Resisting the iron cage of 'the student experience'

Hayes, S ORCID: 0000-0001-8633-0155 and Jandrić, P (2018) 'Resisting the iron cage of 'the student experience'.' Šolsko polje, 29 (1-2). pp. 127-143. ISSN 1581-6044

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As higher education (HE) has come to be valued for its contribution to the global economy, priorities have been placed on study for a degree to directly meet the needs of industry (Hayes, 2015: p. 125). Furthermore, in UK policy, students have been defined as ‘customers’ by the government since the introduction of tuition fees (Dearing, 1997; Browne, 2010). Together, these developments have emphasized the role of a degree as a consumer ‘product’, purchased to secure future employment (Peters, Jandrić and Hayes, 2018a), rather than an experiential learning ‘process’, that continues well beyond student life (Hayes, 2015 : p. 130). We examine how the student-as-consumer approach in HE policy has recently developed into a strong rhetoric emphasizing ‘the student experience’ as a package, including leisure, well-being, future employment and other ‘extras’. This could be perceived as positive, where all elements of student life are acknowledged. Alternatively, policy discourse concerning ‘the student experience’ could also be critiqued as a concept that now transcends the notion of a degree as a utilitarian product. A disturbing impression is then generated, where universities are now delivering a packaged experience of ‘consumption itself’, to students (Argenton, 2015: p. 921). What students would individually experience, such as a ‘sense of belonging and pride in the university’, is delivered to students, not developed by them. To examine such concerns more closely, we analyse a sample of 20 UK university ‘student experience’ strategies, via a corpus-based Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). Drawing on themes from these texts, we question who ‘the student experience’ rhetoric really benefits? If a rationalized experience is constructed on behalf of students, then universities as ‘cathedrals of consumption’ (Ritzer, 2010) align themselves with any other provider of consumer experiences, where the ‘production’ of academic life has all been taken care of. In such a discourse, students are not necessarily conceptualized as empowered consumers either (Brooks, 2017) but trapped instead within an ‘iron cage’, even before they set foot in the workplace. Yet, despite a distorted picture that neoliberal HE policy discourse may portray, a postdigital understanding of ‘the student experience’ could yet offer helpful insights into possible routes of resistance.

Item Type: Article
Divisions: School of Education
Date Deposited: 24 Jul 2023 14:07
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2023 14:07
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