Project Outline

This project has explored the question of the value of the university service units, using a mixed methods approach to investigate what ‘value’ might mean in practical terms to five different constitutencies:

  • Current USU students
  • USU graduates who do not proceed to military careers (excluding service with the Reserves)
  • Employers of graduates with USU experience
  • UK universities hosting USUs
  • The UK Armed Forces/MOD

The project has also been concerned with understanding what value might mean in more general terms, as a personal or social benefit to an individual or group, and with seeing what this might mean in specific military contexts. As the project has developed, we have become increasingly interested in additional, wider conceptual issues relevant to the USUs, including questions of civil-military relations, and the spaces through which USUs operated.

As the project has progressed, we have also been alert to the changes put in motion by the Future Force 2020 programme, which has some bearing on USUs issues. See Publications for further information. 

Project History

The idea for the project started in a series of conversations between Rachel Woodward and two retired RAF officers (Air Commodore Ian Forster and Air Vice Marshall Sandy Hunter) in early 2008. They were interested in finding out the value to students of participation in the University Air Squadrons. The wider membership of the Northumbrian Universities Military Education Committee also expressed an interest in the proposal. In mid-2008 Dr Alison Williams joined Newcastle University as a Research Fellow, investigating the geographies of military airspaces, and soon became part of the conversations around the value of the service units. In 2009 Alison successfully applied for a small amount of funding from the university to employ a Research Associate to undertake a pilot study on one aspect of the value of these units; namely the graduate skills provision. This led to the publication, in 2010, of a report entitled, Graduate Skills and the University Armed Service Unit Experience. This was favorably received and led to the development of this project. An ESRC grant application was submitted in January 2012 to fund this research and the project began on December 1st 2012.