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School of Education

Dr Neil Harrison

Dr Neil Harrison

Associate Professor in Education and Social Justice / Director of Research and Impact


 +44 (0) 1392 724753

 North Cloisters NC123


North Cloisters, University of Exeter, St Luke's Campus, Heavitree Road, Exeter, EX1 2LU, UK


I am a mixed methods and interdisciplinary researcher and educator specialising in education policy, social justice and intercultural education.  My research work is mainly focused on issues around access to higher education, especially for groups of people who are disadvantaged or marginalised in society.  This includes topics such as financial support, outreach programmes, alternative qualification routes and the factors underpinning student success.  I have also researched around the engagement of students in internationalised universities and the concept of global citizenship, as well as having an interest in epistemology, ‘expertise’ and doctoral education.  I originally trained as a statistician, but I now draw on concepts and methodologies from sociology, psychology, economics and social policy to inform my research, which broadly fits within the critical realist tradition.

I am interested in taking on new doctoral students for 2024/25 entry.  Please see my list of interests under the Research tab and ensure that your proposed study fits well with one of these areas; I am not currently intending to take students in the area of intercultural education.


DPhil Education (by publication) - University of the West of England

MA Education (by research) - University of Warwick

BSc (Hons) Management Science with Computing - University of Kent


University of Exeter - 2022 to present

University of Oxford - 2018 to 2022

University of the West of England - 2000 to 2018

University of Kent - 1994 to 1999

Research group links

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Research interests

My research interests include:

  • Access and participation in higher education
  • Social justice, inequalities and marginalisation in education
  • Education for care-experienced learners
  • Education policymaking and policy enactment
  • Research epistemology and research design
  • Doctoral education
  • Intercultural education and internationalisation at home
  • Concepts of expertise in society

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Harrison N, Atherton G (2021). Marginalised Communities in Higher Education: Disadvantage, Mobility and Indigeneity. Abstract.
Mountford-Zimdars A, Harrison N (2016). Access to Higher Education Theoretical Perspectives and Contemporary Challenges., Taylor & Francis. Abstract.

