Attitudes Of Students In Higher Education Education Essay

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Education has traditionally been associated with the upper classes (Apple, 2000, P 2 to 27). Originally restricted to the realm of thinkers, sophists, philosophers, and priests, education has, over the years, percolated and diffused across the upper classes of society, especially to the economically privileged through birth and heredity (Apple, 2000, P 2 to 27).

Aware of the fundamental relationship between education and power, the upper segments of society have zealously guarded and limited the access of other social segments to higher education through various restrictions (Apple, 2000, P 2 to 27). Whilst most global rural populations have traditionally spent their lives without education, the weaker economic sections of urban populations, many of whom belong to the working classes, have had to contend with poor quality schools and limit themselves to the learning of technical crafts and vocations (Apple, 2000, P 2 to 27). Such oppressive educational systems have continued to perpetuate across generations and centuries; with the economically affluent securing good education for their children through schools and colleges that kept out members of other social segments through a combination of high academic fees, unrealistic scholastic requirements for admissions and religious restrictions (Apple, 2000, P 2 to 27).

Thus, other population segments have perforce been excluded from higher education and have had to limit their academic aspirations and choices mainly to secondary school and to the learning of trades and vocational disciplines (Apple, 2000, P 2 to 27). The spread of colonialism has been instrumental in transporting such social attitudes and outcomes across the world. The Jesuits and other missionary schools in European colonies restricted admissions to children of upper class sections (Apple, 2000, P 2 to 27).

The spread of democracy across the world, especially after the closure of the Second World War, has brought about greater social awareness on the significant connection between the lack of higher education, lesser economic achievement and poverty, as well as the need to make good quality higher education accessible to all segments of society (Barr & Crawford, 2005, P 18 to 90). The governments of democratic countries, especially in the developing world, have recognised these needs and responded to the challenge by opening up large numbers of low cost schools and colleges (Barr & Crawford, 2005, P 18 to 90). Whilst such measures have led to some improvement in the quality of education amongst children of economically weaker sections, the deplorably poor quality of education offered by such institutes has created a peculiar phenomenon of societies like those of the South Asian countries. These are characterised by hundreds of thousands of college graduates who are essentially unemployable, as they have a poor knowledge and grasp of their subjects and are even unable to write a paragraph in clear English (Barr & Crawford, 2005, P 18 to 90).

In the UK the educational scenario, whilst in no way comparable to that of the developing nations, contains clear signs of a segmented society. Here good quality higher education institutes continue to be dominated by children from higher income segments, whose parents are able to fund their education in more qualitative and expensive public and private schools (Barr & Crawford, 2005, P 18 to 90).

Recent years have seen a number of significant developments in the education scenario of the UK. Whilst the 1980s were characterised by the need to (a) reduce the burden of education on the state, (b) undo the high cost structure created by the welfare state, and (c) the need to make teaching more accountable, the era of New Labour has effectively campaigned to widen the participation of the young in higher education, to ensure greater participation in higher education by economically weaker segments and ethnic minorities and to work towards making higher education gradually accessible to all segments of society (Barr & Crawford, 2005, P 18 to 90). The entry of greater numbers of students from underrepresented communities and their interaction with mainstream students, combined with significant changes in the functioning of the higher education system in the UK are leading to major attitudinal changes among students (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28).

This study attempts to investigate the progress made by the country in larger participation in higher education, especially with reference to the changing attitudes of students, the responses of teachers and public educational institutions and the impact of such changes on the management of public services.

2. Evolution of Higher Education in the UK. (HE)

The public policy of the UK with regard to education has, since the closure of the Second World War, focussed primarily on making educational opportunities available equally across all strata of society (McGhee, 2003, P 72 to 177). Whilst such policies were initially related to ideas concerning individual and social transformation, they were thereafter related to problems arising out of social class or family backgrounds that were disadvantaged in various ways (McGhee, 2003, P 72 to 177). These ideas were seriously contested during the political and social changes that occurred between the 1950s to the late 1980s. However, recent years have seen the emergence of new concerns regarding the provision of equal educational opportunities for men and women from working class or disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as for people belonging to older age groups, people with disabilities and people from ethnic minorities (McGhee, 2003, P 72 to 177). The provisioning of equal educational chances for all individuals beyond compulsorily required schooling has now become the main tenet of public policy (McGhee, 2003, P 72 to 177).

