Institutional Engagement with Students in UK Private Higher Education Providers

  • Gwen Van Der Velden

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


This study discusses methods and motivations of institutional engagement with students in UK private providers. It takes into account a changing policy environment which increasingly encourages private institutions to enter the higher education market. A total of twenty in-depth interviews were conducted across five private institutions, with four comparable senior leaders interviewed in each institution. As a result, a conceptual framework is proposed which gives an insight into motivations and influences that shape institutional engagement with students in private providers. A dialogue can be identified between the student voice and an institution’s ethos. Findings show how values and priorities of institutional ownership or educational mission shape their methods of engagement with students. Senior institutional leadership is recognised as a further major influence. In relation to the student voice in private providers, changes to the nature of the student body (size, nationality, level of study or educational background) are identified alongside the quality of the student voice, as major factors that determine how institutional engagement develops over time. This study shows that external policy development affects both the student voice and institutional behaviour, without this necessarily leading to traditional HE practices. Whilst involvement in quality mechanisms and governance appears to be ubiquitous and similar to traditional HE practices, student representation in private providers is rarely independent and both selected and elected representation systems occur. Students’ unions are not common and where collective bodies exist, these cannot be considered to be independent. Furthermore, the research does not confirm common assumptions of consumerist engagement with students by private providers due to commercially driven interests. Instead a more sophisticated continuum of institutional engagement has been observed, ranging from educational service delivery by institutions to educational co-ownership by students and the institution.Grounded in Critical Realism, this study extends understanding of private university provision in the UK, and asserts that in future policy development care must be taken to accurately understand how the student voice in private provision emerges and is engaged with.
Date of Award22 Jun 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRajani Naidoo (Supervisor) & Geoffrey Whitty (Supervisor)


  • Student Engagement
  • Higher Education
  • Private providers
  • Governance
  • University Policy
  • Student Voice

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