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The impact of role identity on student expectations

Jane Davis (Independent Researcher, UK)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 9 February 2015




The purpose of this paper is to present the viewpoint that student role identity, its dimensions and salience, impact strongly on student expectations of college-based higher education (CBHE) within the UK.


The paper draws on doctoral research undertaken within the context of CBHE in the UK and is further supported through engagement with a range of pertinent literature.


The paper suggests ways in which the individually constructed student role identity may impact on the expectations of the experience of CBHE. In so doing, the paper highlights the way in which expectations of higher education recursively influence, and are influenced by, perceptions and actions played out from within the student role.

Research limitations/implications

The empirical research, from which the paper draws its theme, was undertaken in one large institution. The author recognises that a wider, longitudinal study would be beneficial in recognition of the diversity of provision in the CBHE sector.

Practical implications

The paper proposes that greater awareness of the way in which students construct and moderate their perceptions and understandings of studenthood would be beneficial to a range of strategic considerations, such as promotional information, partnership activity, peer relations and the nature of pedagogies and learning architectures.

Social implications

The paper foregrounds the political remit of CBHE as a progression route for “non-traditional” students, and considers the varied understandings of the meaning of the student role adopted by students attending colleges. Engagement with issues of multiple roles, identity salience and variable role porosity highlights social and pyschosocial issues faced by many such students.


The paper considers role identity in the context of Kurt Lewin’s conceptualisation of life space and uses this framework to highlight issues that may face students and colleges in raising awareness of student expectations. It challenges the homogenous conceptualisation of the term “students” through consideration of the psychic state at a given moment in time.



Davis, J. (2015), "The impact of role identity on student expectations", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 42-52.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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