About Paired Peers


The overall aim is to examine the processes by which higher education promotes social mobility and maintains inequalities. We will therefore explore the

  • Impact of students’ classed and gendered identities on their life and employment trajectories (including choices, aspirations and strategies)
  • Effects of institution and subject choice on outcomes and destinations
  • Use made of various resources (capitals) brought into university and/or acquired during their university years to achieve labour market positioning
  • Ways in which post-university experience serves to modify original choices and aspirations, and how these are shaped by class and gender
  • Possible tension between individual mobility and the promotion of the social mobility of communities.


We will follow our cohort of students through the next three years as they move into employment, further study or joblessness.
The main research method will be in-depth semi-structured interviews. Participants will be interviewed four times; the first at the commencement of the project: the next to assess progress at the end of the first project year. Two further interviews will follow, one per year, to track subsequent developments.
Using combined data from the four interviews plus the six Paired Peers interviews we will map out for each participant a life-course pathway, showing critical junctures and events. This pathway will highlight how particular resources have been utilised at different transitional stages. To supplement the interview material we will also ask participants to carry out a lifeline mapping exercise.
The interviews will be supplemented by some additional methods of data collection. We will seek information about the careers services provided by the two Bristol universities, which may relate particularly to the experiences of the participants as they enter the labour market. We will also seek to analyse the career profiles of the undergraduate cohorts, using data from the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education database. This will enable us to track the entire student cohort (to which our sample belong) from the two universities into the labour market and post-graduate study at six months and three years post graduation and compare our participants' progress with that of the whole year entry. Finally we will collect the CVs of our volunteers at the start and end of the project, to analyse how they have changed, and relate these to the life-course pathways.

Defining Social Class

Defining ‘class’ is, of course significantly problematic in itself.  Whilst some socio-economic data is gathered by UCAS, it is notoriously unreliable and highly contested Instead, we have relied upon a combination of objective economic measures and geographic indicators, family and educational histories (concurrent with Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, field and symbolic capitals) and self-identification.


First and foremost we would like to acknowledge and thank the various funders who have made the Paired Peers Project possible: We are grateful to The Leverhulme Trust for generously funding us for yet three years. Secondly we would like to thank all of our students for their continued dedication and participation within the project. You make the project what it is with your incredible insights into your experiences. Thank you for sharing these with us. We would also like to thank both The University of Bristol and The University of the West of England for their continued support of the Paired Peers project and for granting access to their students and for facilitating the research. Finally we would like to acknowledge and thank our advisory board for their intellectual guidance, support and direction: Professor Phil Brown, Professor Gill Crozier, Professor Kate Purcell, Professor Diane Reay, Professor David James, Dr John Selby and Richard Smith, Mrs Maggie Westgarth and Mrs Lucy Van Baars.