The key milestones in UK policy on widening participation, along with their approximate dates are recorded in the following table (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28):


Event/ Action


Formation of University Grants Committee.


Enactment of Education Act; Introduction of concept of equality in educational opportunity for all segments of society


Publication of Robbins report on Higher Education.


Introduction of Binary Policy in Higher Education by Anthony Crosland.


Creation of 30 polytechnics from erstwhile Local Authority Colleges


Commencement of exercises for Research Assessment in UK universities


Publication of White Paper on Higher Education: Meeting the Challenge.


Enactment of Education Reform Act; Creation of Universities funding Council; Creation of College Funding Councils


Enactment of Further and Higher Education Act; Conversion of Polytechnics into Universities and abolition of the Binary method; Establishment of Higher Education Funding Councils for all UK Nations.


Publication of report by Lord Dearing on Higher Education in the Learning Society

Acceptance of revised version of Original Dearing Report by UK government


Publication of White Paper on the Future of Higher Education.


Enactment of Higher Education Act; Creation of Office of Fair Access.


Establishment of Department for Education and Skills; Publication of Paper on Widening Participation in HE: Creating opportunity, Releasing Potential, Achieving Excellence.


Establishment of department for Innovation in Universities and Skills

The first major policy thrust aimed at providing greater equality in higher education commenced with the publication of the Robbins report and its recommendations in 1963, which proposed that such education be made available to those who had both the attainment and the ability to do so, and moreover wished to obtain higher education (Warner & Palfreyman, 2001, P 108 to 237). A binary policy was introduced by the government in 1966, which led to the creation of 30 new polytechnics and the formulation of a binary education system that provided education through established universities and the new Polytechnics; who in turn were required to offer part time and full time courses in various disciplines (Warner & Palfreyman, 2001, P 108 to 237).

The next burst of policy changes in education occurred in the 1980s, when conservative governments modified the Robbins recommendations through the publication of the 1987 White Paper and the enactment of the 1988 Education Reform Act (Warner & Palfreyman, 2001, P 108 to 237). The policy changes aimed at providing access to higher education for people through three routes, namely academic qualifications, vocational education and specific access courses for older people (Warner & Palfreyman, 2001, P 108 to 237). Academic institutions were further empowered to provide admission to individuals through other routes, if it was felt that such education would benefit them (Warner & Palfreyman, 2001, P 108 to 237).

With such changes leading to significant improvement in mass participation, the enactment of the Further and Higher Education Act in 1992 led to the abolition of the binary method and the creation of two new sectors, namely (a) a unified sector that incorporated the polytechnics (which had now been made into Universities) with the older universities and (b) a sector incorporating new colleges that focussed on academic levels below higher education (Warner & Palfreyman, 2001, P 108 to 237).

The effort to reduce the funding load imposed by HE institutions on the state through a range of actions was started around the 1980s (Warner & Palfreyman, 2001, P 108 to 237). Such educational institutions were authorised to increase the fees charged every year from students, from a little more than 1100 GBP to as much as 3,000 GBP per year (Warner & Palfreyman, 2001, P 108 to 237). Institutions were further encouraged to open more courses and attract larger number of students. Such measures, along with the reduction of grants to universities, have over the last 20 years led to significant reductions in the costs of governmental support to HE institutions (Warner & Palfreyman, 2001, P 108 to 237).

Apart from instituting changes in funding mechanisms, the UK government has acquired a greater level of control over academic issues, a development that has reduced the significant autonomy previously enjoyed by UK universities (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28). Such measures to increase the level of governmental control, whilst originally initiated by the CNAA (Council for National Academic Awards), were followed up by the abolition of the two tier system and the establishment of institutions for assessment of quality and for funding (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28).

Lord Dearing subsequently recommended a number of proposals in 1997 to renew growth in wider participation (Barr & Crawford, 2005, P 18 to 90). The government responded by reformulating the concept of access, in order to offer opportunities for higher education to all those who had the potential to benefit from such higher education and encouraged educational institutions to provide courses that satisfied the needs of both student and employers (Barr & Crawford, 2005, P 18 to 90).

Changes in global economies and the growth of global knowledge societies clearly solicit the widening of education across all social segments for the establishment of a competitive modern nation (Barr & Crawford, 2005, P 18 to 90). With policy makers recognising the need for constantly widening social participation in higher education, the scenario in the country is now characterised by a number of features (Barr & Crawford, 2005, P 18 to 90). The need to reduce the funding load on the state has led to an increase in the fees required from students (Barr & Crawford, 2005, P 18 to 90). Whilst the government provides educational grants and benefits to people from weaker segments, there is no doubt that higher education now imposes a greater financial burden on students than it did in the past (Barr & Crawford, 2005, P 18 to 90).

