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Dr Rille Raaper

Associate Professor, Deputy Director of Research

Associate Professor, Deputy Director of Research in the School of Education+44 (0) 191 33 48200
Associate Fellow in the Institute of Advanced Study
Co-Director (Social Sciences and Health) in the Institute of Advanced Study+44 (0) 191 33 48200


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

Rille is the Interim Co-Director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University (2023/2024) and Associate Professor and the Deputy Director of Research in the School of Education. Rille convenes and teaches the undergraduate module ‘Higher Education: Issues of Exclusion and Inclusion’, and the postgraduate module ‘The Case for Higher Education: From Precarity to Empowerment’.

Rille’s research interests lie in the sociology of higher education. Her research is primarily concerned with how universities organise their work in competitive higher education markets, and the particular implications market forces have on current and future students. In particular, the two strands of Rille's research relate to: a) student identity and experience in consumerist higher education; b) student agency, citizenship and political activism. Her work is theoretically inspired by critical social theory, including the works of Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt and Bernard Stiegler. Methodologically, Rille tends to use qualitative research methods and critical discourse analysis.

Rille’s recent monograph ‘Student Identity and Political Agency: Activism, Representation and Consumer Rights’ (Routledge, 2023) examines the intersections of education, sociology and politics to provide a unique account of the contemporary student identity and political agency in market-driven higher education. Rille’s further research projects build on this, exploring students in a variety of new and altered settings: student influencers on social media platforms such as TikTok (PI, IAS major project 2023 ‘Risks to Youth and Studenthood in Digital Spaces’) and students as complaint-makers in consumerist higher education.

Rille is regularly invited to share her research and expertise with various academic and public audiences. Recent examples include: Teacher Talk Radio, the Mahindra Humanities Centre at Harvard University, and the Centre for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley. She also publishes her research findings with Wonkhe and the Higher Education Policy Institute.

Since 2019, Rille is an editor of the journal Critical Studies in Education. She is also an associate editor of the journal Teaching in Higher Education.

Rille graduated with a BA (Cum Laude) and MA (Cum Laude) in Adult Education from Tallinn University (Estonia) and a PhD in Education from the School of Education, University of Glasgow. Before joining Durham University in 2016, Rille held research and teaching positions at the University of Glasgow. She was particularly involved in research projects on assessment practices in higher education and MOOC courses. Previously, Rille worked at the Estonian National Agency of European Lifelong Learning Programme and led and developed 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 student experience of higher education, issues of inclusion and exclusion in higher education, student voice, representation and politics and consumerism in higher education. 

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

Esteem Indicators

  • 2022: Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley, Centre for Studies in Higher Education:
  • 2022: Associate Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS):
  • 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: Conference panel speaker: What should students’ relationship with academics be? (Panel speaker, Wonkhe conference 'The Secret Life of Students', February 2022)
  • 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)

  • 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
  • 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: Conference keynotes: ‘Constructing student politics in the age of consumerism’ (PESGB Gregynog conference, Wales 25th July 2018)
  • 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''
  • 2017: Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA):
  • 2000: 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

Journal Article


Other (Print)

Working Paper

Supervision students