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Seminar by Dr Steven Jones (University of Manchester) Value-For-Money Discourses in English Higher Education

In England, the notion of ‘value for money’ (VFM) is ubiquitous in discourses of Higher Education. Young people are assumed to make participation decisions based on rational cost-benefit analyses of long-term loan repayments against deferred graduate premium, and VFM is widely invoked as a driver of government policy.

Event details

In this seminar, I draw on two pieces of research: a 2016 BERJ paper that explores how student debt is conceived by academically able young people in low-participation English schools; and an ongoing SRHE-funded collaboration with Dr Katy Vigurs that draws on 92 detailed interviews with final year students at English universities, half graduating under a lower-fees system and half under a higher-fees system. Both help to create a clearer picture of how VFM is conceptualised in the context of dominant consumerist rhetoric and market-driven policy. I suggest that students talk about debt, fees and value in complex and often unexpected ways, with conflicting feelings towards a system that, on one hand, allows the accrual of human capital increasingly regarded as a prerequisite for job market entry, but, on the other hand, takes an emotional toll on those most sensitive to debt accumulation. I conclude that Higher Education policy and media discourses increasingly draw upon untested assumptions about VFM and misleadingly frame young people as a single, homogeneous population exhibiting market behaviour that is economically logical and culturally uniform.

Biographical note: Steven Jones is a Senior Lecturer at the Manchester Institute of Education, which is part of The University of Manchester. He runs the university’s PGCert in Higher Education and conducts research into policy and practice in post-compulsory education. Steven has co-authored reports for the Sutton Trust, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and HEFCE that explore how socially disadvantaged young people conceptualise, engage with and perform at university. He is particularly interested in how students’ cultural and social capital affects their HE experience, from application to employment.


A recording of this seminar is available on the student intranet.

201711_VFM_Exeter.pdfDr Steven Jones Exeter presentation 2017 (1176K)


EMS Building G18