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Meet the Team: Paul Wakeling

My name is Professor Paul Wakeling. I am currently Head of the Department of Education at the University of York. In YCEDE, I lead work on the review of doctoral recruitment and selection criteria, and practices to improve racial equity. As a sociologist of education, with particular interests in higher education, I have been conducting this type of research for over 20 years. My work looks at inequalities in access to postgraduate study, including to the PhD degree, the relationship between social class and postgraduate study, and evaluation of initiatives to widen postgraduate participation.

What do you love about your job?

There are a lot of things to like. As I play many different roles (Head of Department, supervision of undergraduate and postgraduate students, and Executive Editor of the British Journal of Sociology of Education), there is a lot of variety and there are lots of different things going on at once, which suits me. I work with many brilliant and lovely people. I get a very international experience without leaving my desk in York, meeting students and colleagues from across the UK and across the world, with over 30 nationalities represented in my department. Most of all, I really appreciate the privilege of having meaningful work. Although it might not always feel like it on a day-to-day basis, the work universities do is important in trying to make a better world.

Learnings from YCEDE

I think the most important lessons so far for me are about the connection between the big picture and the details if we want to make progress towards racial equity in postgraduate research. It’s very easy, in a major project like YCEDE, to become wrapped up in the details and lose sight of the big picture of racial inequalities and the experiences of racially minoritised students and graduates. At the same time, making change happen across a large consortium means recognising complexity and working through details, some of them seemingly mundane matters.


One of the unexpected challenges is also perhaps an unanticipated benefit of YCEDE. Suddenly, there is a lot happening (just check out YCEDE’s news page!) to address racial inequity and access to postgraduate research across the five partner universities (York, Bradford, Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam, and Leeds) and their various constituent parts like doctoral training partnerships. So, the challenge has been less about persuading people of the case for change and more about keeping up with a very fast changing landscape. Managing expectations is a challenge – there’s rightly an urgency for change, but we’re also aware of the risk to progress if we over-promise and under-deliver.