The changes set out in the 2011 White Paper led to the 'introduction of a more market-based approach' (paragraph 6.31) to higher education. One outcome of this is a substantial increase in the salience of the financial relationship between students and their universities. Much of the policy and accompanying discourse stresses the financial relationship between students and their institution, and sets learning firmly in this context.
Transitions to and within higher education involve radical shifts in learner identity. The increased salience of students' monetary contribution, and the economic realities of participation, mean that contemporary students must develop identities as financial actors alongside their emerging engagement with the relationships which define being a student (to knowledge and to their subject discipline). Critics of the 2012 changes stressed that the articulation (and many of the accompanying technologies) of the new system ignore the nature of higher education learning and over-emphasise the financial transactions involved.
I examine the relationship between students' emerging learner and financial identities. Applying and adapting notions from 'identity economics' (Akerlof and Kranton 2010), and critical discourse analysis (Fairclough 2003), I develop a theoretical framework to explore data and gain insights into the limits of market rationality and the potential impact of this new environment on student learning. In particular I address the notions of 'agency', 'choice' and 'access'. Qualitative data from interviews and other texts is analysed to examine students' articulation of their position as fee payers, alongside their accounts of the 'identity work' which they undertake in these roles.