The risky terrain of student writing

Getting to grips with academic writing is inherently labyrinthine for anyone. But what does this feel like for students in today’s high cost high stakes Higher Education system? Increasingly, research suggests that students are all the time more becoming consumers of Higher Education and that by extension, their approaches to study being progressively framed by utilitarian tendencies (Molesworth, Nixon and Scullion 2009). This paper explores undergraduate student views and experiences of academic writing by using the concept of Risk and offers an alternative viewpoint to ‘student as consumer’ thinking. In doing so, the risk framework examines how students perceive and manage risks associated with their own writing in a way that is more reminiscent of other forms of
endeavour, such as work, relationships and politics. Drawing on an ongoing series of individual semi-structured interviews, the paper suggests that whilst student motivations within HE can be framed as consumer-based, with student writing resembling ‘checkpoints’ to confirm (or otherwise) that they are ‘on track’, there also exists a hidden dynamic in the way students practice, perceive andexperience their own writing that is rather different from consumer or utilitarian-based orientations.
This paper will explore how students express an appreciation of the value of creativity, ownership and risk-taking in writing, but concurrently, how this is viewed as a luxury and therefore a risk that is not necessarily afforded to all. The implications of these findings are indicative of the way in which students are not passively developing consumerist behaviours in relation to student writing – but are consciously aware of the precarious nature of HE study that is ultimately connected to an uncertain future.