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Durham University

What's On

What's On

Research Seminar: Ethical Freshers: some unexpected consequences of Covid-19 and the 2020 A-Level fiasco

20th January 2021, 13:00 to 14:00, Zoom seminar

A Zoom research seminar presented by Dr Martin Myers from Nottingham University. Contact for Zoom joining instructions.
Hosted by the Higher and Further Education Thematic Research & Scholarship cluster

This paper draws on research conducted between April and July of this year, (after lockdown and the cancellation of A Level examinations but before the announcement of A Level results), with A Level students asking their views about the cancellation of their exams. In total 583 A Level students, (most of whom held ambitions to start university in September), responded to a survey questionnaire and these were followed up with 53 Skype interviews (Bhopal and Myers 2020).

Much of the ethos underpinning the marketisation of HE assumes students become more savvy consumers by gaining the tools to exercise choice about the ‘university offer’ or ‘university experience’ in an educational marketplace. One consequence of the enforced lockdown in early 2020 was that many of the students we spoke to demonstrated the qualities and characteristics associated with being effective consumers. They invested time exploring their options; understanding a range of constraints that would affect their opportunities; and, contextualizing these within personal experiences of education in order to assess plans for the future. However, rather than identifying ‘value’ defined in the consumer terms envisioned by a ‘student as consumer’ model, (e.g. ‘good value’ or ’better value’ of degrees); their engagement in the HE market led to many students feeling they were confronted by a market that was morally corrupt rather than economically free. The A Level students in our research tended to identify significant structural flaws within their past educational opportunities at school and in their futures at university.

Whilst universities and policy-makers have identified longstanding institutional inequalities around race and class; policy and initiatives addressing such inequalities have had limited impact. Often policy designed to address inequalities, is itself reconfigured in practice to reproduce existing patterns of disadvantage; whilst, ‘diversity’ is promoted as a ‘brand’ feature largely evidenced within university promotional materials (Bhopal, Myers and Pitkin, 2020). This paper argues there is the potential for a collision between universities which continue to foster pre-existing inequalities of race/ethnicity and social class and an emergent body of students more likely to recognize these structural inequalities shape the education economies they have to invest in. Ironically, the overarching direction of marketization could be thrown off-course by an emergent ‘student as ethical consumer’ unwilling to invest their time and debt in universities committed to protecting the interests of predominantly White, middle-class students.


Bhopal, K., & Myers, M. (2020)The impact of COVID-19 on A level students in England.

Bhopal, K., Myers, M., & Pitkin, C. (2020). Routes through higher education: BME students and the development of a ‘specialisation of consciousness’. British Educational Research Journal.

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