Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 18 June, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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Student experience

core definition

The student experience is primarily the nature of the enagagement of students with learning and teaching however it may also include other aspects that impinge on learning some of which are the responsibility of higher education institutions.

explanatory context

In an article entitled 'Deconstructing the student experience', Benckendorff et al., (2009) write:

Harvey, Burrows and Green (1992) are credited with first coining the term student experience in response to a report finding that claimed this factor is the most important in assessing quality in higher education. Harvey et al. (1992, p. 1) note that 'this is not restricted to the student experience in the classroom but to the total student experience'. Internationally, institutions have adopted the term student experience as a phrase that encompasses not only the academic aspects of teaching, learning and curriculum but also student lifestyle and extracurricular activities, academic advice, support and mentoring, and work experiences (Purdue University, 2004). For instance, the City University of Hong Kong (n.d.) acknowledges that learning in a higher education setting not only takes place in the classroom but incorporates a whole range of experiences. Similarly, research on the student experience undertaken by the United Kingdom's Higher Education Policy Institute in association with UNITE (2005) reflects the notion that the student experience encapsulates both academic and nonacademic activity. Their survey addresses a range of issues considered to underpin the student experience including: student life, accommodation, paid employment, academic life, finances and postgraduation expectations. In the United States, academic research on the topic of the student experience is grounded in campus-based experiences. In summarising the broad literature in this field, Terenzini and Reason (2005) identify two broad dimensions that underpin the United States student experience research: an intra-individual dimension, that is, the nature, structure and processes of individual human growth; and an interindividual dimension, referring to aspects associated with student behaviour and change including demographic and other student characteristics. The literature therefore suggests that a range of interacting personal attributes as well as institutional practices impact on the student experience (Thomas, 2002).

analytical review

Despite producing a report entitled NUS Student Experience Report, the National Union of Students (NUS, 2008) did not define the student experience. The nearest the report comes to a definition is in the introduction, which states:

This document provides an overview of students' experiences across the UK, looking at all areas of their lives, from the quality of their courses and accommodation, to their financial situations and experience of employment.

In a conference contribution entitled 'The international student experience in Australia', Forbes (2009) argues:

There are two important issues of definition regarding the ISE. First, for some, a narrow definition of student experience applies. The university’s focus should essentially be on the student’s formal learning experiences and their overall experience of university life. For others, it is nothing less than the student’s entire engagement with the university from initial contact, through recruitment, arrival, learning and university experience, graduation, employment, and their experiences as alumni. In addition, it includes their living arrangements, accommodation, safety and security, part-time work, and social inclusion. Universities are not directly responsible for all these matters, but are generally engaged in most of them.

McLean (2006) states:

My definition of the 'student experience' then is one which allows intellectual, ethical and social progression at the heart of which is communication with peers and teachers and results in communicative reason.

Benckendorff et al., (2009) state:

In deconstructing the student experience, the range of factors identified in the literature that appear to influence the student experience can be grouped broadly into four dimensions.

Institutional dimensions--a growing body of research has focused on how universities and staff can better manage the learning experience and this represents by far the largest focus of research into the student experience.

Student dimensions--the higher education literature also suggests that the perceived quality of the student experience, as well as outcomes such as retention and student satisfaction, are strongly influenced by individual student characteristics.

Sector-wide dimensions--universities themselves are part of a broader system of institutions and are therefore influenced by sectorwide trends that emerge as a result of competition or cross-institutional collaboration.

External dimensions--as is the case with any system or phenomenon, the student experience is also influenced by external trends and changes such as government policies, technological innovations and economic pressures.


The 1994Group (2007) policy statement makes the following comments on the student experience:

What is the Student Experience? 1. ‘Student Experience’ is a wide-ranging term meaning different things to different kinds of students. An 18-year-old undergraduate or foundation degree student, living away from parents for the first time, discovering independence, has a very different experience of university to a 40-year-old masters student, living at home with partner and children, balancing a full-time job with part-time study. In turn, both encounter a vastly different experience to that of a student from China, who is getting to know a new language and culture as well as new learning material. Furthermore, there are many different aspects of university life which affect the experience of students, from the quality of teaching, level of academic support and provision of learning and library space to the opportunities for volunteering, sport and other extra-curricular activities, work-based learning and paid work and access to bars, cafes and other social spaces.

