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Centre Members

Members of the Centre for Social Mobility share an interest in rigorous research and effective practice that supports students to progress into higher education, should they wish to do so, and also to achieve within higher education and beyond. We aim to support and enhance research and practice locally at the University of Exeter and our local communities, nationally, and internationally.


Dr Anna Mountford-Zimdars, Director (Academic) and Professor of Social Mobility

What: Interested in entry to university, curricular and extra-curricular experiences at university, learning and teaching in higher education, student outcomes, higher education policy. 

How: Theoretical research, quantitative, qualitative research, mixed methods. 

Quote: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. - Marcel Proust"

Nicola Sinclair

Nicola Sinclair, Director (Practice) and Head of Widening Participation

How: I’m the University’s strategic lead for widening participation and am involved in driving forward targeted interventions and institutional changes to diversify our student body and close gaps in student outcomes. I’m particularly interested in student-focused approaches which are evidence-led and achieve lasting impact.

Why get in touch: If you are interested in collaborating with the Centre or want to know more about the University’s work to improve access and participation.

Core Members

Dr Pallavi Amitava Banerjee, Senior Lecturer in Education, Graduate School of Education

What: Interested in evaluations, researching social inequalities in educational outcomes (school and higher education), educational effectiveness and improvement, transition, access, progression in higher education, evidence-based policy. 

How: Quantitative research and systematic reviews.    

Dr Karl Devincenzi

Dr Karl Devincenzi, Recruitment and Schools Relationship Manager

What: The primary purpose of my role is to build and maintain effective relationships with schools and colleges in order to drive up applications / conversions to the University of Exeter to grow student numbers and the diversity of our student intake. My interests also include higher education policy, widening access and student support.

Why get in touch: Do get in touch should you wish to discuss how we may be able to work in partnership in order to support students making an informed decision about their higher education options.

Sam Dyer

Samantha Dyer, Widening participation (WP) Strategy and Evidence Manager

What: My role is to take a strategic view across all of the University’s work across the student lifecycle to ensure we are working in an impactful and evidence-led way. This involves working with colleagues across the institution, managing colleagues who lead on data analysis and under-represented groups as well as liaising with colleagues around the sector to capture and implement best-practice. I lead on our approach to WP governance and strategy and operational development of the University of Exeter’s Access and Participation Plan.

Why get in touch: to discuss practical solutions to difficult problems affecting the access and participation of HE students and approaches to the monitoring and evaluation of WP initiatives.

Joanne Moore

Joanne Moore, Research Fellow

What: Joanne has formerly held roles as an educational researcher at the University of Manchester and Open University.

How: Impact evaluation, Process evaluation, Quantitative, Qualitative and Mixed Methods research. 

Why get in touch: She has a detailed understanding of widening participation policy and practice, including co-authoring a guide to data sources for widening participation practitioners. She is currently working on a collaborative project to support evaluation of the impact of outreach.

Melissa Ruddock

Melissa Ruddock, Widening Participation Manager

What: My role is to manage the University’s flagship fair access programmes, Exeter Scholars and Realising Opportunities, and to head up the team that works with the University’s six Colleges to create, deliver and evaluate an exciting portfolio of discipline specific widening participation activity.  Helping participants make informed decisions about their future and choose the right subject areas for them is at the centre of what we do and working in partnership with a wide range of schools we use the University of Exeter’s leading teaching and cutting edge research to do this.    

Why get in touch: If you are a school interesting in participating in Exeter Scholars or Realising Opportunities or to discuss what subject specific opportunities we can offer to your students.  If you are an academic colleague or graduate researcher who would like to get involved in developing or delivering widening participation in your discipline area or simply to find out what is already happening.

Kirsty Janes

Dr Kirsty Janes, Student Recruitment Evaluation and Data Analyst

What: I support the targeting and evaluation of our student recruitment, outreach, and widening participation activities through the analysis of internal and external data.    

