What do students think about crime, criminality and criminology, and do their perceptions change over time?

13 Aug 2021

This article serves two purposes. Firstly, the authors reflect on 24 articles that were published in the journal Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology, during the period 1989 to 2019 with reference to research that used university students as study populations. Secondly, the results of a longitudinal survey involving 50 students that had registered for undergraduate Criminology modules is presented. The 24 articles demonstrate a rich variety of research themes with some having clear origins in prevailing debates of national interest at the time they were published. The articles broadly covered students’ views, their behaviour and matters related to teaching and learning in Criminology. The longitudinal results suggest that students enter institutions of higher education with preconceived notions of crime and criminality which are in likelihood a reflection of broader public opinion. Nevertheless, some perceptions showed statistically significant shifts between their first year and third year of undergraduate studying. Although the authors would like to claim that these shifts resulted from exposure to Criminology modules, the influence of other academic modules and nonacademic sources of information cannot be ignored. Additionally, the way in which students study (notably whether deep or surface learning takes place) and the teaching and learning resources that universities invest in this regard, may well impact on students’ perceptions about crime and criminality. the authors recommend inter-institutional research similar to the extensive publications about students’ views, learning experiences and expectations of Criminology as published in an early edition of the Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology.