The ideology of student engagement research

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    In a series of recent papers, Nick Zepke has criticised those researching student engagement in higher education for uncritically supporting neoliberalism. The current highly politicised nature of higher education means that clarity about the political implications of engagement research is crucial. This conceptual paper argues that in focusing on literature on students' engagement in learning, Zepke overlooks another substantial body of engagement literature, on students' participation in decisions about learning and teaching. By exploring the political alignment of two of the key models used to conceptualise students' engagement in decision-making, the paper argues that a central element of the research into student engagement is in fact directly opposed to neoliberal approaches to higher education. Student engagement has been deployed both for and against neoliberalism. Zepke has argued that the research on engagement sides with neoliberalism; I show that the research that focuses on student engagement in decision-making supports the opposition.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number23(6)
    Pages (from-to)718-732
    Number of pages15
    JournalTeaching in Higher Education
    Issue number6
    Early online date13 Dec 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


    • student engagement
    • ideology
    • neoliberalism
    • student representation
    • student feedback


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