Strathclyde Branch - Seminar
This paper focuses on the UK Government’s Higher Education and Research Act 2017. Recent scholarly discussions have addressed the structural reforms introduced in the Act (e.g. the Teaching Excellence Framework and the Office for Students), however, there has been less analysis of the policy in terms of its underpinning consumerist discourse. This paper therefore starts by arguing that the reform promotes consumerist understanding of universities and students. While the UK higher education sector has changed dramatically over the past decade and is still in a process of change, there are questions to be asked on how the motives for student politics have shifted over the recent years to align with a marketised sector. Luescher-Mamasela (2013) argues that unions have moved to represent consumer interests. Furthermore, they could be seen promoting good student experience through various social events and facilities (Brooks et al. 2016). Some (see Brooks et al. 2016; Klemenčič 2011) suggest that this repositioning of unions affects the ways in which students engage with political activism.
The paper draws on my recent British Academy project that explored the ways in which five students’ unions across England and the representative from the National Union of Students engaged with the consultation processes leading to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. The data was analysed by using Fairclough’s approach to discourse analysis. While the unions interviewed demonstrated significant opposition to the policy and further marketisation of higher education, their critique was fragmented and often accompanied by consumerist counter arguments. The unions emphasised existing and proposed consumer rights as benefitting students and the unions. The reasons for a lack of consistency in the participants’ discourses will be questioned and discussed in relation to their relationship with the university management and wider student population they represent.
Biography: Rille Raaper is Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Durham University. Her research interests include neoliberalisation of higher education policy and practice, consumerist positioning of students and student politics. She applies critical theory and discourse analysis to explore these themes. Her most recent research project explores students’ unions’ response to the consumerist higher education policy discourses in England.
For any inquiries and to confirm attendance (free, but for catering purposes), please email: Dr David Lewin.