29 October 2018

The illusions of student choice in HE

A new paper co-authored by Professor Claire Callender, based on her keynote speech at CGHE’s 2018 annual conference, investigates the illusions of student choice in higher education.

Professor Callender and her co-author Professor Kevin Dougherty find that the predictions advanced by the student-choice rationale – increased and wider access, improved institutional quality, and greater provider responsiveness to the labour market – are largely not met.

The authors highlight the fact that a hallmark of recent higher education policy in developed economies is the move towards quasi-markets involving greater student choice and provider competition.

They also explore how conceptual deficiencies in the student-choice model explain why the idealisation of student choice has largely proved illusionary.

They argue that government officials have narrowly conceptualised students as rational calculators primarily weighing the economic costs and benefits of higher education and the relative quality of institutions and programmes. There is little awareness that student choices are shaped by several other factors as well and that these vary considerably by social background.

The paper concludes that students’ choices are socially constrained and stratified, reproducing and legitimating social inequality.

Student Choice in Higher Education—Reducing or Reproducing Social Inequalities? is published in Social Sciences.