The psychological contract of science students: social exchange with universities and university staff from the students' perspective

Kathleen O'Toole, Nike Phyllis Prince

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Considerable research has been undertaken involving the student experience and depicting undergraduate students as consumers of education. This construction of the relationship between students and universities is based primarily on notions of economic exchange. In this paper, using the construct of the psychological contract, we show that social exchanges can also occur. In a study sponsored by the leaders of a university?s science faculty, 10 student-researchers recorded their experience of being a science undergraduate student using an innovative video data collection method called VideoVoices. We present a case study using the data recorded by one student-researcher that shows that students can have more complex conceptions of their relationships than that of passive consumer with respect to their reciprocal obligations to their university and lecturers. Psychological contract theory has been widely used in management and organisation studies literature, but the use of this theory in the context of higher education is much sparser. We argue that psychological contract theory, besides encouraging a more useful and complex view of students at university, has the potential to suggest future research directions and strategies to improve relationships between students and universities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)160 - 172
Number of pages13
JournalHigher Education Research & Development
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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