Organizational Support for Employees Undertaking Higher Education

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Abstract

This research explores the connection between employer-supported higher education (ESHE) policy and practice. Specifically, how assumptions relating to the value of higher education are influenced by experiences of undertaking paid work alongside higher education, as a key phase of lifelong learning, are explicated. These assumptions are considered in relation to the ways in which ESHE is provided and engaged with in policy and practice. Adopting a mixed-methods approach, data was collected from survey questionnaires, organizational policy documents, cross-site in-depth interviews, and a management focus group. Data was analysed using critical grounded theory methodology supplemented with descriptive statistics. The findings indicate that both ESHE policy and practice tend to be influenced by managerialist discourses of learning, which guide dominant approaches to ESHE provision and engagement. Moreover, for both employees and managers, the process of undertaking higher education alongside paid work and engaging with ESHE affordances tends to be characterised by risk and uncertainty which impedes employee-manager communication and negotiation in practice. It is argued that this risk and uncertainty stems from complex knowledge-power relations that are created and maintained through organizational discourse. These findings may have important implications for how ESHE is provided and engaged with in policy and practice.