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Beyond the dichotomy of students-as-consumers and personal transformation: What students want from their degrees and their engagement with knowledge

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

E-pub ahead of print
  • Paul Ashwin
  • Benjamin Goldschneider
  • Ashish Agrawal
  • Renee Smit
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>10/10/2023
<mark>Journal</mark>Studies in Higher Education
Number of pages12
Publication StatusE-pub ahead of print
Early online date10/10/23
<mark>Original language</mark>English


There is widespread concern that students are increasingly becoming passive consumers of education who primarily attend university to obtain the credentials they need for the labour market. To interrogate this view, a longitudinal qualitative study examined what 47 students in three countries wanted to get out of studying for their degree (their personal projects) and how these developed over the course of their undergraduate studies. Our analysis showed that whilst most students had instrumental reasons for studying, they tended to be personally committed to the knowledge they were studying and had a clear sense of the role it would play in their future lives. Where students did not see knowledge as having a key role in helping them to realise their personal projects, they were less likely to value their studies. Also, students who were committed to the knowledge they were studying but did not have a sense of what they were trying to achieve personally with it, appeared to be uncertain about where they were going by the end of their degree. Based on this analysis, we argue that the dichotomy between students-as-consumers and personal transformation is false. Rather what is important is students being clear about how academic knowledge connects them to the world and helps them to shape their plans for the future.