Journal articles

Harrison N, BENHAM-CLARKE S (In Press). Climbing the ivory tower: agency, reflexivity and the career pathways of care-experienced academics in higher education. Higher Education
Mountford-Zimdars A, Gaulter J, Harrison N (2024). Helicopter mobility: Changing habitus without challenging structural inequalities, experiences of an international elite education programme. BRITISH EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL, 50(2), 732-752.  Author URL.
Baker Z, Ellis K, Harrison N (2024). Theorising educational engagement, transitions and outcomes for care-experienced people: Introduction to the special issue. British Educational Research Journal, 50(2), 455-460.
Harrison N, Baker Z, Ellis K, Stevenson J (2023). A praxis-based perspective on supporting care-experienced students to thrive in higher education using the capabilities approach. European Journal of Higher Education, 1-20.
Harrison N, Baker Z, Stevenson J (2022). Employment and further study outcomes for care-experienced graduates in the UK. High Educ (Dordr), 83(2), 357-378. Abstract.  Author URL.
Baker Z, Harrison N, Stevenson J, Wakeling P (2022). Patterns of postgraduate transitions amongst care-experienced graduates in the United Kingdom. CAMBRIDGE JOURNAL OF EDUCATION, 52(3), 349-368.  Author URL.
Bovill H, Harrison N, Smith H, Bennett V, McKenzie L (2021). Mature female learners activating agency after completion of an education foundation degree: professional progression and the teacher shortage crisis. RESEARCH PAPERS IN EDUCATION, 36(2), 196-215.  Author URL.
Carter S, Smith K, Harrison N (2021). Working in the borderlands: critical perspectives on doctoral education. TEACHING IN HIGHER EDUCATION, 26(3), 283-292.  Author URL.
Harrison N (2020). Patterns of participation in higher education for care-experienced students in England: why has there not been more progress?. STUDIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION, 45(9), 1986-2000.  Author URL.
Harrison N, Luckett K (2019). Experts, knowledge and criticality in the age of 'alternative facts': re-examining the contribution of higher education. TEACHING IN HIGHER EDUCATION, 24(3), 259-271.  Author URL.
Harrison N (2019). Students-as-insurers: rethinking 'risk' for disadvantaged young people considering higher education in England. JOURNAL OF YOUTH STUDIES, 22(6), 752-771.  Author URL.
Harrison N, Davies S, Harris R, Waller R (2018). Access, participation and capabilities: theorising the contribution of university bursaries to students' well-being, flourishing and success. CAMBRIDGE JOURNAL OF EDUCATION, 48(6), 677-695.  Author URL.
Harrison N, Waller R (2018). Challenging discourses of aspiration: the role of expectations and attainment in access to higher education. BRITISH EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL, 44(5), 914-938.  Author URL.
Harrison N (2018). Using the lens of 'possible selves' to explore access to higher education: a new conceptual model for practice, policy, and research. Social Sciences, 7(10). Abstract.
Harrison N, Waller R (2017). Evaluating outreach activities: overcoming challenges through a realist ‘small steps’ approach. Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 21(2-3), 81-87. Abstract.
Harrison N, McCaig C (2017). Examining the epistemology of impact and success of educational interventions using a reflective case study of university bursaries. BRITISH EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL, 43(2), 290-309.  Author URL.
Harrison N, Waller R (2017). Success and Impact in Widening Participation Policy: What Works and How Do We Know?. HIGHER EDUCATION POLICY, 30(2), 141-160.  Author URL.
Harrison N, Agnew S (2016). Individual and Social Influences on Students’ Attitudes to Debt: a Cross-National Path Analysis Using Data from England and New Zealand. Higher Education Quarterly, 70(4), 332-353. Abstract.
d’Aguiar S, Harrison N (2016). Returning from earning: UK graduates returning to postgraduate study, with particular respect to STEM subjects, gender and ethnicity. Journal of Education and Work, 29(5), 584-613. Abstract.
Harrison N, McCaig C (2015). An ecological fallacy in higher education policy: the use, overuse and misuse of ‘low participation neighbourhoods’. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 39(6), 793-817. Abstract.
Harrison N, Agnew S, Serido J (2015). Attitudes to debt among indebted undergraduates: a cross-national exploratory factor analysis. JOURNAL OF ECONOMIC PSYCHOLOGY, 46, 62-73.  Author URL.
Harrison N, James D, Last K (2015). Don't know what you've got 'til it's gone? Skills-led qualifications, secondary school attainment and policy choices. RESEARCH PAPERS IN EDUCATION, 30(5), 585-608.  Author URL.
Agnew S, Harrison N (2015). Financial literacy and student attitudes to debt: a cross national study examining the influence of gender on personal finance concepts. JOURNAL OF RETAILING AND CONSUMER SERVICES, 25, 122-129.  Author URL.
Harrison N (2015). Practice, problems and power in 'internationalisation at home': critical reflections on recent research evidence. TEACHING IN HIGHER EDUCATION, 20(4), 412-430.  Author URL.
Harrison N, Chudry F, Waller R, Hatt S (2015). Towards a typology of debt attitudes among contemporary young UK undergraduates. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 39(1), 85-107. Abstract.
Waller R, Harrison N, Hatt S, Chudry F (2014). Undergraduates' memories of school-based work experience and the role of social class in placement choices in the UK. Journal of Education and Work, 27(3), 323-349. Abstract.
Harrison N (2013). Modelling the demand for higher education by local authority area in England using academic, economic and social data. BRITISH EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL, 39(5), 793-816.  Author URL.
Harrison N, Hatt S (2012). Expensive and failing? the role of student bursaries in widening participation and fair access in England. STUDIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION, 37(6), 695-712.  Author URL.
Harrison N (2012). Investigating the impact of personality and early life experiences on intercultural interaction in internationalised universities. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTERCULTURAL RELATIONS, 36(2), 224-237.  Author URL.
Harrison N (2011). Have the changes introduced by the 2004 Higher Education Act made higher education admissions in England wider and fairer?. JOURNAL OF EDUCATION POLICY, 26(3), 449-468.  Author URL.
Harrison N, Chudry F (2011). Overactive, overwrought or overdrawn? the role of personality in undergraduate financial knowledge, decision-making and debt. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 35(2), 149-182. Abstract.
Harrison N, Hatt S (2010). 'Disadvantaged learners': Who are we targeting? Understanding the targeting of widening participation activity in the United Kingdom using geo-demographic data from southwest England. Higher Education Quarterly, 64(1), 65-88. Abstract.
Harrison N, Peacock N (2010). Cultural distance, mindfulness and passive xenophobia: using Integrated Threat Theory to explore home higher education students' perspectives on 'internationalisation at home'. BRITISH EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL, 36(6), 877-902.  Author URL.
Peacock N, Harrison N (2009). "It's So Much Easier to Go with What's Easy" "Mindfulness" and the Discourse Between Home and International Students in the United Kingdom. JOURNAL OF STUDIES IN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION, 13(4), 487-508.  Author URL.
Harrison N, Hatt S (2009). Knowing the ‘unknowns’: Investigating the students whose social class is not known at entry to higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 33(4), 347-357. Abstract.
Harrison N (2006). The impact of negative experiences, dissatisfaction and attachment on first year undergraduate withdrawal. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 30(4), 377-391. Abstract.
Hatt S, Hannan A, Baxter A, Harrison N (2005). Opportunity knocks? the impact of bursary schemes on students from low-income backgrounds. STUDIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION, 30(4), 373-388.  Author URL.


