“I feel like there’s a bit of an obsession with the student experience”: deconstructing the university student experience

Spacey, Rachel and Stuart, Mary (2017) “I feel like there’s a bit of an obsession with the student experience”: deconstructing the university student experience. In: BERA (British Educational Research Association) Annual Conference, 5th-7th September 2017, University of Sussex.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Presentation)
Item Status:Live Archive


Universities in the United Kingdom (UK) are committed to improving and enhancing the experience of their students. This preoccupation is best epitomised by the Times Higher Education (THE) Student Experience Survey which annually reveals the best universities in the UK for student experience. What is the student experience and do students understand it in the same way as Higher Education (HE) staff? Is it actually as important to students as it is to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and as conveyed in university league tables? The first National Union of Students (NUS) Student Experience report found that just 29 per cent of students said that their motivation for going to university was “for the experience” (2008, p.6).

This presentation reports on research which aims to understand the student experience. As the number of UK university students living at home is increasing and the traditional, residential experience of students immersing themselves in university life is in decline (Brennan et al., 2010) this research also considers the relationship between the student experience and university space. Thinking of campus space “as an ongoing developmental process that is understood, made and re-made by those engaged with it” (Lefever, 2012, p.127) it explores the relationship between the daily lives of students and their understanding of the student experience.

We explore the development, understanding, usage and complexity of the term ‘student experience’ in UK HE over the last fifty years. In addition to a comprehensive literature review, data collection included a series of exploratory focus groups conducted at a post-1992 campus university in England complemented by further focus groups at four additional universities including two non-campus HEIs. All the focus group data will be analysed using the qualitative software package Nvivo and our presentation will share the findings including analysis of the students’ use of space and place whilst at university and how these relate to their understanding of the term the student experience.

Keywords:Higher Education, Higher Education buildings, university students, Student experience, Focus Groups
Subjects:X Education > X342 Academic studies in Higher Education
Divisions:Professional services > Vice Chancellors Office
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ID Code:28736
Deposited On:01 Oct 2017 09:45

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