Students as consumers…but even more so!

I’m going to have a brief rant here. If that’s not your thing, feel free to bypass this post!

Peter Mandelson says that students should be more demanding and take a more consumer approach to their education.

If students weren’t already forced to act as consumers, Mandelson’s suggestions highlight just how much students are expected to deal with the issues surrounding their education themselves.

photo by m.a.r.c.

photo by m.a.r.c.

It sounds to me as if the onus is falling ever more on the individual.  If something isn’t working, it’s the internal system, not the wider policy…

I can’t help seeing ‘students as consumers’ as a way of brushing many wide-ranging issues of higher education under the carpet.  I’m concerned the empowerment issue is an attempt to justify the case for fees and, quite possibly, higher ones.  Then variable fees, perhaps?  Then what?

Mandelson believes institutions should compete more in order to improve courses, but what motivation do universities have at the moment in order to take this seriously?  Money is tight already, so until the future of funding is given the time of day it needs, universities are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Nobody is able to shine as things currently stand.

Universities are strangely public and private.  They have various sources of funding, which only confuses the matter.  There are no answers, no guaranteed solutions, and no way of telling what’s around the corner.  Yes, all businesses suffer from a lack of guaranteed solutions, but universities often have it a lot worse, and may also suffer with a poor level of autonomy.  Many businesses know why they’re trying to make money and provide the best quality, even if they don’t know where they’re headed or if they’ll succeed with their ventures.

Higher Education rarely even has that luxury.  Is it about teaching, learning, vocational training, researching, money-making, something else, all these things…?  And with such a varied mix of personalities, opinions and cultures on campus, how can a collective strategy or focus be achieved through anything other than luck?

Let’s get this funding review underway soon.  We all understand that HE has to be paid for somehow, so what’s the point in stalling?  For one thing, we need to find a way of seeing students as learners and developers, far more importantly than as consumers.  The review won’t be properly concluded until that happens.

Okay, rant over.  I’ll resume normal service now! 🙂