Centre for Gender Research

Staging the successful student in higher education

This project runs between 2015 and 2018 and is funded by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet, Dnr: 2014-2476).

It explores how constructions of masculinity and student identities inform strategies for coping with risks of academic failure in highly competitive contexts in Sweden and England:

  • What strategies do male undergraduates use to promote success and avoid failure in prestigious educational settings?

  • What makes a student “successful” and “unsuccessful” from the student's perspective?

  • What hinders or facilitates persistence, achievement and well­being among male students in higher education?

Background
Education revolves largely around performance and success; hence, success is important for a student’s self-image and self-worth. Undergraduates’ enrollment and achievements are gender stratified. Previous studies indicate that some students, despite high ambitions, employ strategies (e.g. reduced effort or cheating) to avoid being seen as ‘stupid’, especially in performance-oriented contexts. However, these studies have not explored the processes involved in higher education or considered masculinity in privileged contexts (despite gendered patterns).

Research design
The theoretical frameworks are theories of self-worth, gender and achievement. The focus is three elite undergraduate programmes: Medicine, Law and Engineering. The qualitative data are generated by observations, focus group interviews, and individual interviews with students, student representatives, study advisers, lecturers, and directors of studies. The comparative design enables a complex understanding of how (national and educational) structures hinder or facilitate male students’ uses of gainful strategies for learning.

The Research Team
Anne-Sofie Nyström, project manager/researcher (Centre for Gender Research, Uppsala University/Sweden)
Minna Salminen Karlsson, researcher (Centre for Gender Research, Uppsala University/Sweden)
Carolyn Jackson, researcher (Educational Research, Lancaster University/UK)


Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt