Students’ Educational Biographies within a Changing Higher Education System in Austria

Monday, 16 July 2018
Sabine FREUDHOFMAYER, University of Vienna, Austria
Societal shifts towards knowledge economies and the globalisation of markets have caused significant institutional change within European universities. One central aspect of universities’ transformation process is the Bologna Process which has been implemented in order to meet the demands of a global economy. Particular in German speaking countries, the Bologna Process and the introduction of a new two-tiered study structure, consisting of Bachelor and Master programmes, has affected students’ educational trajectories. This structure has increased both rigid regulations (such as the successive achievements of credit points) and flexibility (as students can more easily change study subjects and study across European countries) and thereby reconfigured individual biographies. However, the interrelation between individual biographies and a modified higher education system has not yet been examined. Therefore, this paper focuses on the question of how students shape their educational biographies and experience higher education under changing institutional environments. Biographical-narrative interviews with former students of educational science at two Austrian university sites have been carried out to explore how they construct their educational biographies within a specific study environment. To assess the impact of the new study structure students are sampled into two groups: one that graduated before and one that finished their Master degree after the implementation of the Bologna Process. Students’ narratives are analysed abductively following principles of reconstructive methodology. The results highlight differences and commonalities amongst the two student groups in the ways in which they form their educational biographies. It is outlined that individuals’ constructions of their educational biographies are clearly embedded within institutional imperatives and the given study context. However, the analysis also highlights that individuals used biographical meanings as reflective spaces to influence regulations and to shape their educational environments.