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ESRC Collaborative Studentship - RSA Academies

Friendship, Networks and Aspiration for Higher Education

The ESRC Doctoral Training Centre at the University of Warwick, one of 21 such centres in the UK, embodies the university’s commitment to producing the next generation of leaders in social science research. Internationally renowned for its research excellence, Warwick is now inviting applications for an ESRC Doctoral Studentship in association with our collaborative partner RSA Academies. Commencing in October 2015, the studentship will be based at the Centre for Education Studies (CES) and will investigate the impact of friendship and networks on future educational aspirations.

The project draws on, and complements, an innovative strategic partnership between the University of Warwick and RSA Academies designed to support schools in their concerns for pupil progression into higher education. The project will also contribute to the Warwick Observatory for Social Mobility.

Supervision will be provided by Professor Christina Hughes (Pro-Vice Chancellor, Teaching and Learning), Ian Abbott (Director, Centre for Education Studies) and Alison Critchley (Chief Executive, RSA Academies).

About the studentship project

Research continues to testify how there are substantial differences in Higher Education application and participation rates between young people from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds in the UK (eg Crawford, 2014; Reay et al 2005). At the same time, another body of research demonstrates how young people’s friendships affect all aspects of their lives, including educational attainment (Gifford-Smith and Brownell, 2003). This studentship will draw these areas together through a multi-method study of friendship networks and their relationship to aspiration to progress into university level study.

This studentship will interrogate the impact of friendships both in the school setting and what might be described as 'newer friendships' that arise through being engaged in university-based outreach interventions and programmes. The studentship provides an important opportunity to bring together understandings of the micro-social processes of friendship with quantitative and mapped data of social networks. This novel, multi-method, approach includes narrative interviews with young people, social network analysis alongside a comprehensive literature review of educational policy in the past decade.

The studentship includes a three month Internship at the RSA Academies’ office in London, with additional contributions to living costs. This provides an excellent springboard for impact activities related to the research project. It is envisaged this will include workshops and discussions with young people, teachers and parents/carers in schools; presentations to academic, parliamentary and policy audiences; and publication in the RSA Education series.

The studentship provides a unique opportunity to advance the field of progression into higher education analytically and methodologically, contribute to understandings of school and university outreach initiatives through deepening knowledge of peer effects and friendships on aspiration and progression, while informing policy and supporting practical interventions - contributing directly to the core aims of RSA Academies and RSA Education.


This studentship is available from October 2015 onwards and includes university fees and a stipend, normally for a minimum of 3 years and up to a maximum of 4 years. The DTC provides core and relevant advanced social science research training as well as additional funding for research training and support, for each year of your studentship.

In addition to support available from the DTC, the RSA will provide the successful applicant with RSA Fellow Membership, alongside contributions to travel and living expenses.

All prospective students who wish to apply must check that they meet the standard requirements of the University, the entry requirements for the MPhil/PhD programme in the department and the ESRC eligibility requirements before applying.

The application process

The closing date for applications is 30th April 2015. To apply, there are two stages:

1. Complete a University application to the Education MPhil/PHD programme. Apply now.

2. Complete an application for the collaborative PhD studentship. Please apply on the Centre for Education Studies Website. Please note you will be required to enter an application number generated from stage 1.


Informal inquiries about the research, prior to application can be directed to Professor Christina Hughes - C dot L dot Hughes at warwick dot ac dot uk


Crawford, C (2014) Secondary Schools, HE participation and outcomes: the link, London, DFE-RR353 (available

Gifford-Smith, M and Brownell, C (2003) Childhood peer relationships: social acceptance, friendships and peer networks, Journal of School Psychology, 41: 235-284

Reay, D, David, M and Ball, S (2005) Degrees of Choice: social class, race and gender in higher education: Stoke on Trent, Trentham Books

Further information