The ‘Partnership Identity’ in Higher Education: Moving From ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ to ‘We’ in Student-Staff Partnership


  • Lucy Diana Mercer-Mapstone University of Queensland
  • Elizabeth Marquis McMaster University
  • Catherine McConnell University of Brighton


Student-staff partnerships in higher education re-frame the ways that students and staff work together as active collaborators in teaching and learning. Such a radical re-visioning of the relationships between students, staff, and the institutions within which they function is both potentially transformational and a significant challenge given the deeply entrenched identities, and attached norms, that form a part of the institutional culture. Explicit examination of the ways in which identity formation and navigation influences, and is influenced by, student-staff partnership is an important but under-explored area in the partnership literature. Drawing on structured reflective narratives focused on our own partnership experiences, we employ collaborative autoethnographic methods to explore this nexus through a social identity lens. Results highlight the need to move away from the labelling of dichotomous student/staff roles and identities in the context of partnership to a more nuanced conception that embraces the multiplicity of identity and diverse dimensions of meaning. We highlight the power of the normative conceptions that we attach to different identities, particularly where dissonance arises should those norms conflict. We discuss how this dissonance was particularly salient for us as we crossed the partnership threshold, only to find that the ethos underlying our new partnership identities contradicted the traditional hierarchical structure of the institutions within which we continued to function. Finally, we highlight the implications of these results for those engaging in student-staff partnerships in higher education and point the way toward potentially fruitful avenues of future research.


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Author Biographies

Lucy Diana Mercer-Mapstone, University of Queensland

Lucy Mercer-Mapstone is a PhD candidate and research co-fellow at the University of Queensland. Her disciplinary background is in science communication.

Elizabeth Marquis, McMaster University

Beth Marquis is Associate Director (Research) at the central teaching and learning institute at McMaster University. Her disciplinary training is in film and cultural studies.

Catherine McConnell, University of Brighton

Catherine McConnell is a Senior Lecturer in a Learning and Teaching centre, focusing her work and research on student-staff partnership, at the University of Brighton.


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How to Cite

Mercer-Mapstone, L. D., Marquis, E., & McConnell, C. (2018). The ‘Partnership Identity’ in Higher Education: Moving From ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ to ‘We’ in Student-Staff Partnership. Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal, 2(1), 12–29. Retrieved from




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