There are currently over 35 million students within Europe and yet, to date, we have no clear understanding of the extent to which understandings of ‘the student’ are shared. Thus, a central aim of this paper is to investigate how the contemporary higher education student is conceptualised and the extent to which this differs both within nation-states and across them.
This is significant in terms of implicit (and sometimes explicit) assumptions that are made about common understandings of ‘the student’ across Europe – underpinning, for example, initiatives to increase cross-border educational mobility and the wider development of a European Higher Education Area.
It is also significant in relation to exploring the extent to which understandings are shared within a single nation and, particularly, the degree to which there is congruence between the ways in which students are conceptualised within policy texts and by policymakers, and the understandings of other key social actors such as the media, higher education institutions and students themselves.
The paper is based on a critical review of the extant literature on higher education students across Europe, drawn from the disciplines of education, sociology, politics, social policy, geography and youth studies. It analyses qualitative and quantitative research, and both comparative and single-nation studies.
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