Examining the experiences and decision-making processes of underrepresented students at a post-1992 University

  • Frances Hall

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Higher education in the UK remains unequal in terms of access and outcomes (attainment and graduate employment) for underrepresented students. This PhD study created a student decision-making model to represent the journeys to and through university. The model encompasses students’ holistic decision making, based upon their previous experiences and interpretation of higher education. This was based upon life-story interviews with current students alongside semi-structured interviews with internal and external staff members in various roles associated with widening participation. A Bourdieusian theoretical framework was implemented, which established that students faced an imbalance of power within the Institution and wider society. Structural barriers and institutionalised traditional policies and views were held about underrepresented students that impact upon student’s ability to navigate habitus and to enact their own sense of independence. The student decision-making model also incorporated Hodkinson et al.’s (1996) work on young person’s career decision-making and careership. Learning from the data gathered, the study concluded that underrepresented students are disadvantaged and disempowered at university due to the structures in place that restricts choice, autonomy and opportunities. Recommendations are provided to adapt policy and include the development of an evaluation framework to ensure access strategies ameliorate outcomes for all students within higher education.
Date of AwardFeb 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorRichard Hazenberg (Supervisor), Meanu Bajwa-Patel (Supervisor) & Simon Denny (Supervisor)


  • Higher Education
  • university
  • widening participation
  • underrepresented
  • qualitative research
  • life-story interview

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