2019, Cilt 9, Sayı 3, Sayfa(lar) 529-541
Private University Students Views on the Role of University Education
Gülşah KISABACAK BAŞGÜRBOĞA1, Abdullah AÇAR2
1Istanbul Şehir University, School of Languages, Istanbul, Turkey
2Bursa Uludag University, Faculty of Education, Department of Educational Sciences, Bursa, Turkey
Keywords: Sociology of education, Higher education, Private university, Transformation in higher education
From the perspectives of consensus or conflict approaches, the social role of education is defined in different ways. In this sense,
consensus and conflict approaches can be considered as representing two ends. This study aims to reveal the role of university education
for students who are the most important actors of education. Accordingly, private university students views on the meaning and the
function of university education were examined qualitatively. In the research, designed as a phenomenology, individual interviews were
conducted with seven students using a semi-structured interview form and collected data was analyzed. Findings are grouped under four
main categories which are mission of university education, socializing through university, career building and personal development,
and several sub-categories also emerged. As a consequence, this research revealed two main themes which are limited correspondence
between the meaning and the function of university education and degrading the meaning of university education through career focus.
Students views on university education under the category of mission seems in accordance with description of education by consensus
approach. On the other hand, under the other three categories, the views on the function of university include examples for the shift
defined by the conflict approach.
|Different Approaches to Education
Consensus Approaches to Education
It is self-evident that there are different interpretations on what
the purpose of education is. A considerable number of people
interpret education relating it to consensus approaches. The
consensus approach sees society as a social organism. All parts
ranging from family to state have a different function so that an
organic social unity can be achieved. The role of the education
within this context is the socialization and selection of children
for their prospective roles in society (Parsons, 1959; Durkheim,
1956). First of all, people are selected through education. Able
individuals are chosen to guarantee economic efficiency and
social justice. Moreover, education is responsible for the adaptation
of children to the society, so it gives people the means
to life. That is why, it is to remind teachers constantly the
ideas and the sentiments to be impressed on the children to
adjust to the milieu (Durkheim, 1956).
It is highlighted that education is central to the formation of
nation-states. First of all, nations are in a non-stop competition.
Nations that would not like to be out of the race accept
that there is a strong relation between economy and education
(Green, 1997). The ones who are capable of creating technologies
and innovation are the winners of this ongoing competition.
At this point, education is fundamental to technologic
development as a part of knowledge society (Berisha-Namani,
Badivuku-Pantina, & Berisha-Shakiri, 2010). Education is in
varying degrees responsible for preparing future citizens and
workers. Many governments regard education as a pivotal factor
in economic performance and global competition (Green,
1997, p. 195).
Conflict Approaches to Education
Although governments may seem to have good intentions
for their people, there may be false implementations which
are against the benefits of people in societies. Consensus
approaches assume that people can self-realize as they are
given equal opportunities. On the other hand, there are
minorities, various groups with different ideals and values in a
society. Their realities are most of the time forgotten, ignored
and suppressed. That is why, the role of education needs to be
questioned from a different perspective, as well.
Education systems not only include transformative but also
reproductive elements. The balance between the two change
across countries and regions over time. In an ideal world, education should be able to reproduce the good and be
able to transform the bad, (Desjardins, 2015). However, one
has to answer this critical question: Whose bad or good do
we mean? Are the good and the bad universal? Through the
glasses of conflict approaches, these are critical questions to
be answered. Available literature shows that different groups
can describe the good and the bad from their venture points.
There has always been a tension among such groups regarding
the formation and implementation of educational policies.
After all, those who have the power to define the terms are
the ones who manipulate the education systems.
Educational policies are shaped to shape people in a society.
Educational institutions are a part of the system created by
the governments. Just as there can be problems in healthcare
systems, there can be imperfect implementations in schools,
colleges and universities. Education can be manipulated by the
political regimes, because political regimes need citizens who
are in accord with its fundamental principles (Bloom, 2006).
Actors with Different Visions
Various groups and political parties have different visions on
the qualities of a desirable citizen. They portray the ideal man
in many different ways. For this reason, education is affected
by political and social conflicts all the time. The number one
reason for such conflicts is this question: what types of people
should education aim to produce? All actors have differences
in terms of definitions and implementations in education and
all take this debate seriously.
One key actor shaping the politics of education is the one who
internalizes neo-liberal policies. The emergence of neo-liberal
forces, in line with countries that internalize OECD principles,
has seen education as a struggle arena to maximize their
power. For them, the role of the State has to be used for the
sake of neoliberal policies. In their eyes, not the State but the
markets should have the control over people in value formation
through education (Desjardins, 2015). Neo-liberals is
one hegemonic bloc and from their angle, school curriculum
includes economically useless knowledge, (Apple, 2009).
Instead of inducing such knowledge into students, competition
must be reinforced between students and schools. Parents and
students are given different roles in market-driven education.
In lieu of the needs of students, student performance is taken
into consideration. Schools demand students who can perform
well (Apple, 2001).
