22 SES 02 B, Students' Perspectives and Support
In the last decades, European higher education (HE) systems have undergone wide-ranging transformation processes. Since the 1960s, there has been a significant growth in student numbers (Meyer, 2007). However, the growth rate depends less on the countries’ economic development. Rather, the expansion results from a global perspective on education perceiving it as the key factor for socio-economic progress (Meyer & Schofer, 2005). In this perspective, European universities have been reorganised in order to qualify an increasing number of students for the demands of a global economy.
In this regard, several studies have addressed the question of institutional change in universities from the perspective of a sociological theory of organisations (Hüther & Krücken, 2016; Krücken & Meier, 2006; Meier, 2009, 2012). Their findings reveal that universities tend to adapt their organisational structures and procedures towards market principles. Four prominent features identified by Hasse and Krücken (2012) specify these changes within universities’ organisational structures. These are:
i. the increase of accountability accompanied by practices like evaluations and accreditations,
ii. the reinforcement of hierarchical decision-making structures (e.g. by strengthening the position of rectors and deans),
iii. the definition of organisational goals (as visible in universities’ mission statements), and
iv. the rise of professionalized management especially in the areas of quality control, public relations, and students’ services.
These are rather new features in universities’ organisation that indicate an increasing focus on competition of HE institutions and systems.
One central aspect of change in universities’ organisation that particularly affects academic teaching and learning is the Bologna Reform (1999), which consists of a two-tiered study structure (Bachelor and Master programmes), a Europe-wide performance assessment system (ECTS), and quality measures for teaching and learning. It has been introduced to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness and economic growth and thus is profoundly embedded in universities’ overall organisational transformation processes. The implementation of the Bologna criteria within European universities illustrates the overall homogenisation of European HE systems. However, there is a considerable discrepancy between the implementation of the Bologna model within universities’ formal organisational structures and its actual translation into practice that varies widely among Europe’s nation states (Schriewer, 2009).
While previous research has investigated universities’ transformation processes from an organisational sociology approach, little attention has been paid on students’ perspectives within changing HE institutions. Therefore, the research question of this paper is focused on orientations and patterns of meaning that students create by engaging with HE environments and their demands. The study is based on the concept of common space of experience by Mannheim (1982) developed to describe the formation of a collective stock of knowledge that a group of actors acquires in their history of socialisation. This knowledge, also referred to as pre-reflexive or tacit knowledge, is implied in the actors’ practice of action, and thus gives orientation to their actions. In order to trace this, the present study highlights students’ patterns of orientation underlying their routines and actions within a given study environment.
For the empirical investigation, group discussions with Bachelor students of Educational Sciences have been carried out at two Austrian university sites. By analysis of the empirical data using the documentary method (Bohnsack, 2010), the study explores which experiences students of Educational Sciences actually take into account as relevant, and, drawing on that, what patterns of orientation students develop that guide their practices within a certain study environment. Finally, the interdependence of individual students’ experiences and universities’ organisational structures is taken into consideration. Here, the crucial questions to be discussed are: What conceptions of studying do certain organisational features foster and engender and how does that influence students’ educational progress within HE environments?
This paper is part of a doctoral thesis. For the present empirical investigation, students of Educational Sciences at two university sites in Austria have been selected who were in the final phase of their Bachelor programme. The study progress of the participants is relevant to initiate a common experiential space that enables students to talk about their collective study experiences. Students of Educational Sciences were chosen as it is of particular interest how this group of students reflect upon their study experiences by referring on their content knowledge about education. In addition, as Educational Sciences as an academic discipline encompasses different study programmes with not always clear job profiles (Grunert & Ludwig, 2016) it is also asked what prospects students of Educational Sciences develop for their further career. Four group discussions have yet been carried out at one university site. The discussions ranged around two hours of time and were transcribed verbatim. The analysis is based on a qualitative approach following the documentary method (Bohnsack, 2010). Here, the focus of data interpretation lies on the question of how students talk about certain topics they bring up for discussion. A comparative analysis shows how the same topic is dealt with by other discussion groups so that different patterns of orientations can be reconstructed. This reconstruction process finally provides insight on how students of Educational Sciences engage with a given study environment and their demands.
