Harrison Woods, Paula L (2012) Higher Education Institutions’ Responses to Risk: A Critical Discourse Analysis. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Increased concerns about students who present a risk to self or others have been documented in the literature since the 1990s. In particular, concern has been expressed about students who self-harm and students with mental health difficulties (for a thorough overview of the range of issues affecting HEIs see Rana et al., 1999; Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2003; Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2011). Much of the British research has focussed on the prevalence of different types of harmful or risky behaviour. Sector bodies have published guidance documents outlining key issues for institutions to address when responding to students who present a risk to self or others (AMOSSHE; 2000; Universities UK, 2002b; Universities UK, 2002a). Whilst the literature has provided guidance to the sector, there has been no detailed examination of the discourses which underpin concerns about risk or suggested institutional responses.

This thesis uses critical discourse analysis to identify these discourses and consider their impact. The data consists of seven national guidance documents which inform practice in the sector and eighteen semi-structured interviews with staff from five universities. Nine key discourses are identified which can be split into two groups with one additional discourse: discourses about the Higher Education context, professional discourses and an additional student accountability discourse.

Hilgartner’s (1992) relational theory of risk predicts that valuing different objects will result in the identification of different risks. Integrating this model with critical discourse analysis provides a way of understanding how discourses place different value on objects resulting in the identification of different risks. It is intended that this understanding will enable practitioners to reflect on the discourses they and their colleagues are using and consider alternative positions when responding to complex situations where students present a risk to self or others.

Final_Thesis_-_Sept_2012.pdf - Accepted Version
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