Riding the carousel: Examining the intersection of students’ identity and sense of place as factors impacting their attendance and engagement behaviours


  • Helen Kirby-Hawkins Manchester Metropolitan University



Motivated by lower levels of student attendance on campus than pre-pandemic, this research explored the intersect of student identity and place as dependent factors in student attendance and engagement behaviours; seeking to further understand students’ decision-making process in deciding whether to attend campus.

The paper discusses the findings of a small exploratory research project which, through a participant-led interactive virtual interview, enabled students to talk about things that had influenced their attendance and engagement at university. Students identified that different aspects of their identity and geography were more prominent at certain times of the year, that certain identities were more important to them and that they deprioritized university attendance to attend to these other commitments. All students acknowledged that balancing these competing demands was a struggle and that their engagement had negatively suffered due to other factors. The key findings from the research are presented as composite case studies. These are also offered as audio clips to allow the characters to tell their stories. Speaking about the sense of juggling competing demands, feeling like an outsider (both geographically and to the “student” role), the motivation to accommodate university into an already complex and demanding life load and the desire to maintain a sense of connectedness to their home, family, and sense of authentic self.

The findings highlight the divergence in the non-traditional student group and the practical decision-making process students employ when trying to balance their competing identities and making authentic choices aligned with their identities. It celebrates the autonomy they have as adult learners and poses questions for institutions as to whether more can be done to accommodate and meet students where they are, acknowledging the student role may not be the default or dominant identity these individuals occupy.


Keywords: Student Engagement, Identity, Geography, Place, Lifeload, Non-traditional student


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How to Cite

Kirby-Hawkins, H. (2024). Riding the carousel: Examining the intersection of students’ identity and sense of place as factors impacting their attendance and engagement behaviours. Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal, 5(2), 92–110. Retrieved from https://sehej.raise-network.com/raise/article/view/1205