Resisting the iron cage of ‘the student experience’

Sarah Hayes, Petar Jandrić

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter


As higher education (HE) has come to be valued for its contribution to the global economy, priorities have been placed on study for a degree to directly meet the needs of industry. Furthermore, in UK policy, students have been defined as ‘customers’ by the government since the introduction of tuition fees. Together, these developments have emphasized the role of a degree as a consumer ‘product’, purchased to secure future employment, rather than an experiential learning ‘process’, that continues well beyond student life. In this chapter we examine how the student-as-consumer approach in HE policy has recently developed into a strong rhetoric emphasizing ‘the student experience’ as a package, including leisure, well-being, future employment and other ‘extras’. A disturbing impression is then generated, where universities are now delivering a packaged experience of ‘consumption itself’, to students. To examine such concerns more closely, we analyse a sample of 20 UK university ‘student experience’ strategies, via a corpus-based Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). Drawing on themes from these texts, we question who ‘the student experience’ rhetoric really benefits. If a rationalized experience is constructed on behalf of students, then universities defined by George Ritzer as ‘cathedrals of consumption’ align themselves with any other provider of consumer experiences, where students are trapped within an ‘iron cage’ even before they set foot in the workplace. Yet, despite a distorted picture that neoliberal HE policy discourse may portray, a postdigital understanding of ‘the student experience’ could yet offer helpful insights into possible routes of resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Impacts of Neoliberal Discourse and Language in Education
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Perspectives on a Rhetoric of Equality, Well-Being, and Justice
EditorsMitja Sardoč
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781000360592
ISBN (Print)9780367415471
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2021


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