22 SES 01 A, Paper Session
Since the end of the 20th century, European higher education institutions have undergone wide-ranging transformation processes that can be labelled as “the economisation of higher education” (Höhne, 2015). From this perspective, it is argued that economic principles increasingly impact organisational structures of higher education institutions and thus fundamentally shape the notion of academic teaching and learning.
Various empirical studies have addressed the question of institutional change in universities from the perspective of a sociological theory of organisations (Hüther & Krücken, 2016; Meier, 2012; Krücken & Meier, 2006). Their results reveal four key characteristics that point to an economisation of higher education (Krücken, 2017; Hasse & Krücken, 2012). These are:
- the increase of accountability by implementing evaluations and accreditations,
- the formulation of an ‘organisational identity’ accompanied with definitions of organisational goals (as visible in universities’ mission statements),
- the reinforcement of hierarchical structures by strengthening the position of rectors and deans, and
- the rise of professionalised management in the areas of quality control, knowledge transfer, and students’ services.
These rather new features in universities’ organisation indicate an increasing focus on competition of European higher education institutions.
One central aspect of change that has profoundly affected academic teaching and learning is the Bologna reform (1999). Consisting of a two-tiered study structure (BA/MA programmes), a Europe-wide performance assessment system (ECTS), and quality measures for teaching and learning, it has significantly changed the organisational environment of studying. Bologna was introduced to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness and economic growth. Thus, it is deeply embedded in universities’ overall transformation processes.
While universities’ organisational change has been well described, little attention has been paid to students’ perspectives and their experiences of academic teaching and learning. There is only a small number of empirical studies examining the effects of Bologna on the quality of studying from the students’ point of view (e.g. Bargel et al., 2009; Jungblut et al., 2015). Furthermore, very few take up a qualitative research approach focusing on the interrelation between students’ experiences and the study environment introduced by Bologna (e.g. Bloch 2009; Hairston 2015; Budd 2017).
This paper, which is part of a doctoral thesis, consists of a qualitative study and addresses the question: How do students experience their study environment formed by the Bologna model and its organisational characteristics? It aims to gain a deeper understanding of how students experience their education at universities and how specific organisational features, that can be traced back to economic principles, influence their course of study.
For the theoretical framework, the paper uses an organisational sociological approach to delineate the key aspects of institutional change within higher education institutions. Additionally, the empirical study is based on a social constructivist approach (Berger & Luckmann, 1966), which focuses on the interactions of individuals with the social world, whereby the social world in turn influences individuals, leading to routinisation and habitualisation.
To address the research question above, an empirical study was carried out at two Austrian university sites, one in a rural and the other in an urban area. For the empirical investigation, students of the Bachelor programme Educational Sciences, who were in the last period of their course of study, were selected. The study progress of the participants is relevant to create a common space that enables students to talk about their study experiences. Moreover, students of Educational Sciences were chosen as it is of particular interest how this group of students reflect upon their study experiences by referring to their content knowledge about education. The students were invited for group discussions (Bohnsack, 2014) and biographical interviews (Schütze, 1983). Whereas biographical interviews provide access to the students’ biographical experiences and pathways, group discussions reveal patterns of orientation underlying the students’ activities within the given study environment. At each university, a total of 5 to 7 group discussions and 9 to 13 interviews were collected by the end of 2019. This paper presents results of the analysis of selected group discussions from both universities. The selected discussions ranged around one and a half hours and were transcribed verbatim. The analysis is based on the documentary method (Bohnsack, 2010). It explores which experiences the students actually take into account as relevant and what patterns of orientation they develop that guide their activities within a given study environment. During their academic socialisation, students acquire a common knowledge, which is embedded in their activities, but which they cannot make explicit themselves. Thus, the focus of the method lies on the question of how students talk about certain topics they bring up for discussion. Through a comparative analysis, how the discussion groups deal with the same topics is traced, so that different patterns of orientation can be reconstructed. The analysis leads to the construction of a typology consisting of different modes of studying that are related to the organisational characteristics of the study environment.
Preliminary results of data analysis reveal three different modus of studying. The first type described as the ‘rational mode of studying’ comprises a pattern of studying that focuses primarily on the quality of higher education from the perspective of the later job position. This type of student evaluates learning content in terms of its practical relevance for later work in the field of education. The course of study is very much aligned towards the institutional time frame resulting from the Bologna model. Lectures are not selected according to content-related aspects, but primarily to progress in the degree programme. Hence, the organisational structures of the given study environment determine this mode of studying. The second type is called the ‘playful mode of studying’. Students who follow this mode frame their activities as a kind of game. They see specific procedures like exams as opportunities to employ certain strategies to win the game. Moreover, they apply informal strategies (e.g. registering for a seminar when it is already full) to progress their course of study. This type of student tries to overcome organisational constraints through subversive means. The third type which is called the ‘self-determined mode of studying’ puts emphasis on one's own interests. Lectures are chosen because of an interesting topic. Although these students do not feel that the organisational conditions of their study environment are supportive, they are ambitious in demanding their learning needs be met (e.g. insisting on a personal topic for a thesis). This type of student becomes active and tries to change organisational demands. This typology of the different modes of studying is regarded as provisional and will be validated by further analysis.
Bargel, T., Multrus, F., Ramm, M., & Bargel, H. (2009). Bachelor-Studierende. Erfahrungen in Studium und Lehre. Eine Zwischenbilanz. Publication by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Berlin. Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality. A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. Garden City/NY: Anchor Books. Bloch, R. (2009). Flexible Studierende? Studienreform und studentische Praxis. Leipzig: Akademische Verlagsanstalt. 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. Bohnsack, R. (2014). Gruppendiskussionsverfahren und Gesprächsanalyse. In R. Bohnsack (Ed.), Rekonstruktive Sozialforschung. Einführung in qualitative Methoden (Vol. 9) (pp. 107-130). Opladen, Toronto: Barbara Budrich. Budd, R. (2017). Undergraduate orientations towards higher education in Germany and England. Problematizing the notion of ‘student as customer’. Higher Education, 73(1), 23-37. 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 Hairston, C. (2015). Changed Academic Relationship Between Professors and Students at Uni Potsdam: Impact of Bologna 2011–2012. In The European Higher Education Area (pp. 881-898). Cham: Springer. 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. Höhne, T. (2015). Ökonomisierung und Bildung. Zu den Formen ökonomischer Rationalisierung im Feld der Bildung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. Hüther, O., & Krücken, G. (2016). Hochschulen: Fragestellungen, Ergebnisse und Perspektiven der sozialwissenschaftlichen Hochschulforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. Jungblut, J., Vukasovic, M., & Stensaker, B. (2015). Student perspectives on quality in higher education. European Journal of Higher Education, 5(2), 157-180. Krücken, G. (2017). Die Transformation von Universitäten in Wettbewerbsakteure. In: Beiträge zur Hochschulforschung, 39(3-4), 10-29. 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. 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. Schütze, F. (1983). Biographieforschung und narratives Interview. Neue Praxis, 13(3), 283-293.
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