Other main actors that challenge educational policies are
supranational organizations. World Bank, World Trade Organization
and OECD are among the most influential organizations
that introduce many developing countries with neoliberal policies
in education, (Aksoy, 2005). Education - just as any other
goods and services - is seen as commodity by neoliberals. That
is why, through the General agreement on Trade in Services
(GATS), privatization of education is on the front burner. WTO
under the authorization of GATS has the potential to affect
educational systems across with their binding rules (Robertson,
Bonal & Dale, 2002). GATS has extended global markets to
all levels of education. To illustrate, it has changed the nature
of higher education profoundly in terms of funding, autonomy
of academics, the way of teaching and learning (Lauder, Brown,
Dillabough & Halsey, 2006).
Another supranational organization which has a huge impact
on education is Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD). In Lingards and Rizvis words, OECD has
used the ideology of globalization to reformulate educational
purposes and governance (OECD, 1998, p. 247). The OECD
has also an instrumentalist perspective regarding education.
Education should contribute to human capital and economic
growth. OECD has a pivotal role in educational policies because
its work is widely used by national governments to regulate
their reforms in education. For example, the document
released in 1996, The Knowledge Based Economy is important
in that it promotes the idea that economic goals of education
is prioritized over social and cultural goals of education (ibid;
There may be certain tensions among all these groups, but
still, they can come together and make alliances. As well put
by Apple, their overall aim is to form educational conditions
believed necessary for both increasing international competiveness,
profit and discipline (Apple, 2009, p. 470).
Globalization and the Challenge to Higher Education
One of the areas where the impact of globalization is evidently
felt is education. There is a strong link between education and
globalization. Through globalization, different power blocs
have the opportunity to disseminate their ideological discourses
into the educational systems of developing countries. The
use of globalization as a tool leads to drastic changes in higher
education. For example, higher education (HE), once regarded
as luxury, has become crucial because of globalization. For a
long time, for national governments, higher education was
elitist. However, these governments in time have realized
that globalization gives utmost importance on the skills and
knowledge gained in universities (Bloom, 2007, pp. 72-73).
Thus, higher education, becoming a key source of comparative
advantage among nations, has caused countries to have a masses of people with capabilities that are nearly impossible
to gain in primary and secondary education.
As it can be understood, higher education is under the influence
of interest groups and they now control universities
which once regarded as an arena for critical thinking and for
production of based knowledge. This means that there is now
a change towards market values and neoliberal agenda in universities.
Thus, universities are now the engines for economic
productivity and competitiveness (Currie, 1998). Rather than
curiositydriven research, more applied research agendas,
which are more beneficial for industry, are gaining popularity
(Ginkel, 2003). In addition, universities increasingly find themselves
unprotected and insecure in a highly competitive world.
They have to strengthen and diversify their external relations
with stakeholders to find sources of financing (ibid, 2003).
Private Universities in Higher Education
The number of universities have increased drastically in the
last decades. Under the influence of globalization that leads
to profound changes in education, the demand for tertiary
education is getting higher and higher and this could reach
263 million students by 2025. This is a huge number when
compared to around 100 million students back in 2000 (Karaim,
2011, p. 551). Such a worldwide demand among students
which is called massification in tertiary education has led to
dramatic novelties in educational field. In addtition to state
universities, other types of univeresities such as private universities
and foundation universities have been opened. And
Turkish Higher Education is not an exception. It can be said
that, within this scope, foundation universities, in addition to
state universities, are rapidly increasing in number. For example,
in Turkey context, this number has reached 77 compared
to 129 state universities. The number of students who study in
private universities is 589 307 in comparison to 6 963 903 in
More specifically, based on the Higher Education Act, following
the 1980 military coup, Turkish higher education consists of
two-tier structure. These are state universities and nonprofit
foundation universities. It can be said that there is no private
university2 in Turkish Higher Education. The main difference
between state and foundation universities is that the latter has
financial and administrative independence. Although foundation
universities are considered as non-profit organizations
managed by independent foundations, some scholars are
critical of these institutions. It is highlighted that foundation
universities were established as non-profit organizations. However,
they have become for-profit institutions. It is underlined
that financial systems at foundation universities are based
on student tuition fees rather than foundation funds. The
tuition fees of these universities are not affordable for a lot
of students. The students who are able to pay the tuition fees usually are from higher socioeconomic families (Erguvan,
2013). In addition to this, students at foundation universities
are more exposed to external influences which are imposed
by different stakeholders such as neoliberals. Thus, foundation
universities are more often under the influence of neoliberal
policies. Education has been experiencing drastic changes in
line with the effects of neoliberal polices and globalization.
This means that one has to know to what extent educational
policies are manipulated by different agencies, because the
students, the addressees of education are drastically affected
by these changes and processes. Different ideologies of parties
have been changing the university environment for all types
of students coming from poor or rich families. The dominant
ideologies now in force are the ones which support neo-liberal
policies under the guise of globalization. They are in favor of
privatization of education like all the services.
