The role of higher education in developing female students’ social and cultural identities
: a case study of one university in Saudi Arabia.

  • Maha Al-Yousef

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research is an interpretative qualitative study undertaken in a newly established public university in Saudi Arabia, referred to as The Regional University (TRU). The study employed 65 semi-structured interviews of students and lecturers, classroom observations and fieldnotes. The overarching aim was to explore and understand the role of this university in shaping and influencing female students’ identities. Identity is recognised as not fixed and is a transformative process that can be influenced by the discourses and practices that surround an individual. Therefore, the research also examined the implicational aspects of pedagogical practices, focusing on the example of learning English.

The research broadly draws on Pierre Bourdieu's concepts (1973, 1976, 1977) of personal and institutional habitus and cultural capital in the context of higher education institutions and extends it to include gender issues. It has been found that being in a new environment and an ‘unfamiliar field’ requires the development of new forms of capital that emerge from habitus, which is not only based on class identity but also gender identity. Saudi Arabian women seek higher education for many reasons, this research examines whether TRU provides female students with a space for identity formation.

The research concludes by examining what the physical, transformative, cultural, social, and other spaces of the university signify to female students and their perception of the role of these spaces in their own change process. The findings show that when the level of motivation was high and the women students received support, it was possible for them to overcome their lack of capitals in some cases. Some students also saw higher education as an advantage to women’s personal and professional lives.
Date of Award16 Mar 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SponsorsSaudi Arabian Cultural Bureau
SupervisorGill Crozier (Director of Studies) & Billy Wong (Co-Supervisor)


  • Higher education
  • Cultural identity
  • International
  • Identities formation
  • Women education
  • Saudi Arabia

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