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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.

This qualitative approach is intended as a means of investigating aspects of students' experiences and perceptions which may then:

  1. prompt reflection and self-scrutiny on the part of individuals, academic institutions and professional services in order to identify actions which may meaningfully and feasibly address complex issues and challenges
  2. inform subsequent cycles of investigation, which may extend lines of enquiry and/or refine the Project's outcomes

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

If you have any questions about the project, please get in touch with Dr Ruth Walker and Dr Snigdha Dutta.


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. Findings are shared with the Office for Students.

It has been funded for five cycles of work with student co-researchers. We have just finished recruiting for the fourth cycle (2022-23 academic year).



Project Lead: Dr Ruth Walker

Project Associate: Dr Snigdha Dutta



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