Undoubtedly, with the increase in the number of private universities,
the number of the students placed by the university
entrance examination has risen. Thus, private universities are
functioning as the remedial institutions in the existing higher
education system, (Altunay, 2010). Moreover, they have
become widespread in higher education system for several
reasons such as deterioration in the standards of public universities
and the incapabilities of state institutions to absorb the
huge demand of students, (Altbach, 2003).
However, this drastic increase in their number and the excessive
demands from these institutions brought some concerns
to public attention. These include the quality of the services
offered by private universities and the profile of the students
who are admitted to the universities. Starting with their emergence
in the system, private universities have been criticized
in that they admit students with very low university entrance
examination scores (Kısabacak, 2011; Okçabol, 2007). They
are also defined as demand-absorbing schools which offer
postsecondary degrees of questionable quality and uncertain
usefulness in the market place (Altbach & Levy, 2005). Some go
even a step further and claim that some private institutions are
pseudo universities because they do not have the standards
of a real university and they are profit-oriented rather than
research-oriented (Currie, 1998).
Keeping all these profound changes in mind, it is necessary to
ask how students, the adressees of education in HE, define the
role of higher education in their lives, and to what extent, their
ways of defining education are compatible with the discourse
of approaches to education in the literature. To answer these
questions, in this study, students views on university education
in terms of the mission and function is preferred as the
research object. Namely, the research questions of the study
are as following:
What are the students views on the mission of the university
What are the students views on the function of the university
This qualitative study is aiming to reveal the mission and
the function of university education for university students.
The researchers went for qualitative method because of the
nature of the research issue. For university students, university
education is an institution, an aim, a life experience and a
set of expectations so they have many experiences provoking
feelings and thoughts about it. In order to reveal these, the
research is designed as phenomenology in which experiences
are examined from perspectives of the participants (Gay, Mills,
& Airasian, 2009). Here, university education is the phenomenon
about which participant students views are collected and
Participants of this study are the students studying in a private
university for a long period of time. The students who are new
starters are not included in the study because the researchers
think that students who spend more time at university
are exposed to all kinds of experiences and are able to think
more analytically about their experiences. Also, to get maximum
variation in data students from several departments are
preferred and gender homogeneity is ensured to some extent.
With these concerns, seven students from a private university
were included in the research. Demographics of the participants
are presented in table 1.
Data was collected via face-to-face semi-structured interviews.
The interviews entailed two sets of questions: the first elicited
personal information about the participants (gender, department,
year experience as a university student). The other set
elicited their perceptions about the role of university education
in their lives. The interviews were conducted in Turkish. They
were recorded during the interviews and then transcribed into
written language. Responses selected for quotations in the
study were translated by the authors into English.
For analysis of the data, a constant comparative method was
used to identify recurring themes within and across data sources. The two authors came together many times for the
evaluation of the data. Based on the literature review and their
expert discussion, they decided on the recurring themes within
and across the responses. In the constant comparative process,
content is divided into meaningful units, which are then
grouped into categories and sub-categories providing answers
of the research questions. As a last step, grouping, comparing
and relating these categories and sub-categories resulted in
two major themes presenting theoretical base for the further
discussion about the role of university education.
Credibility of the Data
While collecting data, the participants received an email
explaining the purpose of the details of the study. They were
sent a consent form with the questions. After the interviews,
the transcripts of the interviews were shown to the participants
to get their confirmation about their answers. In line
with the comments from the participants, some parts were
not included in the analysis. Moreover, an ethics committee
approval was taken to be able to comply with ethical considerations
about the research.
After the data analysis, in answer to the research question
What are the students views on the meaning of university
education? And the function of university education?, four
major categories have been formed: (1) Mission of university
education, (2) socializing through university, (3) career
building, (4) personal development. Among these categories,
the first one is mostly corresponding the first research question
while the remaining three is more related to the second
research question. Also, the first three categories are somehow
expected based on the interview questions but the last
one emerged during the analyses of data. Moreover, under
these four categories, several sub-categories emerged. Lastly,
based the students views two major themes emerged: limited
correspondence between the meaning and the function of
university education and degrading the meaning of university
education through career focus are presented in the conclusion.
Findings about the Meaning of the University Education
The results to answer the first research question about students
views on the meaning of the university education are
presented under the category named as mission of the university
education. Although related data is gathered in one category,
naming the category as meaning is not proper because
of its sub-categories assigning several missions to university
Category I: Mission of university education
Participants of the study suggest different missions for the
university education from their changing perspectives. In this
process, themes, emerged under the category of mission are
(a) qualifying people for social good, (b) necessity of having
a diploma, (c) enrichment of experiences, and (d) empowerment.
Qualifying people for social good: As the mission of university,
participants put forward qualifying people so that they can be
beneficial for their community or the society. According to their
views, this mission is realized as different processes, firstly, university
education aims at making students gain knowledge and
skills that help them contribute to social benefit.
