Past Event details

Place, inequality and undergraduate mobilities in college-based and university-based higher education

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Mobility has always been associated with undergraduate education in the UK. Traditionally, students leave the familial home and move into university accommodation, and this move signals a shift to a student identity as well as acting as a precursor to adult life. In recent years, this expectation has been complicated by a growing trend of students studying at their ‘local’ higher education institution, and by an understanding that relocation is not the only possible form of undergraduate mobility (Finn and Holton, 2019). This seminar seeks to problematise the national narrative further by highlighting the differences in patterns of mobility in different places in the country, taking a socio-spatial approach that identifies inequalities of access, privilege and distribution of higher education as a resource, as well as exploring students’ multi-faceted relationships to place and movement. Including students studying higher education at Further Education colleges as well as universities, and taking into account the diversity of places from which students attend undergraduate education in the UK, the seminar offers perspectives on ways of researching and theorising spatial inequality and seeks to create spaces for further geographical discussion.


Timings for the day


Registration, tea and coffee



Welcome, introduction to SRHE and the network



Michael Donnelly, University of Bath

‘Conceptualising geographic borders and boundaries: A spatial perspective on ‘international’ and ‘domestic’ student mobilities’






Holly Henderson, University of Nottingham

‘Absolutely local’: Narratives of higher education at island colleges in and around the UK


14.30 – 15.15  

Sol Gamsu, Durham University

Social network analysis methods and the geography of education: regional divides and elite circuits in the school to university transition in the UK


15.15 – 15.45  

Discussion and closing remarks



Abstracts and biographies


Michael Donnelly, University of Bath

Conceptualising geographic borders and boundaries: a spatial perspective on ‘international’ and ‘domestic’ student mobilities

This paper attempts to draw conceptual parallels with work on the international mobility of university students to understand the intranational mobility of those entering higher education within the UK. The ways in which international movements are implicated in processes of social reproduction is used as a lens to understand how the same processes may be apparent within countries like the UK, evident from the choices of where to study for those from different social class backgrounds. On another level, the ways in which geographic imaginaries of places frame the choices of where to study for those traversing national borders is used to frame our understanding of how young people within countries imagine and choose geographic places. Taking this spatial perspective, the parallels drawn here call into question how we understand spatial borders and boundaries for those being geographically mobile – whether inter- or intra- nationally.

Dr. Michael Donnelly is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Bath. His research interests are broad and he takes an interdisciplinary approach, in particular drawing on theories and ideas from education, human geography, and sociology. He is particularly interested in developing new innovative approaches to combining quantitative and qualitative methods. He is currently working on the Spatial and Social Im/Mobilities project, funded through the ESRC's Future Research Leader scheme. The project is a far-reaching study of the links between spatial and social (im)mobilities in UK society, through the lens of young people's universities choices. The project explores the significance of place in young people's lives and future trajectories through a detailed spatial mapping and analysis of their higher education choices along with rich qualitative research in 10 geographical locations.


Holly Henderson, University of Nottingham

‘Absolutely local’: Narratives of place and higher education at island colleges in and around the UK.  

This paper explores spatial educational inequalities through a focus on access to higher education on small island locations in and around the UK. The paper takes these islands as instances of local higher education provision, bringing a unique perspective to international discussions of student mobilities (Finn and Holton, 2019), rural and remote education (Corbett, 2007), and the relationship between place and education. The paper presents findings from a multi-sited case study that included documentary analysis, ethnographic observation and interviews with staff and students at three island colleges. Using the concept of the spatial story (de Certeau, 1984) within a sociological geographies framework to theorise educational subjectivity, the paper also locates island higher education within island-specific and UK-wide policy contexts. Three key findings are presented. The first is drawn from documentary analysis, and highlights the policy conflict between local priorities and global relevance in developing HE provision on islands. The second focuses on student and staff interviews, demonstrating the considerable, largely unnoticed material constraints facing students on islands with complex relationships to the higher education finance systems of the UK mainland. Finally, a further narrative exploration of student interview data shows how the context of the island exaggerates the binary distinctions of staying and going, safety and risk that structure higher education.

Dr. Holly Henderson is assistant professor of Education at the University of Nottingham. Her research and teaching focus broadly on sociological issues of inequality in education. In particular, she is interested in access to and experiences of post-compulsory and higher education. Her research is theoretically informed by social geographies, which enable analysis of the ways in which place, space and mobilities structure educational possibility. She is also interested in narrative and its relationship to subjectivity. She is currently working on an SRHE-funded project looking at the experiences of higher education students on islands in and around the UK.


Sol Gamsu, Durham University

Social network analysis methods and the geography of education: regional divides and elite circuits in the school to university transition in the UK

This paper uses social network analysis methods to explore how the spatial mobility of students to attend university creates regional divisions and socio-spatial hierarchies of schools and universities. We use community detection methods to examine clusters or ‘communities’ of areas that students move between to attend university, detecting areas which are more densely connected than would be expected at random. These communities suggest how student migration to attend university in the UK primarily operates along regional lines. Applying this method to schools and universities suggests a distinctive cluster of elite schools and universities operating separately from the more regional recruitment patterns of most universities. We combine this quantitative analysis with qualitative data from a multi-sited study of student mobility to university across the UK. Our paper provides a rich empirical and theoretical picture of how regional cultural divisions and processes of elite formation occur in the spatial transition to university.

Dr. Sol Gamsu is an assistant professor in the Sociology Department at Durham University where he is part of the Higher Education and Social Inequality research group. His interests lie at the intersection of sociology, geography and history and the central theme running through his work is how structures and experiences of power and inequality in education are reproduced over time and through different local and regional geographies. He has a strong commitment to the politics of education and recently co-edited a policy report, A New Vision for Further and Higher Education for the Centre for Labour and Social Studies.



Network: Technical, Professional and Vocational Higher Education
Date(s): Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Times: 12:00 - 15:45
Location: SRHE, 73 Collier St, London N1 9BE
This event has expired

Event Files
File Details Download
Sol Gamsu, Durham University
Social network analysis methods and the geography of education: regional divides and elite circuits in the school to university transition in the UK
Holly Henderson, University of Nottingham
‘Absolutely local’: Narratives of higher education at island colleges in and around the UK
Worldwise news
Partnerships and Innovation: The Future of HE
22nd September
Call for Chapters: Digital Transformation and Disruption of HE
Proposals 31st Oct 2020
Call for Chapter Proposals: Digital Transformation & Disruption of HE
By 31st October 2020
Call for papers: China and Higher Education Conference 2020:
7-11 Dec 2020
Covid-19 & SRHE events/activities
Update (June 2nd)
SRHE membership benefits:
Engagement with
the global higher education research community…