Constructing the university student in British documentary television

Calver, Kay and Michael-Fox, Bethan (2021). Constructing the university student in British documentary television. In: Brooks, Rachel and O'Shea, Sarah eds. Reimagining the Higher Education Student. Routledge, pp. 151–168.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780367854171

Abstract

As the number of university students in Britain has expanded so has public interest in them, expressed across a range of media. This chapter investigates how university students are conceptualised and represented in recent British documentary television. Conceiving of television as a space in which people experience and engage with complex social understandings, this chapter explores how these televisual representations reflect and negotiate a range of prominent socio-cultural concerns about students. We examine how excessive, distorted and caricatured notions of the student have led to representations that are often polarised, with students positioned as either ‘at risk’ and in need of protection or as posing ‘a risk’ to themselves, to other students, and to the university sector. In a context of shifting understandings about university students in Britain and when the expansion, cost, ‘worth’ and ‘value’ of higher education are all under scrutiny, this chapter analyses the ways in which media representations can both serve to highlight and evade the complex lived realities of university students. The documentaries examined here offer sometimes contradictory constructions of the higher education student that correspond to broader social and cultural shifts in the ways in which the university student is understood in contemporary Britain.

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