The ‘dilemma of authority’ in the 21st Century: A critical discourse analysis of a student attendance and engagement data monitoring policy at a UK university.




widening participation, student engagement, learning analytics, ethics, higher education


Drawing on Fairclough’s Dialectical-Relational Approach the paper offers a critical discourse analysis of documents relating to the introduction of predictive learning analytics at a UK university. It is concerned with the semiotic realisation of strategies of pathologisation and responsibilisation in Higher Education responses to widening participation. Authority discourses in institutional texts indicate an ambivalent attitude to students that fluctuates between different discourses, two of which are identified as the ‘Here to help’ and ‘Over to you’ discourses. The paper posits a new discursive positioning for students as ‘assets’ rather than learners, partners or clients. At the micro level, the ‘Concerned tutor’ discourse indicates a diminished authority position for academics which parallels the responsibilization of personal tutors in ensuring student success and engagement. The discursive ambivalence suggests that institutions need to maintain ethical vigilance when introducing learning analytics policies in order to maintain stated institutional values of partnership and justice.

Author Biography

Ruth Roberts, Birmingham City University

Ruth Roberts is a senior accredited counsellor and lecturer in counselling in the Department of Psychology at Birmingham City University. She is also a PhD candidate on the Doctoral Programme in Higher Education Research, Evaluation and Enhancement at Lancaster University. Her research interests include widening participation, massification and the role of language in the maintenance of persistent differential outcomes in higher education.