Why get in touch: If you want to find out more about our evidence-base in relation to the widening participation lifecycle (student access, success and progression in HE).

Dawn Lees

Dr Dawn Lees, PFHEA, Curriculum and Work-related Learning Manager, Student Employability and Academic Success

What: I am particularly interested in supporting students’ transition into university and ensuring that all students can access the skills development support they need to thrive. I sit on the university’s Access and Participation Plan Management Group and chair the SEAS WP Group.

How: Practical support for students; leading the Academic Skills and Student Engagement Team delivering academic skills in the curriculum, 1-1 Study Skills support, Peer Learning and Students as Change Agents Projects.

Katherin Barg

Dr Katherin Barg, Lecturer in Education, Graduate School of Education

What: Interested in social inequality in school transitions and transition to higher education, educational decision-making, parental involvement and parenting values, teacher students' attitudes towards social inequality, teacher assessment and decision-making

How: Quantitative research and mixed methods 

Lee Elliot Major

Dr Lee Elliot MajorProfessor of Social Mobility

What: As a Professor of Practice he is focused on the impact and dissemination of research, working closely with schools, universities, employers and policy makers. His Penguin book Social Mobility and Its Enemies has attracted attention across the world. His forthcoming Bloomsbury book What Works? offers best bets to teachers for improving outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. He commissioned and co-authored the first Sutton Trust-EEF toolkit, a guide used by 100,000s of school leaders.

How: Research - Lee focuses on understanding the main drivers of social mobility in society and developing evidence-informed ways of improving the prospects of disadvantaged young people. Teaching - Lee lectures on what we know about social mobility levels in Britain and other countries, and how research and evidence can impact on education policy and practice.

Jonny Gurr

Jonny Gurr, Outreach Officer

Natalie Bracher

Natalie Bracher, Outreach and Success Officer

What: My role is to support students from a background that are currently under-represented nationally, and at the University of Exeter. My role specifically focuses on those smaller groups which evidence suggests require a bespoke approach.

Hayley Stentiford

Hayley Stentiford, Outreach Officer

What: My role is to run the University’s flagship fair access programmes, Exeter Scholars and Realising Opportunities. These programmes support students with decision making around higher education and help students prepare for the transition to university.

Why get in touch: If you are a school interesting in participating in Exeter Scholars or Realising Opportunities, please get in touch to find out what we can offer your students. 

Kate Blackmore

Kate Blackmore, Pathways to Law & Outreach officer within the College of Social Sciences & International Studies

What: I am the Pathways to Law coordinator and Outreach Officer responsible for planning and implementing in-school and on-campus events and programmes within a Social Sciences context. These events are typically aimed at students in south-west schools in years 9-13, with an aspirational focus.

Why get in touch: If you are a school teacher who would like to find out more what we offer within the College and wish to develop partnerships in the future. 

Quote: 'Any experience is a good experience if you can learn from it.' 

Melody Barnes

Melody Barnes, Outreach Officer

What: I lead on the coordination and delivery of events with schools hosted on our Exeter campuses. I also lead on the organisation and delivery of the residential programmes taking place at the University of Exeter over the Easter and Summer holidays. These residentials include the year 10 and year 12 pathways of the Exeter Scholars programme. 

Jo Thacker

Joanne Thacker, Student Recruitment and Field Trip Support Manager

What: I am responsible for our team of Outreach Officers and WP Assistants working at our Campus in Penryn, Cornwall who deliver information, advice and guidance to all prospective students from whatever their background. We offer opportunities to visit campus either for open days, for taster sessions or subject related events. We are proud to deliver a programme of activity (in and out of local schools) for all students whether they have considered university as an option for their future or not.

Why get in touch: If you are interested in attending one of our open days or wish to get your school involved with what we have to offer.

