Moving Beyond Belonging: Student Mattering in Higher Education 

We are delighted to welcome Ryan Wilkinson (Lifelong Learning Centre, University of Leeds) to lead our 15th November School Research Seminar, on the theme of student belonging.


Key metrics of success within Higher Education (HE) – access and participation, retention, degree and graduate outcomes – reveal inequalities related to race, gender and social class. Policies at both institutional and national levels seek to reduce these inequalities, often through initiatives that seek to foster “a sense of belonging” among a more diverse cohort of students. Whilst it is hard to disagree with the notion that all students should belong, due to its deployment in such a wide variety of contexts, it is often unclear what belonging is or how it is experienced by students. Belonging is, thus, framed as the panacea to structural barriers that hinder student success but is increasingly emptied out of meaning, particularly given its alignment with institutional priorities and not student-focused feelings of worth, value and mattering.  

This paper draws on Bourdieusian scholars and the notion of HE as a specific field of activity, to show that as students enter and occupy the spaces of university they have affective every-day experiences within these spaces that relate to feelings of mattering or not mattering. We advance a conceptual framework of mattering as an alternative to belonging to re-orient the discussion away from institutionally defined concepts of belonging which are imparted onto students, towards relational, affective, dialogic explorations of what it means to matter for marginalised students. In this way we recognise mattering as an unfolding process rather than a destination, and something that requires structural and institutional change instead of being something to be imposed or conferred. 

Speaker bio: 

Ryan Wilkinson is a Teaching Fellow in Research Methods in the Lifelong Learning Centre at the University of Leeds. His research interests are on the impacts of marketisation of Higher Education, student experience and anarchist pedagogies.

Zoom log in details: 

Zoom meeting link

Meeting ID: 853 9000 1226 

Passcode: bHY$x1 

No registration required, all welcome.