Reka Plugor - Student Experiences: What Lies Behind the Numbers?

In a world when numbers dominate the discourses about higher education, Reka Plugor of the Centre for Labour Market Studies at the School of Management describes her research which explores the stories behind the numbers.

About My Research

The Student Experience as Numbers
The Student Experience - An Illustration
The aim of my doctoral research was to describe, understand, and interpret the characteristics of university students’ pathways and transitions to work in England and in Romania. I wanted to get an insight into the reasons why students choose to go to university, their experiences as students and/or as ‘workers’, the ‘turning points’ of their (student) life, and their perceptions and opinions about their future (career) plans.

The main research question of the study was "What are the characteristics of student pathways through higher education?"

In addition to the main research question several specific research questions were formulated:

  • What are the circumstances and motives that lead youngsters to choose to attend an undergraduate programme at university (and then to study for an Masters degree/PhD)?
  • How do students understand and describe their university experience?
  • What role do extracurricular activities and/or work experience have in students’ university life and perceptions about transitions to work?
  • How does the economic climate influence students’ strategies and perceptions about their (future) career and how do they see their life after graduation?

Research Approach

In order to answer the research questions, the study was undertaken from an interpretive perspective, in line with phenomenology and social constructionism. I was concerned with capturing how students perceive and make sense of their life and experiences during university, so their voices gained emphasis as well as their perceptions and the meanings attached to the experience.

To capture students’ individual voices and stories I conducted 45 (29 in Romania and 16 in England) semi-structured topical life-history interviews around a key decision-making moment in these students’ lives: before graduation from a BA or an MA programme in 2011 and 2012.

In the process of moving from field texts to research texts I combined two types of narrative analysis in order to present a holistic picture of the student experiences in the two higher education contexts:

  • content analysis, which focuses on the events and experiences recounted in the narrative


  • structure or form analysis, which looks at how the story is put together

Research Findings

The purpose of the study was to gain a detailed understanding of student motivations, experiences and perceptions embedded in the contexts in which their decision-making occurred.

At an individual level, students’ stories illustrate the complex net of decisions, feelings and experiences it means going to university and experiencing student life. These narratives exemplify how social networks and happenstance events have an impact on students’ lives - not everything can be planned and calculated, even a well-thought plan can suddenly change and it is important to have support systems to turn to in these situations. At an aggregate level, the national and local level higher education and labour market characteristics outline students’ transition experiences, offer or restrict access to possible routes, determine the timing of events and decisions.

This research is responding to calls for additional studies to address concurrently societal and individual transitions and help to understand how and why students make the choices they do during higher education and how these choices combined with the habitus of the institution and the social and economic situation present in the country impact their university experiences. During this phase students negotiate the personal linkages between their previous sociocultural contexts and their current situation in order to find their place in the new environment and construct an imagined future. By examining students’ activities during university and their perceptions about these activities, the research contributes to the growing understanding of university students’ experiences and school-to-work transitions which is important not only for academic purposes, but for the wider policy and practice community as well.

About Reka Plugor

Reka PlugorReka Plugor is a research student working towards completion of her doctoral degree in the Centre for Labour Market Studies at the School of Management

Reka is supervised by Dr John Goodwin and Dr Henrietta O’Connor.

Centre for Labour Market Studies at the School of Management
University of Leicester
University Road

Reka will present her work at the Festival of Postgraduate Research 27 June 2013 - see Reka's Festival Poster.

The Festival is open to all members of the University community and the public - book your place here.

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