Laura Drinkwater

Laura Drinkwater, Outreach Officer, based at our Penryn Campus in Cornwall 

What: I work with secondary schools and students across Cornwall and beyond to provide IAG support, encouraging them to raise aspirations and awareness about the benefits of higher education. My role also supports student recruitment activity for the University of Exeter, and specifically our Penryn Campus.

Why get in touch: If you’re a teacher or adviser, and are after further information about the work we do and how we may be able to support you, please do let us know.

Richard Prest

Richard Prest, Outreach Officer

What: I work with schools and young people across Cornwall and the South West. This involves delivering workshops and presentations, providing IAG as well as helping to raise aspirations towards Higher Education, especially amongst underrepresented groups. I also maintain relationships with schools and colleges across the South West encouraging engagement directly with the University of Exeter.

Why get in touch: If you’re a teacher or adviser and want to know about how we could support your students. 


Dr Alice Mills, Outreach Officer for CEMPS

What: I organise school visits to Exeter University and visits out to schools as part of our programme of widening participation activities. I work with academics to help them to disseminate their research to a wider audience and develop and deliver engaging STEM activities for schools.

Why get in touch: If you are a school teacher and want to explore working with us. 

Read more at here 

 ‌Dr Lisa Alberici

Dr Lisa Alberici, Lecturer in Academic Practice

What: Interested in widening participation and student transitions to/in higher education, academic practice development, and promoting inclusive teaching practices.

How: staff development, scholarship, and resource development.

‌‌Sarah Dyer

Dr Sarah Dyer, Director of Education Incubator and Associate Professor in Human Geography


Dr Vrinda Nayak, Associate Academic Dean for Students (Racial Equality and Inclusion)

What: I am part of the Education Leadership Team at the University. In my role, I support the delivery of our mission and objectives with regard to racial equality and inclusion as set out in the University’s Education Strategy and Access and Participation Plan. A key objective is to create effective interventions to improve access, attainment and outcomes for BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) students. A major part of this would be leading on the work to embed inclusion throughout our education programmes and other learning opportunities. In addition, I aim to create an inclusive university culture where all students can fulfil their potential.

Why get in touch: If you would like to discuss any ideas to improve the student experience at University of Exeter with respect to racial equality and inclusion, please get in touch with me. You are also welcome to contact me if you have specific queries related to any educational strategies that we are implementing to improve BAME access and attainment at the University.


Dr Jonathan Doney, Lecturer in Education, Graduate School of Education

What: My teaching and research focuses on Education Policy development and the history of Education. I'm particularly interested in policies relating to social mobility and widening participation, both at school and university level. I also undertake international comparative research in education policy and am keen to expand international collaborations in this area.

How: I use a variety of research methods, including questionnaires, interviews, focus group work, as well as documentary analysis and an approach to policy interrogation called Statement Archaeology that I have developed over the past few years based on post-structural theory and approaches to historical analysis.

Why get in touch: If you are interested in collaboration, or have policy exploration work underway that you'd like to discuss, please do get in touch!

Associate Members

Ruth Flanagan

Ruth Flanagan, Lecturer in Education (Academic), Race Equality Resource Officer (Professional Services) 

What: Interested in individual's worldviews and their potential impact on learning and teaching in primaryand higher education, examining the role of narrative and hermeneutical interpretation to facilitate this understanding.

How: Theoretical research, quantitative, qualitative research, mixed methods.

Quote: 'We belong to a historical tradition through relation of distance which oscillates between remoteness and proximity to interpret is to render near what is far (temporally, geographically, culturally and spiritually)' (Ricoeur, P.,1986:32)

George Koutsouris


Dr George Koutsouris, Lecturer in Education (special educational needs and inclusion)

What: Interested in social inequalities, social inclusion, disability-related difficulties, curricular and extra-curricular experiences at university.

How: Qualitative, mixed methods and theoretical research.


