Myths about students in higher education: separating fact from folklore

Bruce J Macfarlane*

*Corresponding author for this work

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


Myths about students in higher education pervade both popular and academic literature. Such folklore thrives due to the belated devel- opment of systematic enquiry into higher education as a field of academic study, the neglect of an historical perspective, and an over- reliance on opinion-based scholarship and interview data drawn from University lecturers as a proxy for interpreting student attitudes. This paper analyses three popular myths about University students: expansion of the participation rate lowers academic standards (‘more means worse’), students in the past were more intrinsically motivated (‘loss of love for learning’), and learners apply market-based assump- tions in engaging with higher education as a commodity (‘student-as -consumer’). These myths have an enduring verisimilitude but the evidence underpinning such claims cannot be empirically substan- tiated. It is argued that, taken collectively, these myths constitute a recurring moral panic about University students and that the veracity of such claims needs to be evaluated critically on this basis.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalOxford Review of Education
Early online date4 Mar 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Provisional acceptance date added, based on publication date.

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Knowledge, Culture, and Society
  • SoE Centre for Higher Education Transformations


  • Myths
  • higher education
  • moral panic
  • student-as-consumer
  • academic standards
  • students

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