The Student Psychological Contract: A Critical Analysis of EVLN in Managing the Student Experience

Hardy, Julie orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-8317-5575 (2018) The Student Psychological Contract: A Critical Analysis of EVLN in Managing the Student Experience. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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UK higher education has seen unprecedented fluctuations, particularly within the last decade. Policy developments and government strategies are dramatically altering the sector and irreversibly changing the student-university relationship. Of particular note, a consumerist ethos has become the prevalent mind-set amongst the student body and, consequently, students have developed clear expectations about what they want from their university experience. In order to begin to explore these perceptions and needs, semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of first year undergraduate students from across three programmes of study at the University of Central Lancashire: Business Administration, Business and Management, and Business Studies. The structure and content of the interview questions were derived from the results of an earlier focus group meeting held with students from a local ‘feeder institution’ who were studying Business and who were considering entering university in 2017-2018 (although not necessarily UCLan). The findings from these interviews, along with those from a set of follow up meetings, are in line with the results of other, earlier studies described within the literature which suggest that students enter university with a specific set of expectations, that are, in many cases, unfulfilled. However, the empirical research presented here makes a distinctive contribution to the field in several respects: first, that psychological contract theory is employed as a useful lens through which to investigate the student-university relationship; second, the behavioural responses to dissatisfaction are examined using the Exit-Voice-Loyalty-Neglect (EVLN) framework as a mechanism for exploring these reactions; and third, previous studies employing the EVLN framework in the context of higher education have all taken place overseas and largely used quantitative methods of investigation. Therefore, this research is distinctive in that it takes place in a UK setting and employs qualitative methods. The use of qualitative methods has added to our understanding of the student experience by highlighting some of the underlying causes of dissatisfaction and the ways in which students might respond to the breach of perceived promises. The EVLN framework has demonstrated its value as a conceptual tool in exploring students’ reactions and reveals that the expectation-reality mismatch can lead to feelings of entrapment and hopelessness amongst the student body. The outcomes uncovered in this thesis have real-world implications for management practice, not only at UCLan, but for other universities that may be facing similar issues.

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