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Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning

Three students studying together on a picnic bench

Participatory action research and student co-researchers

The Cambridge Centre for Teaching & Learning was tasked with investigating the specific issues that impact the attainment and continuation rates of the two groups of undergraduates identified by the 2020-25 Access and Participation Plan (APP) as experiencing the most significant awarding gaps: Black British students, and disabled students with declared mental health conditions.

We were aware of substantive work already undertaken by a number of student societies, and sought opportunities to develop collaborative relationship with these groups to assist in the formulation of a strategic plan which focuses on enhancing educational approaches to close these awarding gaps.

With the project involving student-staff partnership, 'participatory action research' was determined to be the most appropriately inclusive research method for our aims: "Such research involves people who may otherwise be seen as subjects for the research as instigators of ideas, research designers, interviewers, data analysts, authors, disseminators and users".[1]


Project aims and structure

The resulting APP Participatory Action Research Project seeks to understand student perspectives on the barriers that arise in relation to teaching and learning at Cambridge, and develop knowledge and evidence that can inform and catalyse meaningful progress and practical steps forward. We are pursuing qualitative research to explore and develop evidence around which systems, practices and challenges need to be addressed, and aim to explore ways to develop teaching and learning practices that are accessible to and supportive of all Cambridge students.

The project is structured as two intersecting strands focused on the two identified groups of students.

A full description of the project is available on the Cambridge Admissions Office website.


Approval and outputs

The project was approved by the APP Drafting Group and the Participation Data Advisory Group in October 2019, and ethics approval received from the Cambridge Higher Education Studies Research Ethics Committee in December 2019.

It has been funded for three cycles of work with student co-researchers. The first cycle was undertaken between December 2019 and February 2020, and a report on the findings was submitted to the Office for Students. The second cycle is currently underway (2020-21 academic year).

Read about the results of the first cycle of the project

Read about the results of the second cycle of the project

View the specific outputs to date



[1] Walmsley J and Johnson K 2003, cited in Nind M, 2014 What is Inclusive Research?  Bloomsbury Academic, London, p3.