, particularly in their degree classification which is currently 25.3% of white students (“Equality in Higher Education: Statistical Report 2017 - Equality Challenge Unit”). This hides a more nuanced picture, and one of the aims of this research is to disaggregate the categories of BAME students and look at the intersections with gender and class.

It is not possible to present here a full snapshot of current research. However, highlights include the Runnymede Trust’s “Aim Higher” in 2015, exploring key issues and initiatives around racial and ethnic (in)equality, Bhambra et al’s “Decolonising the university” (Bhambra, Gebrial and Kerem Nişancıoğlu, 2018) and the current Office of Students 17-strand, 70+ HEI project looking at barriers to success, including students of different ethnicities (OfS, 2019). Few however look longitudinally at the educational journey from the student’s perspective. 

This project begins in September 2019 with a rapid ethnography detailing the context and the start of the student journey, followed by the recruitment of 25-30 students to be interviewed biannually for the entirety of their university careers. Following a grounded theory approach, it will look at student perception of their identity, their own framing of their experience, and if the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion - the decolonisation of the university space being just one aspect- affect their academic life.

The researcher is also visiting universities in Vietnam to interview ethnic minority students providing a counterpoint to the UK research.


Alexander, C. and Arday, J. (2015). Runnymede Perspectives Aiming Higher Race, Inequality and Diversity in the Academy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Aug. 2019].

Bhambra, G.K., Gebrial, D. and Kerem Nişancıoğlu (2018). Decolonising the university. London: Pluto Press.

“Equality in Higher Education: Statistical Report 2017 - Equality Challenge Unit.” Equality Challenge Unit, 2017, Accessed 23 Aug. 2019.



Network: Newer Researchers
Date(s): Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Times: 13:00-14:00
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Sense of belonging in science undergraduates
Rebecca Barnes Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, University of Sheffield
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