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Title: The impact of the 2012 higher education fee and funding regime on undergraduate decision making in England
Author: Byford, Katherine Alexa
ISNI:       0000 0004 5994 9747
Awarding Body: Brunel University London
Current Institution: Brunel University
Date of Award: 2015
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Since the implementation of the 2012 fee and funding regime in England, that notably increased the maximum undergraduate tuition fees to £9000, the focus of policymakers and those in the higher education sector has been on student participation rates. Thus, to date little is known about the extent to which the 2012 fee and funding changes have affected students’ higher education decision-making. The purpose of this research was to explore students’ study mode, subject and institution choices under the 2012 fee regime, with the aim of contributing new knowledge in this area. To this end, a comprehensive approach to mixed methods was used to generate quantitative and qualitative data on students’ decision-making (Hesse-Biber, 2010a). Two methods were used to generate the data, which were questionnaires completed by 550 students and follow-up interviews with a sub-sample of 30 students. The students, aged 17 to 21, were from six schools and colleges across Greater London and in the final year of their level 3 qualifications (NQF/QCF). The timing of the fieldwork was pivotal to the research and generated data at a specific moment in students’ decisionmaking, after they had submitted a UCAS application (January 2013) and prior to the publication of their level three qualifications (August 2013), which has provided new knowledge of students’ responses to the increased costs of higher education. Informed by Hodkinson and colleagues’ theory of pragmatically rational decision-making (Hodkinson, Sparkes and Hodkinson, 1996), this research provides evidence that the 2012 fee and funding regime has altered and constrained students’ higher education choices. In terms of students’ study mode choices, despite policymakers expectations of increased diversification, the traditional mode of three years of full-time study towards a bachelor degree qualification in a face-to-face teaching and learning environment remains as highly, if not more highly, favoured, with some students avoiding four year courses (typically sandwich courses) to minimise costs. Over half of the students in this research reconsidered and altered their subject choices to those they perceived as improving their graduate employability. This decision was taken by students to ensure that the costs of participating in higher education were beneficial to their future career. The increased costs of higher education has also caused students to live at home whilst studying to reduce their debt and expenses, which was a decision disproportionately made by black and minority ethnic students from all social classes. The findings from this research provide new insights into students’ decision-making that contrast with prior literature, particularly in relation to trends by social class (Bates, Pollard, Usher and Oakley, 2009; Callender and Jackson, 2008; Reay, David and Ball, 2005; Usher, Baldwin, Munro, Pollard and Sumption, 2010). The research argues that the 2012 fee and funding ‘reforms’ have been counterproductive; as opposed to putting financial power into the hands of learners” (BIS, 2010, p.5), the ‘reforms’ have disempowered students by limiting their choices to those that are perceived as affordable.
Supervisor: Brooks, R. Sponsor: Brunel University
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Tuition fees ; Student decision making ; Higher education fees ; Higher education access ; 2012 higher education funding