First preliminary results of data analysis indicate a tension between students’ individual engagement with university education and the way the university organises it. In this regard, students of Educational Sciences tend to frame their university education in contrast to the organisation of study programmes at schools of applied sciences. Whereas students judge the latter study programmes as highly regulated by a fixed curriculum (expressed by a participant in the quote: “There you are really a student.”), they experience their course of study at the university as more flexible and compatible with other spheres of life (e.g. family, employment, leisure activities etc.). However, this autonomy in arranging one’s own course of study is restricted by the institutional time frame of the university that results from the Bologna model. Within that, students are encouraged to finish their study, otherwise they would be threatened by loss of free access to university education. Thus, at this stage of the research, the analysis reveals that students of Educational Sciences orientate their study towards two aspects: (1) The compatibility with different spheres of life, and (2) the congruency with the institutionally predefined period for studying. This mode of studying has been identified as the main mode yet, which means that individual learning interests and pathways are less important for students than external demands. This study provides an empirical example to understand how students’ experiences and the organisational structure of university interrelate. Students create their course of study individually and, at the same time, have to deal with the institutional time frames and demands to forward their study career. Thus, it can be asked how a university organisation regulated by market principles promotes the image of a student that is based on the neo-liberal model of the entrepreneurial self (Bröckling, 2007).
Bröckling, U. (2007). Das unternehmerische Selbst: Soziologie einer Subjektivierungsform. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Bohnsack, R. (2010). Documentary method and group discussions. In R. Bohnsack, N. Pfaff & W. Weller (Eds.), Qualitative analysis and documentary method in international educational research (pp. 99-124). Opladen: Budrich. European Higher Education Area [EHEA]. (1999). The Bologna Declaration of 19 June 1999 [PDF file]. Retrieved from http://www.ehea.info/media.ehea.info/file/Ministerial_conferences/02/8/1999_Bologna_Declaration_English_553028.pdf Grunert, C., & Ludwig, K. (2016). Disziplinen im Wandel? Erziehungswissenschaft und Soziologie im Bologna-Prozess. Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, 62(6), 886-908. Hasse, R., & Krücken, G. (2012). Ökonomische Rationalität, Wettbewerb und Organisation: Eine wirtschaftssoziologische Perspektive. In A. Engels & L. Knoll (Eds.), Wirtschaftliche Rationalität: Soziologische Perspektiven (pp. 25-45). Wiesbaden: Springer. Hüther, O., & Krücken, G. (2016). Hochschulen: Fragestellungen, Ergebnisse und Perspektiven der sozialwissenschaftlichen Hochschulforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. Krücken, G., & Meier, F. (2006). Turning the university into an organizational actor. In G. S. Drori, H. Hwang & J. W. Meyer (Eds.), Globalization and organization: World society and organizational change (pp. 241-257). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mannheim, K. (1982). Structures of thinking. London: Routledge. Meier, F. (2009). Die Universität als Akteur: Zum institutionellen Wandel der Hochschulorganisation. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Meier, F. (2012). Vom Betrieb zum Unternehmen: Zur gesellschaftlichen Konstruktion der rationalen Organisation. In A. Engels & L. Knoll (Eds.), Wirtschaftliche Rationalität: Soziologische Perspektiven (pp. 185-200). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Meyer, J. W. (2007). Globalization: Theory and trends. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 48(4), 261-273. Meyer, J. W., & Schofer, E. (2005). Universität in der globalen Gesellschaft: Die Expansion des 20. Jahrhunderts. die hochschule, 14(2), 81-98. Schriewer, J. (2009). "Rationalized myths" in European higher education: The construction and diffusion of the Bologna model. European Education, 41(2), 31-51.
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