In this context, the aim of this research was to explore the lived experiences of a diversity of doctoral researchers in relation to academic belonging across pre-92 and post-92 universities, and how these relate to the current neo-liberal HE environment. Eight focus groups were conducted with 29 doctoral students in the areas of Education and Applied Health Research at two universities in the English West Midlands – one pre-92 university and one post-92 (‘new’) university. Six took place online and two in-person, in the study settings. Key themes and findings: - relational belonging: the reductive effects of the current HE environment on supervisory support and relationships with supervisors; the importance of peer support; - institutional and material belonging: payment for study/having a paid position alongside study creating validation; sparsity of and competition for research/teaching assistant roles; uncertainty and precarity; - cultural and knowledge-related belonging: embodying entrepreneurial culture as an indicator of academic success; accepted/expected unbelonging for minoritised ethnic groups; values conflict and distancing oneself from neoliberal HE, especially for mature students and those from working class backgrounds. Experiences were found to vary according to a range of intersecting social locations and institutional positions. International students appeared to be experiencing the most difficulties across the dimensions. The findings of the study have importance implications for HE policy and practice relating to doctoral study and support for doctoral students.
In the UK and many other countries globally, university culture today is shaped by the wider ‘neoliberal’ policy context, which encourages individualism and competition and antagonizes collective values and ways of working. This has significant implications for doctoral students, who often occupy a liminal position between staff and students, and desire to be part of an academic community, but commonly report feelings of isolation and ‘imposter syndrome’. While existing research suggests these feelings are likely to affect doctoral students from minority groups and international students in particular, their lived experiences have gone largely undocumented. Other relevant variables affecting the doctoral student experience include the type of university attended and area of study. In this context, the aim of this research is to explore the lived experiences of academic (un)belonging among a diversity of doctoral students across pre-92 and post-92 (‘new’) universities in England and how these relate to conceptions of the neoliberal university, with a particular concern with the experiences and inclusion of minority ethnic and international groups. A cross-institutional case study research design was used involving focus groups with 30-40 doctoral students across two Midlands universities. The research will involve doctoral students in the project team and advisory group. It was action-oriented towards informing policy and practice, and supporting doctoral students, at the two universities and more widely.
- Single study
- United Kingdom
- Academic (Un)Belonging and the Neoliberal University, 2021-2022
- Single study