It should train qualified personnel, university should work for
primarily, they should become people who are useful
and who can contribute to this country. Then for the whole
world, whatever their expertise is
electronic, computer or
another. This must be the main aim (Participant 3)
Participants, from their points of view, present some examples
for this social benefit by referring to public services, e.g. infrastructure
Our universities raised for example men like Süleyman Demirel,
Turgut Özal. There must be others we dont know. These
men constructed barrages, roads, bridges. Thats to say our
universities were of good quality before. (Participant 2)
Secondly, there are views about a transformation process
during university education. Participants think that at the end
of this transformation, students will be qualified and fit into
society. A metaphor of making bread is used by one participant
to describe this process.
I see university as a very important thing. Because, I see it as
a place where we spend four years, make an effort, we enter
as dough and exit as bread, and a place improving us (Participant
Some participants think that transformation in university
should ensure students adaptation to the society and conventions
of the community.
We learn relationship here. What being a human means, what
is beneficial to humanity? Students coming here should know
this. They should learn about How to behave?
rules can be learned (Participant 3)
Necessity of having a diploma: Another sub-category is about
having a university degree. This has become a necessity in
todays world. Participants state this necessity and focus on
having a degree as result of university education and this seems
to be an indicator for degrading the meaning of the university.
In my opinion, it (university education) means only having a
diploma or a label. I mean in these conditions (Participant 2)
University education is a necessity to complete. I mean now
it is considered like that. Of course it changes from country to
country. In a country where there are 45 million students it has
already become a necessity from now on. (Participant 3)
Empowerment: Although it is known that university education
contributes to individuals improvement in many aspects is a
de facto, one participants situation and statements required
emergence of the sub-category empowerment under the
category of mission. The participant defines her situation and
people like her as disadvantaged, and she shows university
education as a step forward to overcome barriers.
In one sense, I can put myself into two disadvantaged groups
in Turkey. I am a woman wearing headscarf. Because of
this, for me studying in university is a step forward to life and
future. (Participant 7)
Also, the participants expectations from life would be trapped
in a stereotype without the empowerment through university
education. She mentions that without university education,
she would get a job with low qualifications and end up with an
If I do not study (in university), I dont know what would I do?
Probably, I would work in a job which requires low qualifications.
That process seems like getting married at an early age
and being a house wife
I would have to marry. (Participant
Enrichment of experiences: For the mission category, the last
sub-category is enriching the experiences via university education.
Most participants believe that university education
provides them with various experiences. These experiences
include encounter of life styles and cultures that are different
than theirs. Therefore, university education helps the students
to be open minded by having various perspectives and avoiding
stereotypes in life choices.
We grow in our family and then have a standardized education.
The aim of university should free students from this. I
should be experiencing different cultures and life styles. I think if
I dont study in university, I would have a very standardized life
because I am now very different than who I was in high school.
I mean my mind is changing. My perspective is broadening. Old
me would spend time with similar people in all similar environment
and continue to see life from the same perspective. Now
I meet different lifestyles, very different people. This is very
important. If I didnt come to university, I would be trapped in
a small social circle. Probably I would get an ordinary job. And
I think I would have a kind of unpleasant life. (Participant 6)
This development in mind and perspective reveals in another
participants statement. He emphasizes that a person living in
rural areas would be limited perception because of being a
part of small environment around himself so he would end up
with engaging in routines with lower mental responsibility.
A person in rural area, I mean not only me any person, especially
if he doesnt read, he will not be more precisely aware,
not have deep perception, he becomes what he perceives about
the place and environment around him. I mean he does his job,
for instance working in a store or another job. This is a life with
lower responsibilities, I mean lower mental responsibilities and
may be higher physically. (Participant 4)
Findings about Function of the University Education
Results to answer the second research question about students
views on the function of the university education are
presented under three different categories.
Category II: Socializing through university
Under the second theme, three sub-categories emerged: (a) opportunities for career, (b) social circle and (c) setting aside
Opportunities for career: The interviews with the participants
show that those who take part in social activities at university
believe that social activities provide them with various opportunities
for their career. They attend activities conducted by
social clubs because they can earn credentials which can help
them to get into better jobs in the future.
I mean, university students, they attend social clubs to have
more networking opportunities. Students participate in activities,
programs and clubs in order to show this in their CVs in the
future. (Participant 3)
As an engineering student, when I look at the billboards I see
very few one related to my area and most of them are speakers
not the certificate programs I look for. Never! (Participant 2)
Also, they believe that the social activities in their academic
environment enable them to build network for their future
career. This network may include getting in contact with firms
and companies or meeting experienced people from any related
Social clubs organize field trips to the banks, to other companies.
