Discourses of ‘equivalence’ in HE and notions of student engagement: resisting the neoliberal university

Nadia Edmond, Jon Berry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is no shortage of analysis of marketization and the theorizing of the student as consumer/customer and how this impacts on notions of student engagement. This compelling analysis forms the starting point for any investigation into the possibilities for resistance to the current hegemonic view of education and learning as commodities and the purpose of the university as developing ‘employability’. In this article, we discuss the impact of the discourse of employability on student engagement and argue that it positions students as engaged in an individual process of CV building rather than a collective process of learning and knowledge development. We focus on the growing role of academic credit awarded for work and other experience via which experience is commodified and valued in terms of employability and legitimated through the notion of ‘equivalence’. The notion of 'equivalence' in education is problematic in that it serves to disguise inequality, and more significantly in that it conflates all learning and obfuscate the distinctiveness of learning and student engagement in different contexts. We argue that the notion of equivalence serves a dynamic in which (for example) Higher Education Achievement Records seek to measure all achievement in terms of the metric of employability. We provide analysis of text from student websites to show how this dynamic is dominant in official student union texts but countered by very different perspectives in less official texts. Against the background of academic understanding of marketization/neo-liberal hegemony, the authors suggest that the very notion of ‘student engagement’ becomes problematic if it fails to acknowledge resistance and engagement.
Original languageEnglish
JournalStudent Engagement and Experience Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2014

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2014 Nadia Edmond and Jon Berry. This is an open access journal article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits the unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • Higher Education
  • Neo-liberal university
  • student engagement
  • educational equivalence


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