Thursday 8 November 2007

The student as customer

One of the aims of this blog was to inform students about the best Universities to attend and how to spend your undergraduate and postgraduate money wisely, hence the articles on rankings of economics in Universities at the global and UK level.

One factor that is influencing the behaviour of Universities is the belief that students are increasing being seen as "customers". This is a change in the dynamic between institutions and students. This change is partially being driven by the introduction of student fees and the increasingly reliance of UK Universities on overseas students (especially in recent years, Chinese students).

This academic paper in the Journal of Socio-Economics is therefore of interest. The conclusions fit my experience.


Market overreach: The student as customer

David George

Available online 23 March 2007.


This paper explores the market model's influence in redefining the relationship between teachers and students within the college and university. Viewing the student as a customer rather than as a “worker” or “apprentice” is argued to have created several problems. The case is made that with market forces leading to the substitution of purchased commodities for “production for self,” the role of the student in actively participating in the learning process is threatened. Several trends, including grade inflation, shortened contact hours, and the redefinition of study time are offered as evidence that the non-salable components of higher education are declining in importance.

Keywords: Grade inflation; Household production; Market failure

JEL classification codes: A14; D13; I21; L31


4. Conclusion

Several decades ago, Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. reported a 30-year ideological cycle that he attributed to the amount of time that, on average, separates a generation's formative years from its leadership years (1986, chapter 2). Thus the 1920s, 1950s, and 1980s were conservative laissez-faire decades, as leaders in each carried with them the dominant worldview of 30 years before, while the 1900s, 1930s, and 1960s reflected activist government for similar reasons. The 1990s threw some doubts on the Schlesinger thesis, since the 1960s leftward orientation never emerged despite intimations that it might with the election of Clinton in 1992. Instead, the revolution begun by Ronald Reagan in 1980 took on new forms, but continued on the same trajectory as governmental activism and governmental popularity declined while respect for the business sector and the free market continued to grow.

There is always some risk in taking on contemporary events in the academic world since the worth of scholarly writings must usually stand the test of time. While reflections on current topics can capture a historical moment they also share a reality faced by contributors to popular culture, namely, a tendency to datedness that causes a certain loss of luster. The changing gestalt of academic administrators has been coincident with the rise of the entrepreneurial sensibility that has been going on for the last two decades. Recent events may well mitigate and even reverse the trend of regarding students as customers. If so, the datedness of this article that will follow notwithstanding, any such reversal can only be welcomed.


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