They (social clubs) not only talk about these banks or firms
but also they take us to these places. Sometimes, when we go
to such places, employers ask for our CV. These are very useful,
I think. (Participant 1)
If students become a member in such clubs, they have the
chance of meeting experienced people. These people can guide
such students and this is an advantage. (Participant 3)
In addition to the courses that they take, they think that social
activities in school environment give them the chance of learning
for their professional life, as well.
When we go to the factories, they make presentations to us
about working of the factory. For example, in a steel factory
how the supply chain functions, where the production occurs.
Or human resources, finance. Walking all around the factory,
they gave information about how to work in every part. That
was very beneficial (Participant 1)
Furthermore, Participant 7 explains that social activities, especially
social clubs are important in that students can learn more
about their future career. In the club, she attends, for example,
she has an opportunity to learn more about her future profession:
My department is international relations. We have a simulation
activity. Whatever they talk in United Nations agenda on a
specific time and date, my friends and I discuss the same topics
in our activity. Moreover, we follow the same procedures. This
is related to my filed. I learn a lot. And that is really enjoyable
to present a solution on a topic discussed by United Nations.
Social Circle: University education presents a social environment
for students. They come together at different times in
different places within the context of university. One major environment which encourages students to come together is
social clubs. Social clubs function as a social milieu for university
students. They can expand their social circle more easily.
I go to çayhane (teahouse) to socialize at school. I am really
happy there. Its free. It belongs to students. We are comfortable,
we have music and tea. We are in the garden.
there are many international students at school. You have
an opportunity to listen to people with different experiences
from different cultures in person. They have different cultures
and languages. Most of them are coming from troubled areas.
Some participants also think that social clubs increase cultural
encounter. They are a medium of gathering for different cultures.
I collected many valuable friends here. Both Turkish and international.
They (social clubs) try to establish a multicultural environment.
They motivate both Turkish and international students
to come together. (Participant 6)
For Participant 3, in addition to social clubs which encourage
people to contact with each other, the courses taken in various
semesters help students to socialize:
I take courses and meet somebody. Then, he introduces you
to somebody else. This way, you expand your social circle.
You develop relationship with people. You become attached
to school environment. Chit chat with friends... For example, I
dont have a course on Friday, but I will come to the university,
anyway. (Participant 3)
Participant 4 believes that university environment is a facilitator
to expand your social circle.
It is easy to find peers here, easy to meet people whom you
can communicate easily. This must be the same for instructors,
too. We have some kind of similar goals, we are here to study.
Participant 6 focuses on a different aspect of establishing
a social circle at school. She observes some problems in her
department and then, talks to her friends to be able to discover
if they experience similar problems or not.
I try to communicate effectively with friends from my department
because I sometimes see a problem in my department
and I would like to learn: Do they share the same feelings with
me? I am trying to discover this. I talk to them and then pass
their ideas to the deputy manager or administrators. This is
how I socialize at university. (Participant 6)
Setting aside social activities: While relating socialization with
career opportunities and making new friends, some students
pointed out that they had to set aside social activities for academic
I was in the theatre club for a year. After that, I had to drop it
because of my loaded schedule. (Participant 1)
I dont have enough time because of my lessons. I have
to study. Also, I have other projects to do. I am interested in
them. (Participant 2)
Category III: Career building
According to participants views, under the category of career
four themes emerged namely (a) career focused learning, (b)
career focused network building, (c) relation with private agencies
and (d) recognition in the market.
Career focused learning: First of all, participant students think
that learning experiences they have during university education
should help them in their career building and they value
university or further education as much as its contribution to
their career. In the interviews it is understood that here the
most prominent factor is content of the education, in other
words what to learn. For an engineering student participant,
courses directly related to the future jobs are appreciated
more even though it is not directly related to his major area.
You take management courses. How to manage a company,
increase efficiency. Future foresights. Operation research
courses. Some kind of growth can be provided in data based
areas other than engineering, in general, CEOs are preferred
among people acquainted with these. (Participant 2)
On the other hand the participant sees courses about humanities
useless, even harmful in terms of losing time and negative
effect on career opportunities by decreasing grade point average
I dont pay much attention on courses I dont want. For
example, I take the course cultural encounter or I have to take
understanding religion. I dont pay attention, I dont want.
You will do homework etc. I dont have that much time to spend
for this. And because I dont do these, these courses decrease
my GPA and this will affect my future life really.
I want to be
in defense industry in future. But, because now my GPA is 2.1, I
cant get any acceptance. (Participant 2)
Another participant indicates increasing possibilities of better
career and enterprising ideas as the main motivation for further
education abroad after graduation.
Being abroad brings very different perspective to you. I mean
when I come back with many different business ideas.
saying that if I do a master or get any education in Japan or
another country, I can be a very different person (Participant
Career focused network building: Participants believe that
network building during university education is vital for a better
career. In order to build a career focused network, university
provides convenient environment and opportunities and
these become more advantageous when it comes to private
People who prefer to study in university especially consider
improving their network here and investing in future.
have a broader network. It is better. (Participant 3)
Actually, my score was sufficient for a public university. However,
I preferred this university because its connections, opportunities
to meet people are very attractive to me (Participant
Relation with private agencies: Participants notify that studying
in a private university is advantageous because it has some
direct relations with private agencies. This helps students with
their career building processes. From this view, it is understood
that this help has two dimensions. One is underlying private
university and company partnerships which enables students
to have some opportunities such as finding a job and rising in
the profession. One of the participants define this process as
rationale of the private university.
