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Languages: English
Types: Doctoral thesis
Subjects: H1
The view that an instrumental outlook is prevalent among higher education students is shared by both advocates and critics of human capital theory. It is visible in educational policy initiatives aimed at maximising national productivity, and in the accounts of critics who argue that instrumentalism restricts the broader role of higher education as a social and civic good. Research on the attitudes of university students is limited, however, and we know little about how students actually understand the purpose of higher education, nor how this understanding may be inflected by the social and economic context, or by the particular subject they are studying. What follows is a qualitative investigation of the outlook and experiences of university students in Britain and Singapore. It identifies four types of instrumental motivations amongst students that vary according to national socioeconomic context and subject choice. Looking at how students’ attitudes articulate with graduate employment prospects, it proposes that an instrumentalised approach to learning is more problematic in the flexible labour market context of Britain than it is in the more tightly regulated labour market of Singapore. It also reveals that student motivations and attitudes can be conflictual, and suggests that tensions between the public and private roles of higher education can foster untenable, potentially ‘anomic’, aspirations. This project builds on existing literature on higher education, skill development and student attitudes to learning in order to provide a more nuanced conceptualisation of instrumentalism amongst students, and a better understanding of the link between the economic management of higher education and the hopes, fears, strategies and expectations of university graduates.
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