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Student Experience


SRHE Student Experience Network

Friday 21st October 2011

Registration 11.00am – 11.30am

Seminar 11.30am – 4.30pm

SRHE, London.


What is the student experience?

In light of the changes to Higher Education in the UK and in Europe, this seminar focuses on definition(s) of the ‘student experience’, asking how they are used to frame, discuss and package HE. With input from the NUS and the European Students’ Union, this seminar examines the concept in the discourse on HE and projects its relevance to the future.


The impact of national context on student experience: A comparison of France, Sweden and the UK

Nicolas Charles, University of Bordeaux

Nicolas Charles is a doctoral student in sociology at the Centre Emile Durkheim (University of Bordeaux, France). Focusing on justice in higher education, he compares student experience, HEIs and social representations of HE in France, Sweden and the UK.


In the UK, the ‘student experience’ represents more than a sole research concept; it is a widespread notion among higher education institutions and students. The student experience has however taken a specific meaning in the UK context, far beyond its broad sense of a relation of a student to their studies. Based on a comparison of France, Sweden and the UK, this presentation will draw on a combined analysis of student practices and representations, institutional organisation at particular universities and national policy contexts. If the student experience remains heterogeneous in each country, my material suggests that strong national patterns in higher education which translate into very diverse student experiences. This discussion thus frames a more global picture of the many ways students can relate to their studies, and the specific issues they consequently face.



Student Charters: formalising consumption?

Joanna Williams, University of Kent

Joanna Williams lectures in higher education and academic practice at theUniversity ofKent.  She is interested in the impact of government policies upon education in general and higher education in particular.  Joanna’s PhD used techniques of critical discourse analysis to explore New Labour’s policies for promoting social inclusion within post-compulsory education.  More recently Joanna has been writing about the transformation of students into consumers of HE and the effect this has upon what it means to be a student, attitudes to learning and relationships with lecturers.


The 2011 White Paper ‘Students at the Heart of the System’ states the government’s intention that ‘each institution should have a student charter … to set out the mutual expectations of universities and students’ (p. 33).  There is an assumption behind the call for charters that students are to be considered as vulnerable consumers in need of formalised protection from institutions that may provide a poor service in return for the students’ money.  Through an analysis of the Student Charter Group Final Report (January 2011), other recent higher education policy documents, contracts and charters already in use by institutions, as well as interviews with students, this paper questions whether the student experience is enriched by the use of such agreements.  Is it in the best interests of all students for their University experience to be increasingly contractualised, regulated and uniform?


What’s wrong with ‘the student experience’? The politics of student voice and public information

Duna Sabri, King’s College London

Duna Sabri is Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Public Policy, King’s College, London and an independent researcher.  Her research interests are in the sociology of higher education, pedagogy, institutional and (inter)national policy relating to HE, and the use of social theory in empirical research.

Since completing her DPhil at the University of Oxford’s Department of Educational Studies in 2007 on the assumptive worlds of academics and policymakers, she has undertaken a range of commissioned institutional research projects on topics such as students’ departure and persistence in HE, assessment practices, and the social and political functions of students’ evaluations of teaching, with a particular focus on the NSS.  Her publications have included the theoretical development of the concept of assumptive worlds, and analyses of the policy discourses that relate to academics and students.


This paper gives an account of the ‘production, accumulation, circulation and functioning’ (Foucault 1994:31) of a discourse that surrounds ‘the student experience’.  Following Fairclough (2003) I explore how ‘the student experience’ has come to prominence in key policy texts.  I attempt to explain how it acquired such salience in the sector as a whole, and what work it does in sustaining and developing the market-oriented disciplining of higher education.  In the UK, but less so elsewhere in Europe, ‘the student experience’ has become a mantra, apparently used to give students ‘a voice’ and at the same time constraining that voice by isolating it from other voices around it, and from the complex environment that enables us meaningfully to interpret those voices. 

The role of Student Evaluations of Teaching (SET) in structuring ‘the student experience’ is explored. Moving away from questions of statistical reliability and validity, I take SET results as social objects in their own right.  Using the framework of analysis proposed by de Santos (2009) of statistics as fact-totems, I explore the production and consumption of the results of the UK National Student Survey (NSS): the convergence of the public gaze upon them, their articulation with identity narratives, and capacity to provoke drama, anxieties of anticipation and emotion.  The paper draws on a pilot study that demonstrates how the consumption of NSS results through league tables has had the effect of defining ‘problems’, redistributing resources and transforming higher education work in ways that ultimately impoverish the higher education experiences of students.


Panel members

Allan Päll

Chairperson of the European Students’ Union

Allan Päll is a political science student fromEstonia and the Chairperson of the European Students’ Union (ESU) since July 2011, having previously been Vice-Chairperson. He has previously in 2007-09 led social policy and student financing policy and research in the Federation of Estonian Student Unions (EÜL) and has also been closely involved in the EUROSTUDENT project inEstonia. Before being elected Chairperson, he has been coordinating the work of ESU on EU policies and Quality Assurance and has been leading ESU’s project “Quest for Quality for Students” which looks into information provision and aims to build a quality concept from the students’ perspective.

Graeme Wise

Assistant Director (Policy), National Students’ Union

Graeme is responsible for supporting the elected officers in political policy development. He is the author of many of NUS priority campaign publications including ‘Broke and Broken’ and the ‘NUS Blueprint for HE Funding’. He also leads on NUS Widening Participation work and is supporting the National President in the development of work around student charters with Universities UK.


Event booking details

To reserve a place at this seminar please register at or telephone +44 (0) 207 4472525.   SRHE events are open to all and free to SRHE members as part of their membership package. The delegate fee for non-members is £25 [full time students £20]. Non members wishing to join the Society may do so at the time of registration and the delegate fee will be waived. Please note that places must be booked in advance and that a £25 for non attendance will  be charged if a place has been reserved but no notice of cancellation/non attendance has been given in advance.

Interested in joining the Network-but not able to attend this event? To receive details of future events in this series and to join the mailing list, please email


Yours sincerely

Francois Smit, Society for Research into Higher Education, 44 Bedford Row, London WC1R 4LL, tel: +44 20 7447 2525, fax: +44 20 7447 2526



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