This paper considers the increasing emphasis on the notion of ‘the student experience’ in the contemporary university, mapping initiatives to define, measure, and to improve it. It draws attention to the competition amongst universities for the highest rankings in the latest league tables of the student experience, and to the raft of measures that institutions adopt in trying to secure the best student experience. It suggests that there are problems with current ways of thinking about the student experience, and the practices that purport to improve it. Foremost among these is the limiting of possibilities for educational experience that contemporary approaches to the student experience foster. In offering a richer account of experience in Higher Education, the paper turns to consider Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, ‘Experience’, and John Dewey’s discussion of the criteria of experience in ‘Experience and Education’. It finds interesting lines of connection between the texts in two aspects: first, it suggests that Emerson and Dewey’s writings show us how certain human experiences lead to the limiting of our possibilities. Second, drawing on the etymology of ‘experience’, and its connotations with ‘trail’ and ‘danger’, that both Emerson and Dewey advocate the value of intensity and surprise as part of our experience. In concluding, the paper shows how these ideas offer a way of thinking about the student experience in the contemporary university that open, rather than limit, the possibilities for, and of, education.
- Student experience