Value for money and the commodification of higher education: front-line narratives

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‘‘ Value for Money ’( VFM) has actually ended up being a core story of the UK federal government’’ s approach to college. The principle is as evasive as it is contestable, however enjoy it or dislike it, stakeholders are significantly required to negotiate its effect on the scholastic environment. We initially ended up being concentrated on this as a location of research study in the light of Hepi – – Advance HE Student Academic Experience Surveys that recommended regularly bad results in relation to trainee understandings of having actually gotten VFM. This did not tally especially well with our own experience, or undoubtedly, with the results of the National Student Survey , and for these factors alone we thought about the principle to warrant additional examination.

In our brand-new post in Teaching in Higher Education , we lay out the findings of a two-year exploratory research study into the understandings of both speakers and trainees, thinking about VFM in its more comprehensive context of an instrumentalised and significantly marketized scholastic scene. The research study was qualitative in nature, checking out lived experience, through the narrative accounts of scholastic personnel and trainees who bestride the front-line user interface in between arrangement and recipience of college services. It looked for to compare their views on the significance of VFM and on the effect of policy reform on college.

The research study was carried out in a social sciences department at a university in northern England in between 2017 and 2019. Research study individuals made up 8 speakers, each utilized in the department for numerous years and 8 undergrads in their 2nd year of research study. They were hired from the exact same Faculty in order to produce a cumulative ‘‘ story ’ in addition to private stories.


The organization was determined as one of numerous that had actually been through a duration of consistent flux over the previous years, as the university authorities had actually enforced a top-down, self-declared ‘‘ modification program’ in relation to both institutional structures and scholastic arrangement, in reaction to federal government assistance however likewise as a procedure of ‘‘ enhancing’ services and increasing cost-effectiveness.

The following thematic locations were checked out and established:

• • instructional experiences, bios and future interests; objectives and expectations of HE;.• • scholastic assistance arrangement and larger elements of the trainee experience;.• • the precision, the worth, and effect of NSS and other procedures for assessing trainee experience;.• • mindsets towards charges; VFM and trainees as instructional customers;.• • concerns connecting to the commodification of HE from both a local/institutional context;.• • individual reflections upon broader social stories on HE.

Students and speakers were as one in their issues around scholastic charges, consisting of: a boost in trainees struggling with tension and stress and anxiety due to monetary issues; the unfavorable influence on trainee health and scholastic efficiency of needing to both research study and work; the exclusionary effect of costs in relation to working class neighborhoods.

Students saw VFM in regards to having access to ‘‘ the best ’ physical resources (library, computer systems, printers, parking areas, etc) together with the scholastic assistance and assistance that they were ‘‘ spending for ’. In addition, way of life aspects, such as leisure and social experiences were thought about part of the total VFM bundle. Consisted of was the ‘‘ outstanding arrangement’ ’ of ‘ larger trainee assistance services’’.


Whilst acknowledging the value of offering VFM, speakers felt that trainee expectations around ‘‘ privileges and rights’ ’ had actually altered considerably, with an increase in those tough grades and summative feedback. There had actually been an undesirable development in protests from trainees who, ‘‘ put on ’ t believe that they are getting what they have actually spent for’’. They were likewise significantly experiencing ‘‘ passive’ students, more concentrated on work potential customers and ‘‘ getting the credentials’, than they were on the happiness of knowing.

Whilst this is an exploratory research study, it is an essential piece of work because the findings recommend that whilst both personnel and trainees have actually accepted and welcomed aspects of VFM, however, both associates have substantial issues about the possibly unfavorable results of the existing instructions of travel. There is every factor to think that the effect of Covid-19 on college experiences, will just serve to both magnify and intensify these stress.

Linda Wilkinson and Mick Wilkinson (University of Sheffield).

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