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Student engagement in university decision-making: policies, processes and the student voice

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Published
  • Philip Carey
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Publication date1/06/2013
Number of pages188
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1/06/2013
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This thesis explores student engagement in university decision-making. Universities are expected to involve their students in a range of governance activities. Yet, the conceptual base for this is under-formed and often draws from learning theories. As a result, the emphasis is on what students should do and how they can be motivated to engage. This thesis proposes an alternative view that examines the issue from a public participation perspective. To support this, it offers a model of engagement that refocuses the debate onto the processes and procedures of the university. These shape the nature of student engagement in an institution. Various modes of engagement exist and each has different expectations on student activity. However, there is little published data to establish whether students actually want to participate. What is available tends to focus on the experiences of highly engaged students, such as course representatives. To redress this, the thesis establishes an evidence-base for mainstream students’ views on engagement. This is based on mixed-methods research that involved over 1,300 students in one university. It used a sequential design, in which information gathered in a qualitative phase was tested in a university-wide survey. The research demonstrates that many students see the value of engagement and want to participate. Yet, this was not universal and an argument is presented that student subjectivities influence engagement. These are shaped by a variety of factors, including the relative power of the student in a university environment. Contemporary literature suggests that this is shifting in favours of students as they assert themselves as customers of the university. However, the research findings dispute this. Students are not overwhelmingly consumerist and, if they are, this has little impact on engagement activity. Instead, the localised connection between students and tutors appears to be crucial for engagement. This tests the new public management approach to university governance that overlook or over-regulate such relationships. This is one of several challenges identified in this thesis for student engagement in university decision-making.