Harrison N (2022). How do we know What we think we Know – and Are We Right? Five New Questions about Research, Practice and Policy on Widening Access to Higher Education. In Dent S, Mountford-Zimdars A, Burke C (Eds.) Theory of Change: Debates and Applications to Access and Participation in Higher Education, Emerald Group Publishing.
Harrison N, Atherton G (2021). Concluding thoughts: Making meaning from diverse narratives. In  (Ed) Marginalised Communities in Higher Education: Disadvantage, Mobility and Indigeneity, 232-243.
Harrison N, Atherton G (2021). Introduction: Marginalised communities in higher education. In  (Ed) , 1-12.
Harrison N, O'Neill L, Connelly G (2021). The journeys of care-experienced students in England and Scotland. In  (Ed) Marginalised Communities in Higher Education: Disadvantage, Mobility and Indigeneity, 15-35.
Harrison N (2017). Patterns of participation in a period of change: Social trends in english higher education from 2000 to 2016. In  (Ed) Higher Education and Social Inequalities: University Admissions, Experiences, and Outcomes, 54-80. Abstract.
Harrison N (2016). Student choices under uncertainty: Bounded rationality and behavioural economics. In  (Ed) Access to Higher Education: Theoretical perspectives and contemporary challenges, 85-100.
Harrison N, Peacock N (2009). Interactions in the international classroom: the UK perspective. In  (Ed) Internationalisation and the Student Voice: Higher Education Perspectives, 125-142.


Harrison N, Dixon J, Sanders-Ellis D, Ward J, Asker P (2023). Care leavers’ transition into the labour market in England. Nuffield Foundation,  Oxford, Rees Centre.
Harrison N, Sebba J, Wigley M, Pryor R, Blyth F (2023). Improving the Effectiveness of Virtual Schools. Exeter, University of Exeter.
Sebba J, Brown A, Denton-Calabrese T, Harrison N, Luke N, Neagu M, Rees A (2022). Phase one evaluation of the virtual school head’s extension of duties to children with a social worker and the post-16 pupil premium plus pilot. Department for Education,  London, Department for Education.

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External Engagement and Impact

Editorial responsibilities

Executive editor of Teaching in Higher Education (2014 to present)

Co-editor of Research Papers in Education (2023 to present)

Editorial board member for the British Educational Research Journal (2021 to present)

External positions

Trustee of the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers.

Member of the Research and Development Committee of the Society for Research into Higher Education.

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

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Supervision / Group

Postgraduate researchers

  • Caitlin Kight
  • Joanne Moore

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