Actually, as the rationale of a private university, after graduation,
to continue your career in a particular way, this is the best
way. I mean if you start your career in the company supporting
the private university, it would be easier to rise in your profession
to particular place. Also, the relevant company has a
significant position in Turkey.
The other dimension is about integration of private sector into
university by founding techno parks and practicing production
in the campus.
X university opened a microchip process factory in its own
campus. Engineering students make production while they are
making their internship.
At least getting these levels, establishing
a techno park in the campus.
I mean, in the future
that would help me. Today very few companies know about
this university (Participant 2)
Recognition in the market: Participants assert that graduating
from a university provides them to get recognition in the labor
market. Moreover, some area-specific recognitions are more
likely to bring high paying and prestigious jobs.
Industrial engineering is good in terms of economic income.
Because, after graduation, there are many opportunities. The
area of profession is unlimited. And in general CEOs are from
these departments. I mean generally their economic income is
very high. (Participant 2)
Naturally, this means at the same time that it is difficult to get
recognition in certain departments. This causes students to
give up on their dream jobs and careers.
In our region, veterinary is seen as an inferior profession.
Working with animals. Their economic status falls to middle
Maybe, in the future in my further years, say after age
of 30-40, for my unfulfilled desire, I may study veterinary in
university again. (Participant 2)
Here (in the field of politics) I want to get some experience. Of
course, in short term there must be a job to earn our bread.
After that what will happen depends on at first the network we
will get until that time. (Participant 3)
On the other hand, even though all participants are aware of
this recognition prestigious job relationship, some of them
resist and prefer the area or discipline they really desire.
I dont want to work nine-to-five. This makes me seriously
unhappy. At the same time, books are attracting me. Being
stucked in office from day to night is an unattractive and nonsense
environment. And frankly, in economical perspective,
although it seems big from outside but in Turkey, simply it is
possible to earn 8-10 billion in a few years. However, on the
other side, there are people who are starving. (Participant 4)
I decided on my own. There were people who do not want me
to study philosophy. They keep me asking : What will you do
after graduation? (Participant 5)
Category IV: Personal development
For the participants, academia is a path to personal development.
For them, it is a means of (a) skill development, (b)
intellectual capacity building and being an (c) independent
individual. On the other hand, in this path they may have to (d)
set aside personal development because of academic burden.
These four sub-categories are put together in this last category
of personal development which is not a pre-determined category
and emerged from the collected data during the analysis.
Skill development: The participants state that university is an
environment that leads people to develop certain skills. The
participants think that they are more able to think critically and
express themselves effectively as a result of being a university
student. Moreover, academic environment provides them with
certain opportunities for their future academic career so that
they can better improve and be an expert in their career. One
participant believes that he can express himself more effectively
now thanks to the skills he has developed at university:
I improve myself a lot and add many qualities to my personality.
Especially I am able to think critically and know more about
I wasnt one of those who could do any
type of presentation. I did not know how to do it. But now, I
can do any kind of presentation on any topic even on those
about which I do not know much. I am comfortable with that.
Intellectual capacity building: According to participants views,
being a university student means that they can have a better
My department is in the field of social sciences, so we improve
in different ways. The content of the courses help us to improve
culturally and develop us in many ways. (Participant 1)
This is the place where I gain experience, and knowledge.
The instructor I study with are highly qualified. I learn how to
read a text or a book from them. I learn different dimensions
on reading. This is really crucial, the environment and academicians.
I am always confused somehow. This helps me to study in
philosophy. I think philosophy makes me to think about a topic
from different angles. I am aware of the fact that I cannot
develop myself intellectually on my own. That is why I am in
University is at the center of my life. Intellectual
capacity building is really important to me. I strive for it. I try
to learn from anybody or from anywhere. I would like to stay in
academia. (Participant 5)
What does university mean to me? To be an expert in a field
and to be able to relate it to other fields. This is what university
means to me. (Participant 6)
Independent individual: Furthermore, for some participants,
university education helps them to be recognized by their
family and friends. They gain a higher status in their family life
and become freer and more self-confident. University life gives
them the chance of being recognized as an autonomous and
My first goal is to be able to develop myself. If I did not go to
university, my family members would nag me all the time. I
prepared for the exam for a year. They nagged me in that summer.
You could not do it, you could not manage it
If I had not
been accepted to university in my second year, they would nag
me more and more. They would picture me as someone unsuccessful
in life. They would not trust me. But now, the picture is
totally different. They can trust me more easily; they think that
I can manage some thing in life. I am more effective now in the
family. (Participant 1)
Setting aside personal development: Although students
regard university as a facilitator for personal development,
some complain that they are obliged to set aside their personal
development. They arent able to be interested in their personal things or hobbies because of the courses. They have to
spend too much time and make a great effort for the lessons.
