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Dr Rille Raaper

Associate Professor, Deputy Director of Research

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Associate Professor, Deputy Director of Research in the School of EducationCB2029 
Associate Fellow in the Institute of Advanced Study  


Dr Rille Raaper (BA, PgCAP, MA, Ph.D)

I am an Associate Professor and Deputy Director of Research in the School of Education. I am also an Associate Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS) at Durham University. My research interests lie in the sociology of higher education, and I am particularly interested in themes related to student identity and political agency. My research tends to critique the consumerist construction of students, for example, how students enact and/or resist consumer discourses in higher education. I often explore these themes by drawing on various social theories and critical discourse analysis. My British Academy project traced the consumerist positioning of students in English higher education policy and the ways in which it informs student politics. I have published a number of related articles (see the most recent one here) and blog posts to share some of the key findings.

My current research activities include a) ESRC IAA and Durham University Research Impact Fund project aimed at developing 'Boost My Support Networks' app. Please read more here on underpinning research; b) A research project on disabled student activism in ableist higher education contexts; and c) Development of a monograph on student identity and political agency (due in 2023)

I have also been awarded with the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS) Major Research Grants Award to undertake the following project in 2023: Risks to Youth and Studenthood in Digital Spaces (PI, £19,500). More information is available here

In the School of Education, I convene the UG module Higher Education: Issues of Exclusion and Inclusion, and the PG module The Case for Higher Education: From Precarity to Empowerment. I also supervise a number of PGR students in my expertise areas.

Before joining Durham in 2016, I held research and teaching positions at the University of Glasgow. I was involved in research projects on assessment practices in higher education and MOOC courses as well as teaching in the areas of research methods and fundamentals of education. Previously, I also worked at the Estonian National Agency of European Lifelong Learning Programme and coordinated the activities of adult education programme Grundtvig in Estonia.


Completed Supervisions

Recovery as a troublesome concept: A phenomenographic study of mental health nursing students’ learning experiences.

Graduating from care: A narrative study of care leavers' journeys into and through university

Information for Prospective Doctoral Research Student Supervisions

I would be pleased to hear from potential research students with an interest in conducting research in matters relating to higher education policies, issues of inclusion and exclusion in higher education, student politics and consumerism in higher education. I am also keen to supervise students who are wishing to apply critical theory and critical discourse analysis in educational research.

Research interests

  • Student experience, identity and agency
  • Higher education policy and practice
  • Politics of higher education and student movements
  • Consumerism in higher education
  • Widening participation in higher education
  • Assessment policy and practice
  • Critical theory and critical discourse analysis

Research Projects

  • Critical Analysis of the Higher Education Green and White Papers (2015-2016): Student Representation and Response
  • DASCHE: Development, Assessment and Validation of Social Competences in Higher Education

Esteem Indicators

  • 2022: Associate Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS) :
  • 2022: Conference panel speaker: What should students’ relationship with academics be? ;(Panel speaker, Wonkhe conference 'The Secret Life of Students', February 2022)
  • 2022: Invited speaker: Developing the ‘Boost my support networks’ app (CSHE, UC Berkeley)

    The Role of Professional Learning Networks and Social Capital in Change (Panel discussion, UC San Diego)

    Exploring assessment challenges in higher education (Keynote, Estonian Arts Academy)

    Disabled student officers doing activism: borrowing from and trespassing neoliberal reason in English higher education (Disability Research Forum)

  • 2022: Member of Editorial Board: I am an Associate Editor for Critical Studies in Education, and I am a member of the editorial board for Teaching in Higher Education ;
  • 2022: Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley, Centre for Studies in Higher Education:
  • 2021: Awards: Outstanding Paper in the 2021 Emerald Literati Award on my article 'The Covid-19 pandemic and the dissolution of the university campus: implications for student support practice' ;
  • 2021: Invited speaker: Is research output fit for the future? Closing the impact gap’ (Emerald expert panel)

    From a rebel to consumer and now a digital user: the changing role of students in British university governance (CGHE webinar, 2021)

    The Covid-19 pandemic and student support networks in higher education: Implications for leadership (Expert keynote UNESCO, 2021)

    ;The making of the activist disabled subject: Disability and political activism in English higher education. (Disability Research Forum)

  • 2019: Conference keynotes: 'Troubling the notion of students as consumer: Fabrications, contradictions and political engagement' (Students in Changing HE Landscapes conference, University of Surrey, 14th June 2019)
  • 2018: Awards: British Journal of Sociology of Education (BJSE) Best Early Career Paper Award 2018 on my article ''Peacekeepers’ and ‘machine factories’ tracing Graduate Teaching Assistant subjectivity in a neoliberalised university''
  • 2018: Conference keynotes: ‘Constructing ;student politics in the age of consumerism’ (PESGB Gregynog conference, Wales 25th July 2018)
  • 2017: Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA):
  • 0000: External examining and advising: I have examined various PhD and EdD theses, including at UCL, University of Glasgow, Lancaster University, Durham University.

    I was a member of the PhD Committee for Sharon Ultsch, University of Vermont, USA.

    I am also an expert adviser for the research project 'Meanings of Non-formal Learning. Perspectives of Practitioners and Practice', Tallinn University, Estonia.


Chapter in book

Edited book

  • Watermeyer, R., Raaper, R. & Olssen, M. (2022). Handbook on Academic Freedom. Edward Elgar.
  • Murphy, M., Burke, C., Costa, C. & Raaper, R. (2020). Social Theory and the Politics of Higher Education. Critical Perspectives on Institutional Research. Social Theory and Methodology in Education Research. Bloomsbury.

Journal Article

Other (Print)

Working Paper

Supervision students