Recently, notions of students as customers have been becoming more prominent, especially in higher education. In countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, attendance at an educational institution can be costly. As a result, students that voice their dissatisfaction can wield their position as consumers and threaten to withdraw their funding if their demands are not addressed. Being financially reliant on students, many facilities can be pressured by such an attitude, forcing change. While their position is valid in many ways, this attitude also creates substantial danger due to the nature of education.
The first problem of the approach lies in the result that it creates for the students. Per Gourlay and Oliver (2018), the focus on student satisfaction by the UK government oversimplifies and homogenizes the concepts of both education and the student body. Students that are different from the majority in some way may find themselves deprioritized to pander to those who are most vocal regarding changes. Moreover, instead of fostering personal growth and development, the student-as-consumer approach views education as delivering a product to a passive audience. Such a view is problematic because it can threaten the quality of the learning available at these institutions.
The purpose of a higher education institution is to provide students with opportunities to challenge themselves and internalize expertise on various topics. However, the learning involved can be complicated and lengthy, leaving the student unsatisfied until they can appreciate the results. However, with a satisfaction-centered consumer view, dangerous possibilities such as “grade inflation, shortened contact hours, and the redefinition of study time” becomes likely (Tight, 2018, p. 82). The quality of education would be compromised to ensure that as many students nominally pass the course as possible.
Gourlay, L., Oliver, M. (2018). Student engagement in the digital university: Sociomaterial assemblages. Taylor & Francis.
Tight, M. (2018). Higher education research: The developing field. Bloomsbury Publishing.