Selling an Education. Universities as commercial entities: a corpus-based study of university websites as self-promotion

The current socio-political landscape, coloured by cuts to public funding and an increase in tuition fees, has meant that universities can no longer rely on an education to sell themselves. The result is an increased focus on language with text producers manipulating its evaluative resources as a means to a promotional end. The main concern here is whether this drive towards distinctiveness is in fact a reality, or whether it remains a distant utopian vision of the institutions that are struggling to free themselves from the shackles of standardisation.

In order to investigate the likelihood of a common promotional discourse among UK universities, a collocational profile is built around the higher education keyword research to see how this, the basic service that universities offer, is promotionally packaged by the company it keeps. Starting from a corpus comprising data mined from the institutional websites of thirty-nine mission group members, this study explores the data using a methodologically fused Critical Discourse Analytic–Corpus Linguistic approach. It is hoped that, in identifying the collocational behaviour of individual lexical items, and locating these keywords as a point of contact in the dialectical relationship between language and the marketised society, these findings will go some way towards making transparent the semantically opaque.

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