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The APP Participatory Action Research Project has worked with students from the groups most impacted by awarding gaps at Cambridge, in order to more fully understand the barriers that arise in relation to teaching and learning. This project was initiated in 2019 in order to illuminate the findings from the quantitative/statistical data about final student outcomes, or degree classifications.

The qualitative research project involves annual cycles of work with student co-researchers from the two priority cohorts, that will run across the lifespan of the Access & Participation Plan 2020-25. Its aim is 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.


Cycle 1 findings

The 18 student co-researchers in Cycle 1  (2019-20) worked on ten projects which tended to focus on ‘central’ or whole-of-University initiatives. The project teams identified a range of topics that they thought contributed to awarding gaps,or the successful academic performance of their peers. These topics and research questions are summarised in the table below; follow the links for more details about each one.

Strand A: Black British Students Strand B: Students with Mental Health Conditions

Anti-Racist Glossary

Does the language used in discussions about race at Cambridge (in teaching and other contexts) negatively affect Black British students' academic performance?

AMAs vs Diversifed Assessment

What are disabled students' perceptions of the value of more diverse assessment methods for their academic performance and wellbeing?

Black Advisory Hub

Would Black British students and staff at Cambridge benefit from a centralised means of educational support, such as an advisory hub?

Content Notes

What are Cambridge student and staff understandings of the role and value of Content Notes in helping students engage with their study materials without risk to their mental health?


To what extent are Black British students adequately supported by mentors or mentoring networks at Cambridge?

Diagnosis and Screening

How can disabled students with mental health conditions who have co-occuring neurodiverse conditions be identified and supported?

STEM vs Arts/Humanities

Are there differences in the awarding gap between STEM students and Arts & Humanities students?

Double Time

What is the perceived value of 'Double Time' to disabled students with mental health conditions?


Intermission vs EPS

What is the relationship between intermission and extended period of study, and which is more appropriate to support the academic performance of disabled students with mental health conditions?


Time Costs of Self-Advocacy

What is 'Cambridge Time' and how does it penalise disabled students at Cambridge?


There has been a range of outcomes from these Cycle 1 projects. For instance, some led to discrete follow-up projects and outputs, such as the new Black Advisory Hub, and guidance for staff and students on Content Notes. Other projects' recommendations focused on broader institutional/policy change or adoption, such as recommendations for institutional support and discussion encouraging diversification of assessment, or a review and updating of existing information for students, for example about Adjusted Modes of Assessment (AMAs) for disabled students.


Cycle 2 findings

The 18 student co-researchers in Cycle 2 (2020-21) focused on Department or College educational experiences, rather than the broader institutional environment or processes that were the focus of Cycle 1. These topics and research questions are summarised in the table below; follow the links for more details about each one. You can also watch the recording of their presentations to the collegiate University.

Strand A: Black British Students Strand B: Students with Mental Health Conditions

First-year transition in STEM vs Arts/Humanities

Does the first-year transition contribute to eventual awarding gaps for Black British students, and are there any differences in the first-year transitions between STEM and Arts & Humanities at Cambridge?

Assessment practices

What are the differences in assessment methods, conditions and instructions provided for students in different courses, and what examples are there of good practice with regard to student mental health?

Representation within the curricula

How much choice should be given for students / supervisors to discuss and explore non-white-centric material and ideas, and how much should be designed in as core to the course for all?

Peer learning

What are some examples or peer learning / support across Cambridge, and which are the most effective to support students' mental health and academic performance?

Undergraduate supervisions

Does the supervision system sufficiently meet the educational needs of Black students to ensure their best chances for success?

Undergraduate supervisions

How do experiences and challenges of supervisions and supervision work differ between students with and without mental health problems?


Future Cycles

This is an ongoing project which will continue and progress over the lifespan of the University's Access & Participation Plan 2020-25. Students' recommendations are discussed, disseminated and factored into the University's action planning across our annual cycles of activity.


Next: Assessment and awarding gaps