Thank you to Darci and everyone else from HERDSA and ACEN---Thanks for having me today, it’s great to be here and share some of my ideas for higher education.
Hopefully I am going to be able to provoke a few thoughts and opinions.
I’m going to talk to you about a topic that touches so many of the current discussions happening around higher education.
What is the purpose of higher education? How do we measure value in higher education? And what even IS value in higher education?
So let’s get into it.
For those of you that attending the main conference earlier this year, we saw that the presentations showcased a range of perspectives on what is ‘value’ in higher education.
Most of the time we discuss the value of higher education from the academic, students or government perspectives. Sometimes we discuss it from the employers nowadays too.
But there’s even more perspectives as well. --- in all of the work we do, whether value is explicit or not, we take a perspective on this. I ask you, what perspective do you take? Do you think education should fit the needs of employers? Or do you long for the ‘heyday’ of higher education where no one used the word ‘employability’?
So here’s the first takeaway from this presentation. Value is subjective– and that’s really messy.
No presentation on value in higher education could ever be organized, because value is always messy.
Value to whom? What is the baseline?
But there’s even more confusion to value than just that it’s subjective.
To illustrate. Let’s talk about students’ perspectives of value in higher education. The obvious starting point for this is first looking at why they choose to attend university.
Here are two current students. When asked to recall why they chose to study at university the one in the grey/black hoodie said she liked working with people, and thought she would be good at HR. Plus a lot of her friends were going to the same university that accepted her.
The other student said she wasn’t really sure what to do after school. She had heard from someone that studying Arts was the best, as it gave her plenty of choices and she could defer her decision on careers for awhile (which is the topic for another presentation).
These answers, and many more from literature, highlight three themes.
We can start to group some of the reasons students choose to attend university.
Some of these reasons relate to relationships, like someone encouraged them or they want to meet new people. Some relate to personalisation, such as they need specific training, or there are specific activities that interest them. And finally, some of these reasons are vague, they want exposure to new ideas, they want to learn… or it just sounds like fun.
So if life was easy, from this we could start to design survey items that relate to these dimensions and survey a whole truckload of students and all of sudden we would get some trend data on what students value in higher education, right?
But there’s an issue in this nice little diagram. It’s actually in the title– perceived value. Perceptions are often wrong, and the value we expect to get from a university degree often changes.
And that’s the second thing to keep in mind, value changes. You wake up one morning and think university is going to get you that job, that’s why you’re here, and then by night time, you don’t see any value in your classes, and you just want to let off some steam at your college’s sports day.
So if you’re going to measure value, the big question is when?
This is why studying value is so hard. There’s not only various perspectives of what constitutes value, but there’s also various points in time where value exists- all of which are different. As a researcher, if you ask students about their expectations, they don’t really know, and if you ask them on their reflections, a load of other factors have probably interfered with that reading already.
The least distorted view of value is in REAL TIME. And that’s value in use. There’s a reason there aren’t many studies that attempt to do- because it’s hard. Let me explain.
So what is value in use? Value in use can be thought of that point where the value offering, meets the person who accepts it. – value offer meets value capture. i.e. the moment I go for a cookie.
Universities offer lots of value opportunities to students. They offer peers, lectures, and activities and events. But none of these offerings have value if no one uses them, right? Instead their value is created when people participate, go, listen, etc.
Only there’s a hiccup. While universities can control to an extent what they offer, they can’t control how the student choose to USE it.
What if I told you some of your students were not attending your lecture because you’re amazing and the content is helpful bur rather, they feel guilt when they don’t go? To them, the value in attending a lecture is actually tied to their self-efficacy and feeling proud for having chosen attendance over hanging out with friends.
And that’s the third thing about value– that value is never stand alone. It’s ALWAYS created through an exchange, between an offering/object/situation/context and a living thing.
It requires TWO entities right?
That makes designing a survey to capture value even more complicated…
Ok so to summarise. There’s various perceptions of what is value, value is constantly changing, and there are a million ways people can choose to internalise the value a university offers.
We are officially knee deep in a blizzard of snowflakes now.
What does this mean for studying value? Well it makes my life really hard.
And what happens is that instead of doing the hard work of collecting all those snowflakes what do we do? We let other people decide what value is in higher education. We let marketing teams and the government and trolls on the internet tell us what value is in our own sector.
And I don’t think any of us want that right? So what do we do?
So how to proceed?
Ranjan and Read (2016) conducted a meta study on ViU and they found, value falls into 3 categories. Same ones I talked about earlier, in fact, 1) relationships, 2) personalisation and 3) experiences.
What are these 3 dimensions?
