Myths about students in higher education: Separating fact from folklore

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Myths about students in higher education pervade both popular and academic literature. Such folklore thrives due to the belated development of systematic enquiry into higher education as a field of academic study, the neglect of an historical perspective, and an over-reliance on opinion-based scholarship and interview data drawn from University lecturers as a proxy for interpreting student attitudes. This paper analyses three popular myths about University students: expansion of the participation rate lowers academic standards (‘more means worse’), students in the past were more intrinsically motivated (‘loss of love for learning’), and learners apply market-based assumptions in engaging with higher education as a commodity (‘student-as-consumer’). These myths have an enduring verisimilitude but the evidence underpinning such claims cannot be empirically substantiated. It is argued that, taken collectively, these myths constitute a recurring moral panic about University students and that the veracity of such claims needs to be evaluated critically on this basis. Copyright © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)534-548
JournalOxford Review of Education
Issue number5
Early online dateMar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


Macfarlane, B. (2020). Myths about students in higher education: Separating fact from folklore. Oxford Review of Education, 46(5), 534-548. doi: 10.1080/03054985.2020.1724086


  • Myths
  • Students
  • Academic standards
  • Student-as-consumer
  • Moral panic
  • Higher education


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