22 SES 07 C, Teaching, Learning and Assessment in Higher Education
A significant milestone took place in UK Higher Education two years ago following the implementation of the Browne review’s (2011) core recommendation that English universities raise their fee level to up to £9,000 per annum from Autumn 2012.This paper will present findings from a recent study that explored the impact of policy changes relating to in increased student fees students in English universities on students’ approaches and attitudes to learning in HE. The paper will draw upon in-depth qualitative data from over 60 students in seven different HEIs across the UK. The papers objectives are:
- To investigate the impact of a market-driven UK HE system on students’ attitudes and approaches to higher education;
- To explore the different ways in which students approach higher education and how these reflect different value and identity positions.
The expansion and diversification of the UK higher education (HE) system and its move towards a more market-driven agenda has presented considerable challenges for students and academics alike. Such challenges have intensified with the increase in tuition fees: students clearly expect and demand more from their HE experience, particularly in relation to teaching and learning and the wider university experience. Within official policy and institutional discourses students have become re-framed as ‘consumers’, stakeholders and regulators of higher education. It has become legitimate to depict their higher education experience as a commodity purchase or crude market transaction that can be approached in a largely acquisitive way (Molesworth, et al, 2009; Williams, 2102; Tomlinson, 2013). The rise of the student as a consumer also entails significant resource pressures for HEIs, both in terms of marketing programmes and delivering them in ways that match students’ shifting expectations and demands.
The precise positioning of students within current policy discourses, and finding appropriate terms to capture their experiences and identity positions, continues to prove elusive (McCulloch, 2009). This is further complicated by the broad range of learning profiles within the student population and the co-existence of utilitarian values alongside more substantive, learning-centered ones. A growing concern, however, is that popular policy discourses that heavily frame the benefits of higher education in economistic terms, either as an investment, consumption or client-provider interaction may distort the intrinsic value of higher education, also reducing the role and responsibility of learners themselves. Brown (2013) has discussed the range of consequences in the shift towards a predominately market-driven policy framework, including: differential levels of preparation and engagement; inter-student competition through grade inflation and outcome pressures; and shifting attitudes and expectations around curricula, course development and vocational relevance. The contemporary student experience has also been shown to be diverse and mediated by institutional context and subject discipline, as well as specific learning cultures and policy agendas of individual HEIs (Brennan et al, 2010).
Brennan, J., Edmunds, R., Houston, M., Jary, D., Lebeau, Y. Osborne, M, and Richardson, J.T.E. (2010) Improving what is learnt at university. London: Routledge. Brown, R. (2013) Everything for Sale: the marketization of UK Higher Education. London: Routledge. Department for Education (2011) Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education (The Browne Review), London: HMSO. Molesworth, M., Nixon, E. & Scullion, R. (2009) ‘Having, being and higher education: the marketization of the university and the transformation of the student into consumer’, Teaching in Higher Education, 14, 3, 277-287 Tomlinson, M. (2013) End Games? Consumer-based learning and its implications for lifelong learning, Perspectives: policy and practice in higher education, 17, 4, 124-128 Williams, J (2012) Consuming Higher Education: why learning can’t be bought. London: Bloomsbury.
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