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Student perceptions of their autonomy at University

Henri, D. C.; Morrell, L. J.; Scott, G. W.


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Dr Dom Henri
Senior Lecturer, Director of Studies


© 2017, The Author(s). Learner autonomy is a primary learning outcome of Higher Education in many countries. However, empirical evaluation of how student autonomy progresses during undergraduate degrees is limited. We surveyed a total of 636 students’ self-perceived autonomy during a period of two academic years using the Autonomous Learning Scale. Our analysis suggests that students do not perceive themselves as being any more autonomous as they progress through University. Given the relativity of self-perception metrics, we suggest that our results evince a “red queen” effect. In essence, as course expectations increase with each year, each student’s self-perceived autonomy relative to their ideal remains constant; we term this the “moving goalpost” hypothesis. This article corroborates pedagogical literature suggesting that providing students with opportunities to act autonomously and develop confidence is key to developing graduates who have the independence that they need in order to be successful in the workplace.


Henri, D. C., Morrell, L. J., & Scott, G. W. (2018). Student perceptions of their autonomy at University. Higher Education, 75(3), 507-516.

Acceptance Date Apr 4, 2017
Online Publication Date Jun 6, 2017
Publication Date 2018-03
Deposit Date May 3, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2017
Journal Higher education
Print ISSN 0018-1560
Electronic ISSN 1573-174X
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 75
Issue 3
Pages 507-516
Keywords Autonomy; Self-efficacy; Independent learning; Employability; Student-led learning; Autonomous learning scale
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Additional Information This is a copy of an open access article published in: Higher education.


Article (639 Kb)

Copyright Statement
&copy; The Author(s) 2017<br /> Open Access<br /> This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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