Lightning Talks - Addressing Differential Attainment

Tuesday, March 30, 2021 3:00 PM - 3:45 PM

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Session Outline

Personal tutoring, attainment and intersectional identities in higher education

Patricia Gilbert (University of Portsmouth)

The issue of whether personal tutoring can meet the demands of an expanding and diversifying higher education sector has been a key issue informing research into personal tutoring in the UK. However, there is a limited amount of research focusing specifically on the perspectives of students of minority ethnic backgrounds on the support they receive and the perspectives of personal tutors on their role in supporting ethnically diverse students to succeed. In the context of what can still be considered to be “an underdeveloped and under-resourced area” (Walker, 2020), it has been suggested that there is a need to “explore in-depth the value of academic and pastoral support provision to BME students” (Cahill, Bowyer and Murray, 2014, p. 409).

My PhD research has attempted to address this topic and has investigated the perspectives of students from ethnically diverse backgrounds, with a focus on their intersectional identities. I am undertaking a mixed methods study which includes a series of in-depth interviews with students and focus groups with personal tutors. A central consideration of the research has been differences in student outcomes, particularly the growing concerns regarding the black, Asian and minority ethnic student awarding gap. Previous studies have drawn connections between student attainment, students’ sense of belonging and the development of positive relationships with personal tutors (Thomas, 2012; Stevenson, 2012; Yale 2019).

Walker (2020) notes that the increasing diversity of the student body has highlighted the need for individualised approaches to student support. Sensitivity to students’ complex and intersectional identities may be an important factor in achieving this. Drawing from my own experience as a black student and educator and the process of carrying out my research, I hope to explore this idea, along with the potential tensions that may arise between understanding the impact of identity on student success and the danger of stereotyping students on the basis of their identity.


Cahill, J., Bowyer, J. & Murray, S. (2014). An exploration of undergraduate students’ views on the effectiveness of academic and pastoral support. Educational Research, 56:4, 398-411.

Stevenson, J. (2012). Black and Minority Ethnic Student Degree Retention and Attainment. Higher Education Academy.

Thomas, L. (2012). Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change: final report from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme. Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Walker, B. W. (2020). Tackling the personal tutoring conundrum: A qualitative study on the impact of developmental support for tutors. Active Learning in Higher Education, 1-13.

Yale, A. (2019). The personal tutor–student relationship: student expectations and experiences of personal tutoring in higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43:4, 533-544.

A mismatch between degree and interests; what can we do to help?

Nicola M Smith, Anna Viragos (University of Leeds)

We will very briefly present the findings of some research with taught postgraduate students (PGTs) which showed that whilst these students had a wide range of personal goals, identities and values it was not clear in all cases how