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FoE Research Seminar: Students as consumers? An exploration of English undergraduates’ discourses and practices

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posted on 17.11.2021, 15:02 by carlos Azevedo, liz thomas

Academic literature and policymakers have been discussing the construction of English undergraduates as HE consumers, often positioning them as such (Nordensvärd, 2011; Brooks, 2018). However, empirical research on this topic incorporating students’ perspectives is somewhat limited (Budd, 2017). This paper explores how undergraduate students perceive their positioning within HE and to what extent their educational and socioeconomic backgrounds influence their perspectives.

Forty one-on-one semi-structured qualitative interviews with English undergraduates were conducted in England and Scotland. The findings show that HE seems to be an instrumental project whose primary purpose is to lead to future employability for many students. Moreover, some argue that paying fees places them in a position similar to that of a consumer. Still, this positioning does not translate into concrete actions in their everyday life as students. The comparison of state school educated students’ accounts with private school ones shows that the former, contrary to the latter, tend to construct education as a public good that should be free.

Carlos Azevedo is a doctoral researcher at The Open University Business School who is about to conclude his doctoral thesis. He is based at the Business School, and his research critically explores UK higher education undergraduate students’ discourses and practices. Before starting his PhD, he worked for more than a decade as a contract and project manager in international projects. Following Stuart Hall, Carlos believes that ‘the university is a critical institution or it is nothing’.

Twitter: @cprazevedo

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