runel University_logo for Military Families story

Thursday 7th April 2022

Researchers Dr Christopher Ince, Dr Anne Chappell and Dr Ellen McHugh in the Department of Education at Brunel University London, have kindly shared the findings of a study they completed in 2021 looking at the experiences of a group of university students from military families with the RAF Families Federation (RAFFF).

If you are interested in reading the full report, it is available here: University Students from Military Families: the same but different. 

In line with the Brunel University London mission to ‘bring benefit to society and excellence in education, research and knowledge transfer’ and to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to succeed, the research team were keen to understand whether ‘children’ from an Armed Forces family experienced any challenges while at university and if their experiences were significantly different from those of other students. Their research focused on undergraduate students from military families at Brunel University London and considered: the educational experiences they had before coming to university and the perceived impact this had; the experiences they have had whilst at university, links to their previous educational experiences, any issues that have arisen, and the types of support they have drawn on; and the impact of the students’ backgrounds and circumstances, and what pastoral awareness and support may be required. 

The research team identified the following key findings: 

  • “The students have experienced, and some continue to experience, high levels of unpredictability in their lives that may impact on their studies at university, such as the loss of a parent, separated families, moving schools, and moving house.  
  • The experiences that these students outlined are recognisable across the university student population. However, the causes, complexities and combination of their experiences present us with a student group who are unique: ‘the same, but different’ to their peers.  
  • None of the students reported any difficulties or challenges at Brunel, beyond those that current policy and procedures at the university are alert to.”  

(Ince, Chappell and McHugh, 2021: 5) 

The following recommendations were made: 

  • “The University should review its commitment to this group of students at the start of each academic year to ensure that policies and procedures continue to support them as an underrepresented and unseen group in Higher Education (HE). Information should then be collected periodically to ‘check’ to ensure the University stays up to date with the issues that the students may be facing and take steps to support them.  
  • Ensure all staff, including Senior Tutors, Personal Tutors, Academic and Student Welfare services are made aware of the combination of experiences that this group of students face, with a specific emphasis on the uniqueness, thus the lack of homogeneity.  
  • The University to involve the Union of Brunel Students in discussions relating to students from military families, and the contribution they may make to the University community as well as the support they may require. 
  • Given that this research investigated the experiences of the students who attend Brunel University London, the University should continue to look at how it can aid recruitment and widen participation among this group by working with the local and national communities.  
  • Given the diversity in the characteristics of the participants, the number of participants in the study and the range of their experiences, we propose that further research with these students is vital.” 

(Ince, Chappell and McHugh, 2021: 6/19) 

The research team at Brunel University London have identified that although research has been conducted to consider the experiences of school-aged children, very little is known about the childhood and educational experiences from those who are now grown up. In order to address this Dr Anne Chappell, Dr Christopher Ince and Dr Ellen McHugh are currently conducting a pilot project exploring the childhood and educational experiences of ‘grown up’ children from military families to provide additional knowledge to begin to influence policy and offer guidance about the support that can be provided to current school-aged children, and those making the transition into adulthood: moving to university, other education contexts and the workplace. To date, 115 ‘grown up children’ have participated in the research, ranging in age from 20-80 and drawn from across Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy families.  

The RAFFF is keen to follow the work of these researchers to gain an insight into the lived experience of ‘grown up’ Service children to enable us to help influence policy and collaborate with those working with the RAF community to support Service children to thrive in education. If you are interested in learning more about either of these research projects, the research team can be contacted via 


Ince, C., Chappell, A. and McHugh, E. (2021) University Students from Military Families: the same but different (Report). Brunel University London. ISBN: 9781908549495.

Back to news Subscribe to eBulletin