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Many contemporary concerns in higher education focus on the student experience of learning.With a larger and much more diverse intake than ever before, linked with a declining unit of resource, questions are being asked afresh around the purposes of higher education. Although much of the debate is currently focused on issues of student access and success, a simple input-output model of higher education is insufficient. This book turns this conversation on its head, by inserting a full consideration of student agency into the context of higher education.Working sociologically, it explores the influence of the social context on what the individual student achieves. The theoretical tenets of a social realist approach are laid out in detail in the book; the potential value of this approach is then illustrated by a case study of student learning in engineering education.Employing Margaret Archer's social realist theory, an analysis of student narratives is used to work towards a realist understanding of the underlying mechanisms that constrain and enable student success.Building on this analysis, the book develops a novel set of proposals for potential ways forward in improving student learning in higher education.