Recent reports and surveys indicate that whilst there are improvements in achieving wider participation in education, such improvements are by and large uneven (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28). Whilst some groups are improving, others continue to remain underrepresented at the HE level (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28). The participation rate for women is practically 10% more than that of men (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28). Again the participation of ethnic groups that are non-white is improving at a faster rate than various white communities (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28). Whilst the lower socio-economic segment constitutes practically half of England's population, till date people from this segment make up only 29% of new, full time, entrants to institutes of higher education (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28) It is also seen that under achievement by students at the secondary school level is the chief cause of differences between participation rates for different groups in entry to HE levels in the nation (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28).

"Poorer students who do go to university are more likely to attend lower status institutions, where status is measured in terms of research quality and institutional prestige. Our analysis of state school students suggests that interventions to raise achievement in secondary school are likely to be needed to ensure that poorer students access the research-intensive universities and go on to earn more in the labour market.." (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28)

The need for universities to attract students in order to meet their costs, within a wider scenario of reducing governmental grants, is leading to significant competition between different universities to attract students (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). Regular publication of university ranking charts and efforts by universities to improve their positions in such ranking leagues, the introduction of a number of new courses focussed on increasing the earning power of students and meeting their educational needs, reflects the new competition in the HE environment (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). This has resulted in a scenario where colleges are conducted like businesses, where heads of educational institutions operate like managers, where teachers act like providers of services, and where students transform into consumers (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54).

These developments are also leading to very significant changes in the attitudes of students, who expect much more from their teachers than they did in the past and are open about their need to get such services (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). Teachers are also experiencing a sea change in their teaching environment, wherein the quality of their teaching is coming under much great scrutiny and traditional power structures of relationships between teachers and students are being challenged and are changing (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54).

3. New Managerialism and the Concept of Quality in Higher Education (HE)

Much of the changes in the HE policies of the UK government concern funding of university expenses fees of college students and regulation of university activities (Hayton & Paczuska, 2002, P 12 to 115). The discontinuation of the welfare state, changes in political regimes and the need to reduce public funding of educational institutes have led to a number of governmental actions for control of public expenditure and improvement in resource utilisation (Hayton & Paczuska, 2002, P 12 to 115). The HE sector, in line with its public sector nature, is now becoming progressively more accountable for its expenditure, even as its public funding is reducing significantly (Hayton & Paczuska, 2002, P 12 to 115). Higher Education is now being controlled through a number of mechanisms and technologies that are part of New Managerialism and work towards enhancement of accountability and measurement of outcomes (Hayton & Paczuska, 2002, P 12 to 115).

The UK has been witnessing substantial debate about the quality of teaching, as well as learning in Higher Education processes (Hayton & Paczuska, 2002, P 12 to 115). The concern about quality in education is not restricted to just cognitive features but extends also to issues like sex, sexuality, ethnic background, religion and social class (Hayton & Paczuska, 2002, P 12 to 115).

New Managerialism is, in many ways, concerned with the empowerment of both consumers and managers (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). Teaching in such a scenario is considered akin to technology and teachers are perceived to be process workers, whereas learning is viewed as an outcome of teaching, rather than of interaction between students and teachers in classroom scenarios (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). Students are similarly considered on par with consumers who pay for teaching services and therefore deserve to be provided with high quality teaching services (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). The Future of Higher Education, a White Paper published in 2003 elaborates the government view point that students, as paying consumers are likely to progressively become intelligent and careful consumers of teaching services and in the process are also expected to push the quality of teaching services upwards (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54).

Students, in terms of the new managerialism are considered to be HE consumers (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). The introduction of concepts of consumerism in an area like Higher Education immediately opens up issues like competition, choice and the survival of the fittest (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). When paying students are able to choose between different universities, they would naturally prefer to go to universities that provide higher quality teaching services; consumer forces in such cases will inevitably lead to improvement in provision of teaching services and other facilities, effort by HE institutions and to the development of a more efficient and more effective HE infrastructure (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). Performance indicating devices, like ranking or league tables, will serve to reinforce and grow consumer power by enabling students to access and evaluate universities in order to make buyer choices (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). Whilst such devices will automatically sharpen competition between HE institutions and motivate them to improve the quality of their service delivery, they will also empower students to demand and choose quality (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54).

