University Students' Constructions of 'Flourishing' in British Higher Education: An Inductive Content Analysis

Nesrin Gokcen, Kate Hefferon, Elizabeth Attree


The potential to flourish as a student has emerged as a topic of debate amid the current period of economic transition in British Higher Education (HE). The present study sought to explore the concept of ‘flourishing’ as it is constructed by students in British HE. An open-ended questionnaire was distributed to N=222 students across two post-1992 British HE institutions to elicit written qualitative data on their understandings of ‘flourishing’ and ‘flourishing at university’, and of their characterisations of ‘flourishing’ and ‘non-flourishing’ students. Data was content analysed using an inductive approach. Prominent categories emerging from the data sets constructed ‘flourishing’ primarily as self-actualisation (personal growth, potential realisation) and success. However, engagement (both academic and social) emerged as a significant facet of ‘flourishing at university’. The ‘flourishing student’ was characterised as academically and socially engaged, committed to learning, and oriented towards personal growth. Conversely, the ‘non-flourishing’ student emerged as having a general sense of lacking, a disengaged attitude towards academic work, and a lazy/withdrawn outlook. Results provide inductively derived support for Wellbeing Theory (Seligman, 2011) and allow generic understandings of ‘flourishing’ to be contextualised within a HE setting. Further implications of the study and suggestions for future research are discussed with regard to the findings.


flourishing, higher education, wellbeing, university students, content analysis

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