This protocol’s themes and questions are adapted from the latest qualitative education research (Jay and Muldoon 2018, Pitterson, et al. 2018). The questions under each main theme are possible questions, which you are free to adapt, skip and add to depending on your aims and participants. For example, some of the questions home in on students’ enactment and development of agency within their current higher educational context, while other questions attempt to broaden the discussion and locate current experience within their educational trajectory. It is therefore not expected that you ask all possible questions, but you could keep a note of unused questions as prompts.

Theme 1: The purpose of education

Why do people go to (your) university/study your kind of subject?
What do universities/courses exist for?
What is the purpose of education?

Theme 2: Aspirations

What motivated you to attend this university/enrol on this course?
What are your aspirations (for during and after university)?
What do you hope to do with your qualification?
Where do you think (your) aspirations come from?
Why do you think people have different aspirations?

Theme 3: Expectations

What do you expect from your qualifications?
What do you expect to be able to do with your qualifications/skills/knowledge/experience gained from higher education?
What is it reasonable to expect from universities?
What do your lecturers/tutors expect from you?

Theme 4: Occupational futures

What are likely/ideal careers for you?
What steps are you taking to reach your career goals?
What kinds of students/graduates/people get the kind of jobs you would like?
How will you make yourself employable?

This protocol is applicable in one-to-one and group interviews. In a one-to-one interview, we advise that abstract questions not focused on participants’ own experience, such as about the broad purpose of education, be avoided or asked later in the interview. In a group interview, abstract questions are more justifiable, as they can prompt discussion amongst the participants. However, questions grounded in participants’ experience will likely yield more relevant data.


Jay, Sarah, and Orla T Muldoon. 2018. “Social class and models of agency: Independent and interdependent agency as educational (dis)advantage.” Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology 28: 318-331.

Pitterson, Nicole, Jennifer Case, Ashish Agrawal, and Indhira Hasbun. 2018. “Investigating the ways in which Student Agency develops through Engagement with Knowledge.” IEEE Frontiers in Education. IEEE. 1-5.