Debra Myhill

Professor Debra Myhill, Professor of Education

What: I am interested in language, inequality and social justice, particularly how literacy is a key gateway to empowerment, educational achievement and democratic participation. In particular I am interested in writing and the teaching of writing with greater emphasis on developing young writers’ metacognitive and metalinguistic understanding of the decisions they make in writing.

How: Qualitative research, particularly interviews, classroom observation and text analysis but also mixed methods approaches, including RCTs, with robustly-designed complementary qualitative data collection.

Dr Chris Playford, Lecturer in Sociology

What: I am interested in better understanding social inequalities in education and the labour market. This includes attainment at the end of compulsory schooling, variation in school subjects studied, transitions through education into work and the measurement of social stratification and job quality. 

How: Quantitative data and statistical modelling. I specialise in the secondary analysis of large-scale survey and administrative data.

Professor Wendy Robinson, Academic Dean for Students
Professor Wendy Robinson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean

Verity Hunt, Communications and Marketing Officer

What: I work on marketing campaigns to promote widening participation in HE and to promote the work of the University in this area.

Why get in touch: If you need help in promoting your WP work or need advice on communications channels.


Dr Alexey Bessudnov, Senior Lecturer (Sociology)

Who: Alexey Bessudnov, Senior Lecturer in Quantitative Sociology

What: social inequalities in education; ethnic groups; educational evaluation.

How: longitudinal data analysis and field experiments.

Learn more: visit


Dr Chris Boyle, Associate Professor in Inclusive Education and Psychology


Nick Givens, Equality & Diversity Co-ordinator


Lauren Stentiford, Lecturer in Education, Graduate School of Education

What: Interested in student transitions to university, gender and social class in higher education, disciplinary teaching and learning cultures, inclusive pedagogies.  

How: Qualitative research, participatory research, systematic reviews. 

 ‌Zhimin xiao

Dr ZhiMin Xiao, Lecturer in Education, Graduate School of Education

What: Interested in educational data science, learning and teaching of quantitative methods, digital education as a way to unbar the gate without lowering the bar. 

I believe social mobility can be better achieved when universities and the staff they employ are incentivised enough to change the “fortress mentality” we see all too often in higher education institutions.

How: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research.


Dr Alison Truelove, Lecturer in Critical Practice, UEBS

What: Designing, delivering and evaluating interventions to address achievement gaps; encouraging ‘hard to reach’ students to access academic support; facilitating alternative routes into higher education; teaching enhancement.

How: I lead on student and staff academic development in the Business School, including success and progression elements of widening participation activity, and am Academic Subject Lead for UEBS on the Transforming Transitions research project. This has included evaluations of our initiatives around academic tutoring and maths support, and prompted further revisions of our induction programme. I’m working with external organisations to facilitate alternative modes of entry onto HE programmes, and to develop pre-arrival support and materials to ease the transition of non-traditional students into university-level study.

Why get in touch: I’m always interested in sharing approaches to improving access to HE and narrowing achievement gaps, in particular within large student cohorts.


Tricia Nash, Research Fellow

Matthew Channon

Matthew Channon, Lecturer, Law School


Lee Snook, Academic Liaison Librarian

What: I am responsible for evaluating and selecting library resources, and planning and delivering library research skills support to help students make the best use of library resources.

How: I am interested in building inclusive library skills support and resources for all levels of learning and prior experience; developing pre-arrival and induction materials to ease the transition into HE library research and offering stepped skills materials to encourage students to build their skills and knowledge in a progressive way that is best suited to their individual competency level and learning style.

Why get in touch: Get in touch if you’d like to know more about library support for students, or if you would like advice on developing effective research strategies to discover materials relevant to your own social mobility research projects.


Claire Lavers, Senior Lecturer in the Business School

What: Interested in performance gaps in HE outcomes for students with protected characteristic and in promoting accessible teaching practice amongst staff.

How: Qualitative and quantitative research as well as delivering training sessions.


