Working Paper 79
The changing role of students in British higher education governance: Partners, consumers and digital users
Published January 2022

This working paper discusses the changing role of students in British higher education governance over the three societal periods: the welfare state, the market society and the digital economy. Within the past three decades, the student has shifted from a partner with significant involvement in governing universities, to a consumer whose influence reflects in self-interest enacted via choice and consumer rights. Our main argument is that the governing role of students is fundamentally tied to the role of the university in the society and prevailing economic order, and it is therefore changing yet again in the new period of digital economy. We propose an approach to examine student role in HE governance in the new digital economy as ‘governing with data’ and ‘governing of data’. In the first case, students are approached as digital users and data producers to inform university practices. In the second, they are made liable to various user agreements with digital platform providers but have no actual influence on decision-making. The paper provides a framework to trace the student role in higher education governance, and the direction of travel for the new student stakeholder as digital user in the contemporary digital economy.

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