Well, they say, first the lessons come. They are also right. I
dont say that they are wrong. But because of this, I cannot
develop my skills. There is no balance here. It is really difficult
to adjust your courses and your own personal things. That is
why you can either be good at your lessons or develop yourself
in your interest or field. There are many friends who suffer from
this. They would like to do different things but cannot allocate
enough time for their own interests. (Participant 3)
This research aims to reveal private university students views
on the meaning and the function of the university education.
It comes up with four categories including several sub-categories
that emerged from the data. Also, two major themes
constituted based on these categories and sub-categories. The
summary of the findings and the way to create these themes
are presented in figure 1
In the research, the very first conclusion is that students think
university education makes people more qualified for social
good. This is also the subcategory referred in the views by the
majority. This point which is common in the majoritys view is in line with the literature as the defining purpose of both education
(Durkheim, 1956) and higher education (Bowen, 2018;
Leslie and Brinkman, 1988; McMahon, 2009). Students views
of attaining knowledge and skills through university education
to contribute society and of considering it as a process of transformation
to fit into the society carry the spirit of voices that
belongs to representatives of consensus approach, especially
Durkheim (1956) and Parsons (1959).
Another result is that university education is seen as the door
to a variety of experiences which help students to gain different
perspectives such as being open-minded and avoiding
stereotypes. Furthermore, empowerment is put forward by
the students as showing university education as a chance for
the disadvantaged groups to step forward. These results are
both meaningful and they make sense because for any person
to develop these traits and for the disadvantaged groups to
empower is worthwhile. The actualization of these processes
via university education is a widespread discourse (Bruhn,
2006; Gomez-Cervantes, 2010; Malik and Courtney, 2011;
Stier, 2003). On the other hand, the questions of how these
processes occur for students with different SES, to what extent
students potential of development and empowerment is
reached, whether or not some other processes which can be
criticized e.g. reproduction in education (Bourdieu and Passeron,
2014) take place and how some other traits are acquired
through education (Willis, 2016) should be kept in mind.
The findings reveal that for some students, having a university
degree is only a necessity and for some others, it is nothing
more. This is a striking result because it can be taken as a confession
for reduction in the meaning of the university which
has been existing for some time defacto. Even if it is limited, in
the literature, similar confessions are available (Kanellopoulos,
1996; Kim & Lee, 2006; Tomlison, 2008).
As for what students do in university for socializing and what
they mean by socializing, two main results are revealed based
on the students views. The first one is that university provides
opportunities to create and participate in a social circle. Social
clubs and sometimes courses are the places where students
come together and experience cultural encounter. This function
of university for socializing is mostly accepted and normally
common but the situation is not the same in the views analyzed
in the research. When students talked about socializing
in the interviews, a majority of them mostly concentrated on
opportunities for their future career and jobs.
One of those opportunities that students referred, is collecting
credentials and polishing their résumé by getting educational
activities organized by social clubs. Also, network building by
participating meetings as social activities, in which students
can get in contact with companies, firms and business people
is very important for them to get a better job in future. Moreover,
social activities like field trips to workplaces and simulations
provide them with the opportunity of professional learning.
These results about students views are compatible with
similar studies in the literature (Roulin and Bangerter, 2013a;
2013b). Stating the obvious, career building efforts are necessary and useful components of socializing process and newer
studies show that extracurricular activities including social
activities are associated with better job opportunities by both
students and alumni (Lau, et al., 2014; Stuart et al., 2011) on
the contrary of older ones (Astin, 1984). However, it is thought
that career focus is becoming the major and only motivation
for social activities and it is likely to be problematic because
it may damage socialization role of education by transforming
it into a networkisation process in which the only thing that
holds people together is profit.
Beyond social activity concerns, that students associating
university education with career focused network is an important
result on its own. Students think that network building in
university is a future investment which is vital for a desired job.
This view is both compatible with (Kuijpers, Meijers, 2012)
and supported by (De Vos, De Clippeleer & Dewilde, 2009;
Forret & Dougherty, 2004; Meijers, Kuijpers & Gundy, 2013)
the research in the literature. Furthermore, this network for
career focus seems to be addressing Bourdieus (2002) Social
Capital concept. This means students, during university education,
make an effort to build network to contribute their social
capital rather than cultural capital traditionally. However, this
effort may not be rewarded as expected because there are
barriers and facilitators (Bathmaker, Ingram & Waller, 2013;
Byrom & Lightfoot, 2013; Smart et al., 2009) that create an
unequal competition in the labor market. For example, private
university has a facilitator role in this process.
