Professor Paul Wakeling



I am a sociologist of education with particular interests in higher education, especially access to postgraduate study; and in social inequalities. My work has included analyses of the relationship between social class (and other inequalities) and postgraduate study; evaluation of initiatives to widen postgraduate participation; investigation of the assocation between student finance and participation; and of institutional hierarchies and stratification.

I joined the Department in 2008, after a previous career in higher education administration.

Departmental roles

I am currently Head of Department. I run the masters module Research Methods in Education and supervise undergraduate and postgraduate students.



My broad interests are in the sociology of education (especially higher education), social stratification and social mobility. My current research focuses on access to postgraduate study, especially social class, gender and ethnic inequalities; the background of academics; and institutional stratification in higher education. I use a range of research methods but have a particular interest in analysis of large secondary datasets and the use of administrative and transactional data for research.


My recent work has included:

  • a report on transition to higher degrees in the UK for the Higher Education Academy (with Gillian Hampden-Thompson);
  • a report on measuring the socio-economic diversity of doctoral students for Research Councils UK
  • a British Academy-funded interview study of motivations for access to doctoral programmes (with Adél Pásztor);
  • programme analyses of HEFCE's Postgraduate Support Scheme 2014/15 and 2015/16 (the latter with Sally Hancock);
  • a major project on widening access to postgraduate study in six universities (with Gillian Hampden-Thompson and Sally Hancock);
  • research on the concept of 'independence' in relation to postgraduate funding (with Ann Berrington and Adriana Duta)
  • analysis of university data from the Great British Class Survey (with Mike Savage and colleagues associated with the Great British Class Survey)

Research group(s)


2017 - 2018 HEFCE/University of Leeds (£35,000) Evaluation of the Catalyst project Progression to, and success in postgraduate study, for students from BAME and POLAR 1 & 2 backgrounds (PI: Sally Hancock).

2016 HEFCE (£25,979) Evaluation of the Postgraduate Support Scheme 2015/16 (with Sally Hancock)

2015 HEFCE (£43,284) Investigating an age-threshold for independence at postgraduate level (with Ann Berrington and Adriana Duta, University of Southampton)

2014 - 2015 ESRC and HEFCE (£98,916) Postgraduate Support Scheme Analysis Project.

2014 - 2015 Higher Education Funding Council for England - Principal Investigator for data-led element of the Postgraduate Support Scheme project 'Widening Access to Postgraduate Study and the Professions' (led by University of Sheffield and involving the Universities of Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Warwick and York). Total funding for the project: £2.9M

2012 - 2013 Higher Education Academy (£9,864) 'Transition to postgraduate study across the UK: quantifying influential factors across institutions and countries' (with Gillian Hampden-Thompson)

2011 - 2012 British Academy Small Grant (£7,390) 'Access to doctoral study: a multi-institutional investigation of participation and non-participation at PhD level' (with Adél Pásztor, Newcastle University) (ref. SG101994)

2009 - 2010 NCCPE-ESRC Research Synthesis (£14,985) 'Widening Participation from Undergraduate to Postgraduate Research Degrees' (with Chris Kyriacou)

2009 - 2010 ESRC International Training and Networking Opportunities award (£39,997 F.E.C.) for ‘Comparative educational pathways – an international spring school’ (joint with Gillian Hampden-Thompson and Vanita Sundaram) (ref. RES-810-210-0032)


 I currently supervise four PhD students:

  • Tina Baker - the effects of recent government policy on Further Education students' employability in England
  • Caroline Casey - Transitions to becoming a legal professional in a climate of widening participation
  • Ella James-Brabham (ESRC funded) - Understanding how we can close the achievement gap: examining the interaction between early socioeconomic factors and cognitive skills on mathematical skills (based at the Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield as part of the White Rose DTP Inequalities and Cognitive Development Network, lead supervisor Dr Emma Blakey)
  • Agata Lambrechts (ESRC funded) - higher education for refugees and asylum seekers in England and Poland (jointly supervised with Dr Charlotte O'Brien, York Law School)

I have supervised the following successfully completed PhD theses:

External activities


  • Bridge Group Fellow
  • British Educational Research Association
  • British Sociological Association
  • Fellow, ESRC Peer Review College
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Society for Research into Higher Education

I was until recently a member of the UK Council for Graduate Education's working group on postgraduate funding and resourcing and was also recently a part of Universities UK's Social Mobility Advisory Group Academic Reference Group.

I was a member of the ESRC's Grant Assessment Panel 'D' for the secondary data analysis initiative (open call) 2016-2017 and before that on the equivalent special initiative panels.

I was trustee of the University of York Graduate Students' Association 2016 - 2017.


I have acted as a consultant to the Economic & Social Research Council in various capacities. I advised on staff and student demographics for their international benchmarking reviews of social science research in the UK, covering Politics and International Studies (2006/7), Economics (2007/8), Sociology (2009), Psychology (2010) and Human Geography (2012). I completed a study of research impact and potential impact of ESRC-funded research under the theme of social diversity and population dynamics with colleagues in the Centre for Housing Policy. I have also recently completed a report on measuring socio-economic diversity at doctoral level for RCUK; and worked with the Bridge Group on a similar project for the Wellcome Trust.

Editorial duties

Editorial advisory board, British Journal of Sociology of Higher Education

Editorial board member, HE

Invited talks and conferences

I regularly give invited talks on the topic of widening participation and access to postgraduate study.


Contact details

Department of Education
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: +44 (0)1904 324329

Personal website