The psychological contract as an explanatory framework for the student experience at Sunderland Business School
Under a 'widening participation' agenda, universities are currently being encouraged by Government to admit students from under-represented groups and those with non-traditional qualifications. The University of Sunderland has been one of the most successful in attracting students from these groups. but has been less successful at retaining those students and helping them achieve. This research investigates the reasons for this lack of success. It tackles the issue in three phases: An initial investigation into student stress showed significant differences between Alevel entrants and non-traditional entrants to Sunderland Business School. Poor person-environment fit and unmet expectations were identified as important sources of stress. A subsequent investigation of student expectations again revealed significant differences between A-level and non-traditional entrants in areas relating to the academic experience, with A-level entrants showing lower levels of enjoyment of learning and poorer match with expectations, accompanied by a significant fall in the academic performance of the A-level entrants over the first two years at university. The research concludes that there is poor academic integration of Alevel students into a system that has been adapted over recent years to cater for the needs of non-traditional entrants. Other expectations were reported as widely unmet by all students, and these were further investigated using the concept of the psychological contract. The findings suggest that many students have an incongruent psychological contract that can result in their under-achievement at university. The research proposes a model of the student/university psychological contract that can be used as a framework for further research into this issue.