Reconceptualising student experiences: exploring embodiment and identity through differential HE space


  • Fatema Khatun Birmingham City University
  • Amanda French
  • Rob Smith



Embodiment, student experience, student identities, Widening Participation, differential HE space.


Despite the emergence of a body of literature about the student experience, how students of diverse backgrounds experience life and learning across the higher education (HE) sector remains under-researched. This article draws data from a small pilot study that explored this issue in Birmingham City University. The researchers, who comprised staff and students, deliberately worked against the grain of the emerging audit-centred university culture around a homogenised consumerist ‘student experience’. The research team (consisting of staff and a MA student) used identity boxes to create a safe space for students to talk with staff and other students about themselves. Findings indicated that the use of artefacts enables the mediation of emerging student identities and so confirmed the value of this method as an embodied experience. A key finding suggested that making it easier for students from black and South Asian backgrounds to discuss and explore their personal sense of embodiment in this way can open up a ‘differential HE space’, bringing with it positive educational benefits for them as uncompromisingly self-determining students.

Author Biographies

Fatema Khatun, Birmingham City University

Fatema Khatun is a PhD student with teaching experience in FE and HE, researching student identity engagement and negotiation in modern universities.

Amanda French

Dr Amanda French is a Reader in Teaching and Learning. Her work is focussed on the development of academic/professional literacies and student transitions.

Rob Smith

Dr Rob Smith is a Professor of Education. His work explores the impact of marketisation on further and higher education.