Transitions through university: Exploring expectations and motivations of undergraduate students
Suzanne Young, School of Law
Project dates: Sept '20 - Aug '21
The rationale for this project stems from the gaps in research on understanding how students choose courses at university. Understanding course choices is important, especially since in 2018 the Commons Select Committee called on universities to provide courses that were better ‘value for money’ by ensuring better graduate outcomes for students. The introduction of the Office for Students (OfS) and indeed the marketisation of higher education has led to a consumer driven approach whereby universities are being measured on their value for money through graduate satisfaction and degree outcomes. It is therefore essential that courses understand what motivates students to undertake a degree, what they expect from the chosen courses and where they aspire to go after graduating.
This scoping study aimed to provide an insight into what drives student decision making when choosing an undergraduate degree. The research used Criminology as a case study, which is a multi-disciplinary subject that has witnessed continuous growth in enrolment in England and Wales. Despite it being a popular choice for undergraduate study, there was no published data on the demographics of students enrolling in Criminology courses or graduation destinations for Criminology students. There was very limited published research that examined student motivations for studying the subject or what their aspirations were upon graduating. This study aimed to generate a better understanding of Criminology student course choices to help inform further research in the area.
- There was a 240% increase in the number of students enrolling for Criminology courses in the UK between 2013/14 and 2018/19, indicating growing popularity of the discipline.
- The three main influencing factors for choosing a degree in Criminology were; understanding why people commit crime, interested in crime from watching crime dramas/documentaries and interested in a career in the criminal justice system. This can cause a disjunct between what students expect to learn on a Criminology course and the reality of Criminology courses.
- We need to undertake further research to understand the drivers of course choices to uncover the disparity in diversity on courses like Criminology, which is largely chosen by white female applicants.
- More research needs to be undertaken on awarding gaps, with Asian and Black students less likely to receive a 1stin Criminology than White and Mixed ethnicity students.
- We ought to undertake more work to understand the pathways after graduation to understand how undergraduate course can support these journeys. The findings demonstrate that very few Criminology graduates go on to work in the Criminal Justice System and many change their career ambitions whilst undertaking their degree.
Implications for practice
To date, the findings of this research have been presented to:
- The Centre Crime and Criminal Justice (March 2021, University of Leeds).
- The School of Law Learning and Teaching seminar series at Abersywyth University (June, 2021, invited).
- Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence: Showcase (July 2021, University of Leeds).
A video for the education provider Satchel has been produced to educate secondary school students on what they can expect from a Criminology course in higher education.
A request has been submitted to HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) to create a single Criminology JACS code to enable future research on Criminology students to be more accessible.
A proposal has been accepted by the British Academy to take part in the British Academy Summer Showcase in June 2022, which offers a showcase of university subjects to 6th form students. This will be an opportunity to showcase the reality of a Criminology degree to potential applicants.