Critiques of student engagement

Bruce Macfarlane, Michael Tomlinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Student engagement initiatives at the national, institutional and classroom level have emerged against a backdrop of rising participation rates and the marketizsation of higher education. This context has informed the development of a literature that is heavily influenced by cause-effect framing and a focus on effectiveness. However, in recent years an alternative, critical literature has emerged that challenges some of the assumptions of the student engagement movement on the grounds of student rights and freedoms as learners. This review article identifies the following six critiques of student engagement based on an analysis of the literature and arguments stemming from analyses of the effects of neoliberalism, namely performativity, marketing, infantilisation, surveillance, gamification and opposition. It is concluded that at a policy and institutional governance level, there is a need to shift the emphasis from what and how questions concerning student engagement to consider its broader political, economic and ethical implications as a means of challenging the prevailingpolicy narrative.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-21
Number of pages16
JournalHigher Education Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2017

Bibliographical note

Bruce Macfarlane is professor of higher education at the University of Bristol

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Higher Education Transformations


  • student engagement
  • neoliberalism
  • performativity
  • marketing
  • infantilisation
  • surveillance
  • gamification
  • opposition

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