PCCC study finds that choice in HE can be more about managing relationships between parent and child than just making the ‘right choice’​

Helen Haywood and Richard Scullion have had their paper titled ‘It’s quite difficult letting them go, isn’t it?’ UK parents’ experiences of their child’s higher education choice process accepted for publication in ‘Studies in Higher Education’, a prestigious 3 star journal. The paper derives from Helen’s doctoral research on parents’ experiences of their child’s Higher Education choice process. The main findings include that parents experience this process, not as ‘rational’ consumers, in the way that much government and HEI communication assumes, but primarily as parents whose main aim at this key stage in their relationship with their child is to maintain this relationship and to minimise any arguments and conflict. ‘Relationship maintenance’ is thus the main theme. In some cases, parents are prepared to go to considerable lengths in order to manage this process and to ‘keep the peace’ with their adolescent child and their experiences are vividly captured in lengthy quotations which derive from the qualitative, interpretive research undertaken with this under-researched group. The findings in this paper will resonate with parents and particularly parents of adolescents. It also has important implications for HEIs and government policies and focuses on an often neglected facet of choice – the role of relationships in making choices.
This paper challenges the dominant discourse that Higher Education (HE) choice is a consumer choice and questions assumptions underpinning government policy and HE marketing. HE choice is largely viewed as a rational, decontextualized process. However, this interpretivist study found it to be much more complex, and to be about relationships and managing a transition in roles. It focuses on parents, an under-researched group, who play an increasing part in their child’s HE choice. It finds that they experience this process primarily as parents, not consumers and that their desire to maintain the relationship at this critical juncture takes precedence over the choice of particular courses and universities. The role of relationships, and in this context relationship maintenance, is the main theme. This is experienced in two principal ways: relationship maintenance through conflict avoidance and through teamwork. These significant findings have implications for the way governments and universities consider recruitment.

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