Quality however is difficult to quantify and can mean different things to different people. In normal managerial terms, quality can stand for (a) value for money (b) satisfying customer or consumer needs, (c) fitness for purpose (d) excellence, and (e) Transformation (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). Value for money represents a situation where consumers pay less for better products and thereby get more for less. The satisfaction of customer or consumer need can arise from the availability of a range of choices that will satisfy the educational need of consumers, as well as the freedom to choose between different fee structures. The 'fitness for purpose' clause is associated primarily with the determination of whether the services provided will deliver, and whether educational institutions are serving their purpose in meeting the requirements of students. Whilst excellence and zero defects are related to high performance standards and uniformity of provided services, transformation is associated with (a) the ability of teaching to bring about significant alterations in the knowledge, skill and abilities of students (b) the nature by which students are being empowered to meet their needs and (c) the extent to which they are being imbued with confidence, awareness, rational thinking and political wisdom (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54).

Whilst it is not difficult to relate the tenets of consumerism to the teacher-student scenario, many experts feel such tenets are essentially superficial; it being extremely complicated to clearly establish the concept of quality in higher education, or to establish universal quality standards regarding teaching and learning (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). Many experts continue to believe that teaching is separate from learning and that both are individual and discrete processes (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). It is also widely believed that it is difficult to have one teaching process that can be universally applied and which is the best for all purposes. Teachers have to very frequently modify and alter their teaching methods in response to the subject, the resources available to them, their own strengths and weaknesses and the academic level of their students (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). Experts supporting such theories believe (a) teaching to be an extremely complex process, (b) that it is influenced by many factors and (c) that teaching is inherently different from learning (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54) Other experts, however, strongly argue that learning is a neutral activity and is shaped by the way in which students interpret the information provided to them. In other words, the quality of learning is totally dependent upon the quality of teaching (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54).

Botas,P,(2004) argues that the perception of students regarding teaching and learning processes inevitably vary because of subjective factors as well as the inherent differences between the interpretations and perceptions on the quality of teaching by different students. It becomes difficult to localise and assess teaching quality as teachers who are perceived to be good by some students are viewed to be mediocre or even poor by others.

Whilst the quality of teaching is difficult to quantify in absolute terms, consumerism affects the teaching and learning process in various ways (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). Consumerism restructures the previous relationship between students and teachers to that of customers and service providers, redefining education as a predominantly commercial service (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54). This process brings about significant changes by demolishing interest commonalities between professors and students and provides them with interests that are clear and at times even opposing to one another (Brown, 2004, P 36 to 54).

Consumerism protects against abuse of position by academics, significantly alters the previous all powerful position of teachers, focuses on the prospects and needs of students, and encourages universities to modify university curriculum and syllabi in line with student needs (Hayton & Paczuska, 2002, P 118 to 227). Consumer pressure also helps the improvement of basic conditions and equipment like quality of libraries and facilities at student labs (Hayton & Paczuska, 2002, P 118 to 227). Whilst consumerism allows students some degree of control over their learning, the control of lecturers over teaching and assessment ensures that the interests of teachers are not disregarded (Hayton & Paczuska, 2002, P 118 to 227).

Such benefits notwithstanding, experts feel that unchecked increase in application of consumerism in teaching and learning could isolate students from the teaching community, lead to reduction of student responsibility and create an atmosphere of complacency and entitlement among students (Hayton & Paczuska, 2002, P 118 to 227). Education, under such circumstances, could become a purchased product rather than a learning and empowering process, thereby reducing the overall positive transformation of students who opt for higher education (Hayton & Paczuska, 2002, P 118 to 227). On the other hand, teachers could also be adversely influenced by the need to adhere to extensive monitoring requirements and response to student complaints, which would deter them from taking up new developmental teaching methods and positive student relationships and relegate them to routine record keeping and documentary activities (Hayton & Paczuska, 2002, P 118 to 227).

"During this study, teachers said that their attempts to adapt their teaching in response to the interests and needs of their diverse student groups had been delayed or frustrated by institutional procedures designed to assure 'quality', or by systems set up to maximise the economic efficiency of teaching. Action is therefore needed to empower and enable teachers to develop inclusive pedagogies and curricula that take account of the diverse interests and needs of students." (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28)

In such scenarios, Universities would be inclined to invest resources in ways that would increase the ranking tables rather than in improving teaching quality (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28). The pressure to offer an extensive choice is inspiring universities to modularise their courses and introducing a cafeteria style education, where students digest and reproduce unrelated sequences of short and neat information bytes (Widening participation, 2008, P 1 to 28).

