Book Review of Robert Troschitz (2017) Higher Education and the Student: From Welfare State to Neoliberalism

  • Bethany Cragg LJMU
Keywords: social history, policy, student experience


In Higher Education and the Student, Robert Troschitz offers a thorough study of the modern British higher education system.  Written from a historian’s perspective, this is an invaluable and introductory survey for all educational researchers.  At 236 pages, Troschitz’s first published monograph is digestible but also displays his broad research interests, including cultural theory.  Indeed, Troschitz attributes particular significance to language and meanings.  I ought to confess that I studied History and was in the first cohort of students to have the maximum £9,000 tuition fees applied as I enrolled.  This was back in 2010 and my experience was a far cry to my parents’ generation who reflected nostalgically on ‘grants’ rather than ‘loans’.

Britain, and primarily England, is the focus; the book captures the social and political changes and exposure of the HE system to neoliberal market forces.  The timescale encompasses the 1940s to the 1990s, although post-2010 developments are considered.  This chronological approach accentuates the historical narrative, based upon secondary published sources that contemplate the nature and purpose of higher education, such as government documents, reviews, consultations and Acts of Parliament.

Troschitz applies discourse analysis to investigate the role of students, interrogating terms associated with higher education to demonstrate their shifting nature.  As he observes, the term “student” or “students” has proved particularly elusive.  However, he is not concerned with the lived experience of students; his aim is to demonstrate “how the idea of higher education and the concept of the student have shifted over time.”   This is framed within the contexts of ‘eligibility’ and ‘power’.  Thus, the biggest impact of the marketisation of higher education, it is argued, has not just been the financial implications for students, but a shift within the debate around the essence of higher education is and shifting sense of ‘the student’.  As we have recently observed by the Higher Education Research Act 2017 and formation of the Office for Students, the emphasis on value for money has more firmly cast the student as customer.

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