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Students’ views about the purpose of higher education: a comparative analysis of six European countries

Students’ views about the purpose of higher education: a comparative analysis of six European countries
Students’ views about the purpose of higher education: a comparative analysis of six European countries
Across Europe, assumptions are often made within the academic literature and by some social commentators that students have come to understand the purpose of higher education (HE) in increasingly instrumental terms. This is often linked to processes of marketisation and neo-liberalisation across the Global North, in which the value of HE has come to be associated with economic reward and labour market participation and measured through a relatively narrow range of metrics. It is also associated with the establishment, in 2010, of the European Higher Education Area, which is argued to have brought about the refiguration of European universities around an Anglo-American model. Scholars have contended that students have become consumer-like in their behaviour and preoccupied by labour market outcomes rather than processes of learning and knowledge generation. Often, however, such claims are made on the basis of limited empirical evidence, or a focus on policies and structures rather than the perspectives of students themselves. In contrast, this paper draws on a series of 54 focus groups with 295 students conducted in six European countries (Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain). It shows how understandings of the purpose of HE are more nuanced than much of the extant literature suggests and vary, at least to some extent, by both nation-state and higher education institution. Alongside viewing the purpose of HE as preparing them for the labour market, students emphasised the importance of tertiary-level study for personal growth and enrichment, and societal development and progress. These findings have implications for policy and practice. In particular, the broader purposes of HE, as articulated by the students in this study, should be given greater recognition by policymakers, those teaching in HE, and the wider public instead of, as is often the case, positioning students as consumers, interested in only economic gain.
0729-4360
Brooks, Rachel
e38ef734-6d0d-4d86-b2d8-909831b67619
Gupta, Achala
a30fa79d-e9dc-4237-93d4-bdaf8816780a
Jayadeva, Sazana
aa3b53f0-7785-4be9-ac2c-6dd16049adc3
Abrahams, Jessie
2f815106-e50a-42f4-ad17-c981a3372440
Brooks, Rachel
e38ef734-6d0d-4d86-b2d8-909831b67619
Gupta, Achala
a30fa79d-e9dc-4237-93d4-bdaf8816780a
Jayadeva, Sazana
aa3b53f0-7785-4be9-ac2c-6dd16049adc3
Abrahams, Jessie
2f815106-e50a-42f4-ad17-c981a3372440

Brooks, Rachel, Gupta, Achala, Jayadeva, Sazana and Abrahams, Jessie (2020) Students’ views about the purpose of higher education: a comparative analysis of six European countries. Higher Education Research & Development. (doi:10.1080/07294360.2020.1830039).

Record type: Article

Abstract

Across Europe, assumptions are often made within the academic literature and by some social commentators that students have come to understand the purpose of higher education (HE) in increasingly instrumental terms. This is often linked to processes of marketisation and neo-liberalisation across the Global North, in which the value of HE has come to be associated with economic reward and labour market participation and measured through a relatively narrow range of metrics. It is also associated with the establishment, in 2010, of the European Higher Education Area, which is argued to have brought about the refiguration of European universities around an Anglo-American model. Scholars have contended that students have become consumer-like in their behaviour and preoccupied by labour market outcomes rather than processes of learning and knowledge generation. Often, however, such claims are made on the basis of limited empirical evidence, or a focus on policies and structures rather than the perspectives of students themselves. In contrast, this paper draws on a series of 54 focus groups with 295 students conducted in six European countries (Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain). It shows how understandings of the purpose of HE are more nuanced than much of the extant literature suggests and vary, at least to some extent, by both nation-state and higher education institution. Alongside viewing the purpose of HE as preparing them for the labour market, students emphasised the importance of tertiary-level study for personal growth and enrichment, and societal development and progress. These findings have implications for policy and practice. In particular, the broader purposes of HE, as articulated by the students in this study, should be given greater recognition by policymakers, those teaching in HE, and the wider public instead of, as is often the case, positioning students as consumers, interested in only economic gain.

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More information

Accepted/In Press date: 13 August 2020
Published date: 22 October 2020

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 451083
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/451083
ISSN: 0729-4360
PURE UUID: 337436a8-fc4a-4562-8751-0c200fe9451f
ORCID for Achala Gupta: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-3172-8198

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Date deposited: 07 Sep 2021 16:31
Last modified: 27 Apr 2022 02:19

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Contributors

Author: Rachel Brooks
Author: Achala Gupta ORCID iD
Author: Sazana Jayadeva
Author: Jessie Abrahams

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