4. Teachers and Students.

Contemporary research in higher education is also focusing intensively on the teaching styles of lecturers and the perceptions of students towards such teaching styles. Foucault, (Botas,P,(2004), argues that prisons resemble schools in the sense that their chief objective relates to the transformation of individual prisoners by ensuring that what they learnt in prison does not equip them positively face the challenges of the outside world as and when they came out. Whilst Foucault's association of prisons with schools is perhaps unrealistic, his basic argument concerns the power of teachers with regard to teaching and training their students as well as their ability to control their learning or lack of learning.

Botas,P,(2004) examines the different theories regarding power relationships that become evident in classrooms. He points out that power is fundamentally a controversial idea because of its overbearing presence, its ability to change and reverse, and its essential instability. Its dynamics consists of relationships, wherein one person tries to impose his knowledge and beliefs on another in order to make him adopt such beliefs or behaviour. Whilst relationships of power, as per Foucault, exist everywhere, its connection with knowledge is extremely strong and often fierce. Botas,P,(2004), talks of the different theories of power in relation to consent, domination, resistance and compliance. Whilst consent requires the approval of the consenting party, domination refers to strategies, both physical and psychological, which do not allow resistance and aim at total control.

Teachers exercise power through clear social and institutional authority, as well as through influence, negotiation monitoring, supervision and coercion. Generally, the authority of teachers is accepted without question or examination and is taken for granted. Whilst teachers use their influence to make students comply with their agenda they control through supervision and dominate through coercion.

Botas,P,(2004)concludes from his studies that power relationships between teachers and students can be employed both positively and adversely with regard to development of such relationships. He concludes that authoritative or coercive treatment by teachers is very likely to lead to reduction of motivation and interest of students, whilst positive surveillance creates impressions of support in their minds and reinforces feelings that teachers are interested in their work.

The researcher's personal experience of a wide variety of teachers and teaching styles has indicated that whilst students respond to different teachers in different ways, teachers who try to dominate their students through stern language, harsh measures and threats of poor references have often disenchanted students, suffer from unfair criticism about their abilities and are prone to experience poor class attendance.

5. Conclusions

The UK government has been trying for decades to widen participation of students in higher education through various measures. The current scenario shows a steadily increasing albeit uneven participation of previously underrepresented social segments, major changes in the social fabric of HE institutions, and perceptible changes in attitudes of students and their expectations from their teachers.

Recent reports reveal a larger number of students from the working class. These students display significant pride in their class identities, as well as in their own successes. This is an expected attitude considering the struggle against adversity and structural unevenness they may have had to experience in order to get into university. Many of them had experienced prejudice and covert discrimination on account of gender, race and class. Despite the fact that such students do experience awkwardness in fitting into the HE social structure, they remain proud of their identity and are unprepared to accept any sense of inadequacy or inferiority.

Such students also wish to make new friends and enjoy feelings of belonging. They want their professors and lecturers to appreciate them as people with specific needs and interests. Their prize teachers are those who give them time, engage with them readily outside class, share the results of their own research or broader educational knowledge and reveal interest and zeal for their subjects. The experiences of the author with such social segments are also similar; most students from lesser known schools tend to stick together in the beginning, even as they show keenness to mix with the broader student fraternity and take greater time to assimilate into the student body.

The new managerialism that characterises higher education, whilst leading to improved competition between universities in attracting students and greater accountability by educators and teachers can also lead to greater routine in teaching packaged courses, disengagement of teachers from students, lower quality teacher-student relationships and alienation of students, especially new entrants from underrepresented segments from higher education.

Much of the success of the ongoing initiatives will depend upon the willingness of the teaching fraternity to accept new entrants from underrepresented and underprivileged social segments, localise and improve their academic inadequacies, and progressively incorporate them in the mainstream of higher education. Whilst administration of public educational institutions is becoming more managerialised, the teachers' efforts will play a key role in ensuring high quality education along with competition and efficiency.

Public policy will need to specifically pay heed to maintaining the interest of teachers in empowering students, even as they make efforts to make higher education widespread, equal and liberating.