2. In short there are many different student ‘experiences’ to be found across the spectrum of higher education and even across the same campus. This variation is further increased by the different systems for funding and support found in the UK. Importantly, the school-leaver, the mature student, the international and all other types of student have varying expectations of the experience they hope to receive. In an era of widening participation, varying fee and support structures, rapid globalisation, international competition and technological change, the experiences and expectations of students are changing continuously.

3. The challenge for universities is to keep abreast of the shifting expectations of an increasingly diverse and informed student population and to adjust accordingly to provide the best possible experience to each of them. This is a challenge not only for universities but also for policy-makers and all student-facing groups across the sector if UK HE is to continue to be one of the leading higher education providers in the world....


The 1994Group (2007) policy statement then listed 7 priority areas:

1. A requirement to provide transparent and accurate information around the student experience.

2. Towards the 2020 Workforce: Promoting the well-rounded graduate.

3. Promoting the student voice.

4. Engagement with schools and colleges.

5. Student-focused resources

6. International strategy and internationalisation.

7. Excellence and enhancement in teaching and learning.

In the wake of the financial crisis, ridiculous cut backs in higher education and absurdly high tutition fees, this is a set of very hollow promises.

associated issues

Has the student experience become worse?

Harvey (undated), writing prior to the cutbacks in UK higher education in 2010, argued that the massification of higher education and new technology has resulted in a new and different student experience from the so-called 'golden age' of the 1960s. However, consumerist attitudes could see a considerable deterioration in the student experience.


More importantly. despite some movement in the direction of a student-centred learning experience, this has still not shifted radically. As Vangen (1997) then director of the National Unions of Students in Europe, stated:

Take for example the shift in the definition of quality in education addressed at this year's National Unions of Students in Europe conference. Lee Harvey, of the University of Central England at Birmingham, talked about transforming higher education, with the student as key stakeholder. He argued that higher education must be transformed. This calls for a new approach, where the student is at the centre of learning, not the teacher, and thus requires new ways of learning.

This issue persists and there are various attempts to highlight student-centredness but the fundamental shift of didactic authority (Kronlid and Osterbergh, 2011, p. 75) from teacher to student has rarely occured.

related areas

See also

total student experience


Benckendorff, P., Ruhanen, L and Scott, N., 2009, 'Deconstructing the student experience: a conceptual framework', Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management 16, available at, accessed 11 September 2012, still available 11 January 2017.

City University of Hong Kong (n.d). About Student Experience Survey. available at, accessed 31 August 2009, not available 11 September 2012..

Forbes, D., 2009, 'The international student experience in Australia', presentation Australian Universities Quality Forum, Alice Springs, 1–3 July 2009, available at, accessed 11 September 2012, still available 11 January 2017.

Harvey, L., undated, 'What is the student experience anyway?' Academy Exchange, 4, pp. 14–15. York, Higher Education Aacdemy.

Harvey, L., Burrows, A., & Green, D. (1992). Total student experience: A first report of the QHE national survey of staff and students' views of the important criteria of quality. Birmingham, UK: QHE

Kronlid, D.O and Osterbergh, R., 2011, 'Crossing boundaries' in Hald, M. (Ed.) Transcending Boundaries: Hoe CEMUS is changing how we teach, meet and learn , 2011, pp. 65–77. Uppsala, Cemus/CSD Uppsala, Uppsala University and Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences, translated from the Swedish original by Josefine Rännbäck.

McLean, M., 2006, Pedagogy and the University: Critical theory and practice, London, Continuum.

National Union of Students (NUS) 2008, NUS Student Experience Report, London, NUS, available at, accessed 11 September 2012, still available 11 January 2017.

Purdue University, 2004, Pillars Supporting the Total Student Experience, , accessed 10 September 2012, page not available 11 January 2017.

Terenzini, P.T., & Reason, R.D., 2005, 'Parsing the first year of college: a conceptual framework for studying college impacts, paper presented at the Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Philadelphia, 19 November 2005.

Thomas, L., 2002, 'Student retention in higher education: the role of institutional habitus', Journal of Education Policy, 17(4), 423–42.

UNITE, 2005, UNITE Student Experience Report, Bristol, UK: Higher Education Policy Institute.

Vangen, K., 1997, ‘Leaders of tomorrow have a say’ Times Higher Education Supplement, 9 May 1997.

1994Group. 2007, Policy Statement: Enhancing the Student Experience, available at, November, accessed 11 September 2012, page not available 11 January 2017.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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