Well, relationships can be thought of the quantity, variations and quality of the relationships students form with each other and with staff. Personalisation is the preferences students do, or do not, communicate to staff and how we modify or adapt our behavior, or not. And experiences can be defined as the enjoyment, relevancy, and satisfaction students feel with various interactions they’ve had in their student experience.
They found that these dimensions can be used to evaluate value in a range of contexts from travel industry to designing sneakers.
And I started thinking about this. Now I didn’t have the power or the numbers of students to validate their survey in higher education, so instead I thought smaller. Could these dimensions also be studied to see if they amplify value?
And when I spelled it out, I realized that there’s an approach that may be able to achieve all of three things.
Co-creation. Now I mentioned co-creation earlier. It can be broadly defined when two or more parties jointly collaborate to create value. But while all value is co-created, there is also something that can be known as INTENTION co-creation. In these activities staff/faculty actively and intentionally seek out collaboration with students to improve the value proposition.
Ten cases Australia (one in NZ)
Surveys and Interviews
These are things that fill my head, but the study also raises a lot of questions that may impact your work too.
But I also want to talk about the implications of this work to you, whether you study partnership or value or something entirely differently.
Hopefully today I’ve provoked some your thoughts on how you define value and how you communicate this to others.
Also if you’re a teacher, curriculum designer or work in student services, I would like you to reflect on the points when value offerings meet value capture in your work. Who’s leading the offerings? Is there any way you could ensure your offerings match students needs more? Could you even co-create intentionally with students in the future?
And finally, I would love for all us to reflect on how we as a sector can move past the quick fixes for evaluating value.
We shouldn’t sell ourselves short.
What we measure become our benchmark. We define ourselves through our own outputs to the wider society.
Here’s a chart that blew up on twitter last week. Maybe you heard that Grattan released a report that graduates are getting less financial benefit from their degree.
This is good data, it’s interesting. But what troubles me, is this data dominates. We need to challenge ourselves to look past equating value to money.
This is what I want to see blow up on twitter in 2025.
I hope I’ve won your support.
Higher Education's Value: In the Experience Itself
Higher Education’s Value:
In the Experience Itself
The University of Melbourne
La Trobe University
The Snowflakes of Higher Education’s Value
Why do students
choose to attend
For more see: Hemsley-Brown, J., & Oplatka, I. (2015). University choice: what do we
know, what don’t we know and what do we still need to find out?. International Journal
of Educational Management, 29(3), 254-274.
*Please do not upload/share
this page out of respect for
Grouping Students’ Perceived Value in
• To prepare for their future
• There are specific activities that
interest them (e.g. study
abroad, co-curricula groups)
• Someone encouraged them
• They know other people doing it
• They want to meet new people
• They want to enjoy not working
• They want exposure to new ideas
• They want to learn
Introducing: Value in Use (ViU)
See: Vargo, S. L., & Lusch, R. F. (2004). Evolving to a new dominant logic for marketing. Journal of
Marketing, 68(1), 1-17.
Value is determined at the time of
Value’s Wide Net
For more on lecture attendance: Gysbers, V., Johnston, J., Hancock, D., & Denyer, G. (2011). Why do students still
bother coming to lectures, when everything is available online?. International Journal of Innovation in Science
and Mathematics Education (formerly CAL-laborate International), 19(2).
How to proceed?
See: Ranjan, K. R., & Read, S. (2016). Value co-creation: concept and
measurement. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 44(3), 290-
How to amplify value
1. IMPROVE MEANINGFUL
2. ADD MORE OPTIONS FOR
3. ENRICH QUALITY EXPERIENCES
RQ: In cases of (intentional) student-staff co-
creation, to what extent is ViU
(relationships, personalisation, experiences)
“Like she realizes that you just a human
trying to get a degree. I think she has
respect for us as people, and it’s not like
other tutors don’t but you don’t feel it as
much” (Student, Curriculum Design
“They gave us quite a bit of freedom…
which was awesome. My background is
in nutrition and we picked a topic that
was good for everyone. And I wanted to
make my own videos online and this
helped me gain exposure, I think it
pushes me ahead of my peers.” (Student,
“I’ve never had a job or area of study
where I’ve been this passionate about
doing it... the joy I get from working in
student-staff partnership is enough to
sustain my work, but the prospect of
facilitating a hundred other students a
year to have partnership experience… it
just puts me over the moon.” (Student,
Program Development Case).
1. Sampling Method
2. Baseline Comparison
3. Control Group
ViU may be a suitable lens for value in higher
education. Co-creation may enhance ViU.
1. Can we create an instrument to evaluate
2. How do variations of co-creation compare
in regard to ViU amplification?
in your work
How do you define value?
And how do you communicate this to others?
What are the negotiated points between value
offerings and value capture?
Which are led by the university and which are led
How can we as a sector move past quick fixes for
evaluating value? (e.g. rankings, employed