Dr Darren Moore, Lecturer, Graduate School of Education


Amy McEwan, Academic Liaison Librarian

What: I design, facilitate and evaluate digital and face-to-face interventions to support students in engaging with evidence and developing research skills. I am currently working on projects supporting student transition and wellbeing and I am interested in how Library Services can support the student lifecycle in higher education.

How: Practical support for students, 1:1 information and digital skills support (finding and evaluating information), resource development

Why get in touch: If you’d like to discuss how the Library can support student skill development, or if you would like to discuss projects or partnerships to improve support for students.


Professor Penny Jane Burke, University of Newcastle, Australia

What: I am an Honorary Professor in the College of Social Sciences and International Studies. At the University of Newcastle in Australia, I am the Director for the Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education and Global Innovation Chair of Equity.

How: I am committed to generating research and practice that contributes to social and institutional transformation. My work is firmly located in, and has generated new, social justice methodologies, as part of a wider project of reconceptualising equity in higher education and lifelong learning. My work, spanning a career of two-decades, is brought to bear in the development of CEEHE, a framework for embedded equity now recognised internationally as a unique and leading model of ethical praxis.

Jeff Grim, University of Michigan, USA 

What: I’m a final year PhD candidate in Higher Education with a concentration in Organizational Behaviour & Management at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in the US.

How: My research largely centers on equity issues in higher education from an organizational perspective. I focus my research on student widening participation & progress, academic careers and leadership, and comparative contexts (like the US and UK). My dissertation focuses on the leader identity development of newly-tenured faculty of colour and I have worked with Dr. Anna on projects related to university aspirations of low-income students and elite university admissions selection processes.

Why get in touch: My time at Exeter and working with Dr. Anna and Nicola have been some of my best experiences in graduate school. Please get in touch with me if you have questions about research, evaluation, or assessment; organizational theory; have an interesting research project idea; or have a question about US context. I’m happy to chat!


Dr Will Shield, Child and Educational Psychologist, Graduate School of Education

What: I’m interested in inclusive educational practice and applying psychology to support learners from a range of backgrounds to progress through education.

How: Applied psychological practice; quantitative and mixed methods research.

Kevin Denny, Associate Professor in the School of Economics, University College Dublin & a Senior Fellow at the Geary Institute for Public Policy

What: I am interested in understanding the causes and consequences of human development particularly education and health (& their interaction). I have a particular interest in educational inequality especially with regard to access to higher education. I also work on the effects of education on attitudes and the determinants of educational attainment.

How: My research mostly involves the econometric analysis of large datasets including longitudinal data. I use data for Ireland, the UK and around Europe mostly.

Why get in touch: If you’re interested in economists’ approach to educational inequality and mobility I am happy to talk. I am also interested in methods of causal inference in econometrics/statistics as applied to large complex datasets.

Manuela Barreto, Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology

What: My research focuses on marginalization, identity, and stigma, and specifically on the impact of prejudice and discrimination on wellbeing, social relationships, and aspirations. I am also interested in the role of culture, identity, stigma, and life transitions in experiences of social (dis)connection.

How: Reviews, quantitative research (including cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys, and experiments), qualitative research, mixed methods.

Dr. Matt S Gobel, Lecturer in Social and Organisational Psychology

What: Interested in 1) improving first-generation students’ mental health, well-being and academic achievement, 2) understanding intersectionality of social class, gender and ethnicity from a cultural psychology perspective, and 3) examining first-generation students’ transitioning into and experience of high-status occupational environments.

How: Mixed methods approach with strong quantitative emphasis.

Why get in touch: Please get in touch to discuss how social contexts of selective higher education institutions affect first-generation students, and if you are interested in partnership in order to facilitate their transitioning into high-status occupational environments.

Dr. Annabel Watson, Senior Lecturer in Language Education, School Direct Programme Leader, Secondary English PGCE Course Leader

What: Working in the fields of literacy, writing development and secondary school English education, I’m interested in how we can support students from diverse backgrounds to understand language critically and use it powerfully.

