CGHE Webinar 184

European higher education students: contested constructions

Date: Tuesday, 2 February 2021 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Location: Zoom webinar, registration required

Event Materials

This event is now archived and we are pleased to provide the following event media and assets, along with the original event overview.

There are currently over 35 million students within Europe and yet, to date, we have no clear comprehension of the extent to which understandings of ‘the student’ are shared across the continent. Thus, a central aim of this presentation is to investigate how the contemporary higher education student understands their own role, 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.

Drawing on data from students across Europe – and particularly plasticine models participants made to represent their understanding of themselves as students – the webinar will argue that, in many cases, there is an important disconnect between the ways in which students are constructed within policy, and how they understand themselves. The models produced by participants typically foregrounded learning and hard work rather than more instrumental concerns commonly emphasised within policy. This brings into question assertions made in the academic literature that recent reforms have had a direct effect on the subjectivities of students, encouraging them to be more consumerist in their outlook. Nevertheless, we have also shown that student conceptualisations differ, to some extent, by nation state, evident particularly in Spain and Poland, and by institution – most notably in England and Spain, which have the most vertically differentiated higher education systems. These differences suggest that, despite the ‘policy convergence’ manifest in the creation of a European Higher Education Area, understandings of what it means to be a student in Europe today remain contested.

The paper was written with input from Jessie Abrahams, University of Bristol.

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