Research Topic

The Marketization of Higher Education: The State of the Union between the Student as Consumer and the Free Market

About this Research Topic

The dominance of Europe and the USA in the Higher Education sector (HE) has increasingly become under threat from the growth of international competitors and new entrants (i.e. private universities) to compete for students. The supply end has thus widened, which has put institutions under fierce competition to recruit students and employ consumer-based practices. The marketization of HE has become a global issue, which has subjected academia firmly with the ideological grip of capitalism and consumerism. This has had a profound impact on both policy and practice by positioning the academy within the market place where universities actively compete for students. Increasingly, the cost of learning within a university falls on the student as a consumer who invests in their learning for a return (i.e., greater earning potential as a graduate). The rise of the ‘students as the customer’ narrative embedded within the everyday vernacular of most university administrators is a testament to the primacy of this new model of practice. Therefore, this economic rationality shapes student choice in terms of a cost-benefit analysis of where and what to study alongside shaping expectations on the experiences and opportunities they will gain during their studies. Information on the returns of studying for students is a key commodity for shaping choice, which is embodied in the metrics developed by policymakers (e.g. student satisfaction measures) along with the practices of universities (e.g., prospectus, social media and open day).

However, there are limits to such reasoning as decisions may be prone to bias, involve others and shaped by one’s sense of identity and emotional attachment. Alongside this, the emphasis has been on the front end of recruitment but once students are in HE, the ‘student experience’ is one aspect that needs further investigation, especially as they are positioned as consumers. Given the current context, the student experience becomes the gap between the expectations formed in part, from the promises made through marketing strategies and the reality of the day-to-day life of being a student. The student experience may feed directly into student satisfaction metrics, attrition rates, and formal complaint procedures but this needs a fuller investigation on what the experience of studying involves and how this plays out in terms of student learning, identities, relationships, and well-being.

Psychological inquiry can offer a fresh and unique lens to address the limits of this economic reasoning and re-frame questions and answers around the marketization of HE. Psychology is a broad church with the scope of inquiry extending from issues around identity, cognitive processes, group dynamics, the unconscious, power and conceptualizing the student as a consumer subject within the wider historical, social and political context. The breadth of Psychology offers diverse approaches that can create dialogue and add fresh insight on decisions to access HE and the student experience. In order to develop our understanding further, we encourage contributors from a range of fields and perspectives to contribute original research and theoretical articles.



Keywords: marketization of higher education, studen decision making, student experience, neoliberalism and psychology, student choice and consumerism


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The dominance of Europe and the USA in the Higher Education sector (HE) has increasingly become under threat from the growth of international competitors and new entrants (i.e. private universities) to compete for students. The supply end has thus widened, which has put institutions under fierce competition to recruit students and employ consumer-based practices. The marketization of HE has become a global issue, which has subjected academia firmly with the ideological grip of capitalism and consumerism. This has had a profound impact on both policy and practice by positioning the academy within the market place where universities actively compete for students. Increasingly, the cost of learning within a university falls on the student as a consumer who invests in their learning for a return (i.e., greater earning potential as a graduate). The rise of the ‘students as the customer’ narrative embedded within the everyday vernacular of most university administrators is a testament to the primacy of this new model of practice. Therefore, this economic rationality shapes student choice in terms of a cost-benefit analysis of where and what to study alongside shaping expectations on the experiences and opportunities they will gain during their studies. Information on the returns of studying for students is a key commodity for shaping choice, which is embodied in the metrics developed by policymakers (e.g. student satisfaction measures) along with the practices of universities (e.g., prospectus, social media and open day).

However, there are limits to such reasoning as decisions may be prone to bias, involve others and shaped by one’s sense of identity and emotional attachment. Alongside this, the emphasis has been on the front end of recruitment but once students are in HE, the ‘student experience’ is one aspect that needs further investigation, especially as they are positioned as consumers. Given the current context, the student experience becomes the gap between the expectations formed in part, from the promises made through marketing strategies and the reality of the day-to-day life of being a student. The student experience may feed directly into student satisfaction metrics, attrition rates, and formal complaint procedures but this needs a fuller investigation on what the experience of studying involves and how this plays out in terms of student learning, identities, relationships, and well-being.

Psychological inquiry can offer a fresh and unique lens to address the limits of this economic reasoning and re-frame questions and answers around the marketization of HE. Psychology is a broad church with the scope of inquiry extending from issues around identity, cognitive processes, group dynamics, the unconscious, power and conceptualizing the student as a consumer subject within the wider historical, social and political context. The breadth of Psychology offers diverse approaches that can create dialogue and add fresh insight on decisions to access HE and the student experience. In order to develop our understanding further, we encourage contributors from a range of fields and perspectives to contribute original research and theoretical articles.



Keywords: marketization of higher education, studen decision making, student experience, neoliberalism and psychology, student choice and consumerism


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

04 October 2021 Manuscript

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Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

04 October 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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