How: Primarily qualitative methods, and particularly interviews, lesson observation and analysis of pupils’ work.


Dr. Samuel Pollard, Senior Lecturer in Medical Science, UEMS

What: I have a range of teaching and leadership responsibilities across the College of Medicine and Health and the University. My core educational interests are centred on reducing the barriers to success for mature students within HE.

How: I chair the Mature Student Strategy Working Group that sits underneath the Success for All Strategy; and its primary aims are to increase mature student recruitment and experience whilst reducing the attainment and non-continuation rate gaps.

Why get in touch: If you are interested in exploring collaborations within the area of mature students in HE. 



Joanna Merrett, Master in Educational Research Student, Graduate School of Education 

What: I am interested in studying Home Education as an alternative to school education.

How: I am a long term Home Educating Parent and have worked with Home Educating families for the last 8 years. 

Why get in touch: I would love to work with others interested in alternative education, learning outside the classroom and self directed and autonomous learning. 


Hatice Yildirim, PhD Student, Graduate School of Education

What: Her research interests include special educational needs, inclusive education, and participatory research. In particular, she is interested in the inclusion of children with hearing loss in mainstream educational settings. She has also taught as a teacher of the deaf/ hard of hearing in educational settings for six years in Turkey. Her doctoral study explores the coping strategies of children with hearing loss in relation to the challenges of school life in mainstream secondary schools in England.

How: Qualitative research, mixed methods, participatory research.

Why get in touch: If you are interested in exploring issues and ideas in special educational needs and inclusive education.


Fatma Sabet, PhD Student, Graduate School of Education

What: My dissertation focuses on developing partnerships to develop healthy and sustainable school food culture within primary schools. 


Abbie O'Brien, PhD Student, Graduate School of Education

What: My PhD topic is around Widening Participation in Higher Education with a specific focus on Social Class. My research has involved keeping the research participant's voice at the heart of the study.

How: Predominantly qualitative research, student-centred approach.

Why get in touch: If you are interested in discussing ideas and work around social class, widening participation in higher education or social science methods.


Tian Xu (Tianna), PhD Student, Research Assistant/Fellow, Graduate School of Education

What: Interested in intercultural interaction and higher education internationalisation, learning and teaching statistics and qualitative methods. Her PhD thesis focuses on exploring intercultural interaction in culturally complex circumstances - through the lens of international volunteers from Mainland China. She also positioned in several different research assistants and research fellow roles at the University of Exeter.

How: Predominantly Qualitative Research, Mixed Method research.

Why: If you are interested in exploring higher education internationalisation and intercultural interaction.

Malcolm Richards, PhD Student / Postgraduate Researcher, Graduate School of Education

What: I am a former teacher and senior leader who has worked in schools across the UK. I am also a trade union activist, and have held self-organising and executive roles representing Black educators/worker with National Education Union (NEU) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC). My research largely centres upon critical dialogic methodologies in UK teacher education, with an intention focus on how 'black' teachers capitalise upon their funds of knowledge/identity in the evaluation of culturally sustaining digital resources used in schools.

How: Critical autoethnography, qualitative research, mixed methods, participatory research.

Why get in touch: If you are interested in exploring or collaborating in ideas and work around any of the following: critical dialogic theories of education, race and anti-racism, African diaspora communties and cultural identity, culturally sustaining pedagogies, and de/colonial discourses in teacher education.


Daniela Fernandez, PhD Student, Psychology Department, CLES

What: My PhD research focuses on how gender and social class shape higher education students' expectations of success, considering the role of sense of social fit and meritocracy beliefs.

How: Mixed methods, quantitative research, qualitative research, participative research.

Why get in touch: If you are interested in exploring/collaborating in ideas related to gender and social class, gender and meritocracy beliefs (e.g. entrepreneur discourses in young adults, MLM and gender inequality), critical social psychology, and mixed methods research.