Students bring forward private universities in this network
investment since they have direct relations and even partnerships
with private agencies like companies and firms. Students
views on these relationships can be accepted because many
private universities belong to strong companies which have
also investments in other sectors and they need qualified
employees. However, the aim of the companies with their
higher education investments are various. They would like to
raise qualifying students with various skills e.g. managerial,
engineering and social. On the other hand, their quality and
standards may deteriorate as some are established for purely
making money (Altbach and Levy, 2005; Kısabacak, 2011;
Okçabol, 2007). For public universities, this kind of integration
with private sector occurs via techno-parks, project sponsorships
and partnerships etc. In addition to its benefits, this kind
of integration brings some costs like losing academic autonomy
in terms of shift of research and curricula from foundational to
applied areas (Ginkel, 2003).
It is truism that university education includes professional
education, career path and networking so that it contributes
to economic conditions of individuals and economic efficiency
in general. For some, it is the primary goal of education after
all (Bloom, 2007; Lingard and Rizvi 1998). Setting aside this discussion,
career is a mostly referred issue in the students views
about university education, as well. They think that university
education should contribute to their career building. Namely,
it should provide professional learning experiences so its
curriculum should be targeted to future career and jobs. The
confusing part of their perspective is that some comments of describing humanity courses as useless and time-consuming
and even harmful for future career. They believe that such
courses cause them to get low grades and this results in low
GPA. This concern by students is in parallel with the neoliberals
angle defined by Apple (2009). Moreover, students appreciate
further education or education abroad mostly for career and
enterprising opportunities. If the role of university education
is to raise enlightened, cultivated, humanitarian people (Bertram,
20015; European Higher Education Area- EHEA, 1999;
Yükseköğretim Kanunu, 1981) as stated in literature, then the
points made by students seem to be problematic.
Another career related issue, emerged from students views,
is that university graduation enables students to get recognition
in the labor market in which they compete for well-paid
jobs. Although this is a common aspect of having a university
diploma (Lauder et al., 2006), the qualifications related to the
diploma such as which university or department a student
graduates, which degree B.A., M.A., or PhD he holds are very
important, as well. Therefore, it is obvious that the value of
diploma at a specific degree is decreasing day by day and job
candidates need to strengthen their hands (Roulin & Bangerter,
2013a; Tomlison, 2008) by struggling for higher degree graduations
and additional credentials. This makes one to question
the function of the university education as a career building
One last result is the contribution of university education
to students personal development. Students think that in
this period of life, they need to improve their skills of critical
thinking and self-expression. Also, they stated that their intellectual
capacity is promoted thanks to courses, faculty and
the environment as a whole. In addition to the importance of
critical thinking and self-expression skills, that the words of
intellectual and university coming together in statements
of the students reminds very first aims of university education
(de Ridder-Symoens and Rüegg, 2003) in the first place.
Another development issue for the students is to become
more modern. They think they turn into an independent and
autonomous individual through university education. Independent
from her / his career or education choices, development
of personal skills is important for any individual interviewed
and the fact that student refers to these skills is promising for
both themselves and for the society they are part of.
Beyond all these results, two main conclusions of this study are
the two themes shown in figure 1. Depending on two research
questions, the first theme is based on the classification of the
categories as mission stated and function stated Mission
stated is considered as including more of idealized views of
the students about the university education. Even though the
questions are what is type, the answers are mostly what
should be type. This may be the result of that data in this category
are about abstract issues like aim, importance etc and
students may have tendency of stating common sense about
this issue instead of their own views.On the other hand, data
in the remaining categories are about more concrete issues like
activities and job and students have their own experiences,
preferences and feelings about these issues. Therefore, like other people, they can be more prone to state their own views
about these issues. Comparison of these two category groups
showed that they have limited correspondence. Therefore, it
can be said that students views about the university education
are supported with abstract concepts and may be common
sense. And they are parallel with their views based on real life
experiences and preferences. This makes us think if there is a
transformation in the meaning of the university education.
The transformation proposed above can be seen in the second
theme which is career focus in every dimension of university
education reducing meaning of the university. Preparing students
for their future career is an obviously important part
of university education but the student views concentration
on career leaves very little space for other important aspects,
namely social, humanitarian and intellectual development.
That career focus or professional training is dominating higher
education area more and more can be obvious for many.
However, revealing this issue via students views and problematizing
it in a broader discussion, the meaning of university
education is important. University education is mostly seen
as a means of getting credentials and establishing network by
students. Students focus on career building but they tend to
ignore what they can really get from university education for
their expertise area.
Moreover, it seems that the dominance of career focus is not
limited with university education. Professional orientation at
lower school grades and attainment of skills having exchange
value in the market are always popular debates in academic
environment of education (Lauder, Brown, Dillabough & Halsey,
2006). Another fact is that these and other important debates
shaping education are discussed mostly in economic efficiency
contexts and by economics based institutions e.g., OECD, WB
and WTO. And this reminds us of the two ends of education,
i.e. social vs economic, suggested by consensus approach, the
latter has often outweighed the former.
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