Research into student experience in Higher Education has largely focused on students' role as learners. However, the student experience encompasses a much wider range of behaviours and beliefs than can be captured through a focus on teaching and learning alone. I report the findings of a research project which explored student experience in the music department of a British red-brick university. Music presents a particularly interesting case study given the presence of extra-curricular musical activities, the opportunity for social interaction between staff and students outside the formal context of the lecture or seminar room, and perceptions of Western art music as a form of ‘middle-class’ culture. Analysis of survey and interview data reveals the centrality of musical performance activities, and in particular the development of a performer identity, to students' experience of belonging and achievement. The influence of students' socio-economic background is also considered: social class was largely invisible to respondents within the departmental context, possibly because it is an invisible norm, within larger contemporary discourses in which social class is equated with financial difference rather than cultural difference. However, the research revealed an association between socio-economic background, term-time employment and academic achievement. The implications of these findings for teaching and learning in music in Higher Education are considered.
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