Constructing the university student in British documentary television
Subject Categories::P300 Media studies
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Other TitlesReimagining the Higher Education Student
AbstractIn this chapter, we argue that an increase in documentary television detailing the lives of university students was coincident with the increase in tuition fees in 2012 and the removal of student number controls for England in 2013. These documentaries reflect and negotiate a range of prominent socio-cultural concerns about students. According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2016, p. 7), there has been a shift from a university sector ‘that serves only a narrow band of people, to a broader, more diverse and more open system’. The documentaries examined here are indicative of greater interest in this ‘broader’ and ‘more diverse’ population of students and their experiences, though the extent to which they actually reflect and represent them is questionable. We argue that these documentaries can be seen to reflect a broader shift in thinking about ‘the university student’ in contemporary Britain. The consequences of the high cost of university to both the student and the taxpayer are consistently at the fore and students are often conceptualised in terms of risk. The earliest documentaries examined tend to construct students in terms of perhaps more ‘traditional’ risks associated with the university student: binge drinking, a lack of independent living skills and promiscuity. More recent examples focus on mental health, sexual assault and the pressures of higher education. The chapter begins with a consideration of the approach taken and discussion of the complexity of the terms ‘British’, ‘documentary’ and ‘television’ in categorising the texts examined here. It then explores the documentaries in terms of their figuration of the higher education student as ‘at risk’ and ‘a risk’ in a range of different ways.
CitationCalver K, Michael-Fox B (2021) 'Constructing the university student in British documentary television', in Brooks R, O’Shea S (ed(s).). Reimagining the Higher Education Student, London: Routledge