An Exploration of the Student-Personal Tutor Relationship

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis provides an in-depth exploration of the student-personal tutor relationship from the perspective of first year students in a case study university. Few studies have looked at student perceptions of the personal tutor (PT) relationship and none using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) and Psychological Contract (PC) theory. A series of studies were designed using focus sessions (Study 1 and 2), and interviews (Study 3 and 4), in which experiences and expectations of personal tutoring, particularly focusing on the student- PT relationship, were gathered and explored. Data from the two focus sessions was analysed using (IPA) and the findings compared in terms of any differences in expectations and experiences of personal tutors. The findings were used to inform the interviews which were designed to elicit a more in-depth and idiographic exploration of student expectations and experiences. Interview data was also analysed using IPA and the findings then subjected to another form of analysis using Psychological Contract (PC) theory as a framework for exploring the nature of the relationship and its consequences further. The aim was to ascertain the utility of PC theory to provide further insights into student expectations of the role and the consequences of a breach of PC between student and personal tutor. A number of factors are found to impact the relationship and include clear role expectations and consistency in provision from a PT who cares and with this the relationship (and student), will flourish and students will experience less uncertainty and stress associated with the role and in general. The research indicates that meetings which include combined relational and transactional elements are valued by the student and over time this contributes to trust developing and the perception of quality of the relationship and the degree. Students receive mixed messages relating to student support and are simultaneously constructed as both demanding consumers and as weak and needy and this contributes further to confusion and conflict over expectations of independence. The quality of the relationship influences stress associated with deciding to ask for a meeting and negative responses to a breach in the PC between student and their PT. The findings support a well-structured and integrated PT system which allows for individualised support within a developmental framework. The research is novel in using IPA to explore the student-PT relationship, and the first to combine an IPA approach from the theoretical stance of the PC. It provides new insights into the complexity of student perceptions and how, through subjective sense making processes over time, these impact on emotions, behaviour and cognitions.
Date of Award2 Jul 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorPATRICIA HORNBY-ATKINSON (Director of Studies), LINDA KAYE (Supervisor) & PHILIP MURPHY (Supervisor)


  • Personal Tutoring
  • higher education
  • students
  • psychological contract
  • student expectations
  • relationships

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