Value for Money and the Construction of First in Family Students as Consumers in English Higher Education

Wicklow, Kate (2021) Value for Money and the Construction of First in Family Students as Consumers in English Higher Education. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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Abstract

In England a sharp increase in tuition fees and an amplified Governmental drive for a marketised HE system has led to growing pressures for universities to demonstrate value for money and for students to be seen as consumers. There is currently very little empirical research to show how students themselves conceptualise value and their role as a consumer, especially for students who are first in their family to attend HE. This thesis therefore contributes knowledge through the application of a sociological approach to market-making and the theory of performativity to analyse how the student consumer is constructed by regulators and universities, and how market information devices influence first in family student’s perceptions of value for money. Data was collected through a qualitative multi-method research design which included a document analysis of HE regulators and university websites, six focus groups and six follow-up interviews with first in family students in three HE Institutions in the North of England (high, medium and low tariff) between November 2018 and February 2019. Value for money is explored through the themes of choice, quality, costs and benefits which align to the HE regulatory definition (as set by the Office for Students) and is also known empirically as the Net Value Equation. Main findings include multiple examples of how regulators and universities were framing HE as a status market with students having a consumer role, and with a primary value focus on the onward economic significance of a degree. Yet two types of consumer behaviours emerged, one linked to a status/prestige market, and one to standard market depending on participants' prior entry qualifications and aspirations held for the future. Participants' views of themselves as consumers were rejected even though they had clearly performed in this way. Graduate salary information as an indicator of value was also rejected by participants, instead placing an emphasis on a broader imagined future of prosperity and the quality of their student experience. First in family students in this study showed a reduced ability to navigate the complexities of market making tools, and a naivety about important aspects of university life. They are significantly time poor, economically disadvantaged and emotionally challenged by their HE experience and market information tools do not help them to realise the full value of the HE experience.

Item Type:
Thesis (PhD)
Subjects:
ID Code:
159393
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
10 Sep 2021 08:20
Refereed?:
No
Published?:
Published
Last Modified:
17 Oct 2021 23:46