Student Consumerism

Business: “An organization or economic system where goods and services are exchanged for one another or for money. Every business requires some form of investment and enough customers to whom its output can be sold on a consistent basis in order to make a profit.”

University: “a large and diverse institution of higher learning created to educate for life and for a profession and to grant degrees.” “An establishment where a seat of higher learning is housed, including administrative and living quarters as well as facilities for research and teaching.”

Two definitions, two separate entities, yet this dualism no longer exists.

Going back to the start of your Higher Education journey, GCSEs. You will have been encouraged to think about what career path you wish to pursue and chose your subjects accordingly. Then you were spoon-fed various syllabuses and you sat exams regurgitating the information. Moving onwards and upwards, you chose A-level subjects. You were spoon-fed more syllabuses (and maybe read a tiny bit of additional material), and you sat more exams. GCSEs and A-levels are a time when you have freedom (although limited) for the first time to learn the subjects that you enjoy. However, at this stage in life you are also starting to become aware of the importance of school status and league tables. These demands put pressure on your teachers, which inevitably filtered down to the pressure you felt to perform well in your exams. Then, once you conquered these educational milestones, you were expected to follow the masses to University.

If you decided to go to University, with any luck you picked a subject that you are actually interested in. Before you start University you expect to experience student life, whether that is going on nights out, meeting a great bunch off friends, or joining societies with others who share the same views/hobbies as you. You also expect to finish (in the seemingly distant future) with a decent degree classification; especially since it is putting you in at least £9,000 worth of debt each year.

Loan-backed student fees make up a large part of University income. However, this has not always been the case. Universities used to accept a relatively small number of students onto a select number of courses. The student cohorts used to comprise mainly of middle and upper class individuals, as well as a small number of people from lower income backgrounds who were awarded scholarships. However, nowadays University accessible for most of the UK population.

The Robbins Review (1963) is arguably when the current University culture started to grow. The review stated that there was an “existence of large reservoirs of untapped ability in the population” and that “the main remedy for the serious strains that are placed on the schools must lie in a great expansion of places in higher education”. Overall, the outcome revealed that more of the population should attend higher education, especially those currently underrepresented in University i.e. women. The review also suggested that the government should increase its public expenditure for Universities, providing grants to prospective students. The review outlined the many intangible benefits to increasing the number of students, not only to the individuals (social mobility) and society (economic and innovation) but also indirect benefits. For example, if more people attend University then this will influence how those individuals raise their children. Also, during this time (and partially due to the limited numbers of people attending University) degrees were perceived as unique and special (relative to nowadays). Those with scholarships viewed their University place as a gift, and the non-completion rates really emphasized the uniqueness of a graduate.

Today, degrees do not seem as special and unique as they did because students are essentially able to purchase a place at University, and consequently there are many more people attending and completing degree courses. It is important to acknowledge that students work extremely hard to get a place at a University of their choice. The point being made is that a University somewhere will accept you if you do not manage to get the place you hoped for because the University depends on student fees, seeing students as customers. In 2009, the Browne Review (2009) was announced. This review, contrary to the Robbins review, recommended a massive reduction in direct public funding. Since then, the tuition fee cap keeps rising which is arguably increasing the student-consumerist culture.

Students as consumers, we are all guilty of this mentality to some extent at one time or another. We expect the best resources, facilities and teaching. We send emails expecting quick responses, regardless of whether we sent the question on a Wednesday afternoon or Sunday morning, expecting our lecturers to be sitting around waiting to respond to a question. We expect our lecturers to send us the reading, as opposed to thoroughly looking for it for ourselves. We expect to be able to negotiate a disappointing grade. After all, is that not what we are paying for? Surely, we should be spoon-fed now more than ever, now that we are paying for it?

No, this mentality (a justifiable response to the extortionate fees) is not what University is about.

Unfortunately, this mentality is further reinforced through the emphasis on student satisfaction ratings. Student satisfaction is very important to academics because they want to encourage your curiosity and showcase their research because they too are passionate about their subject area. However, satisfaction ratings can cause conflict between students and lecturers due to the pressure put on lecturers to keep satisfaction high (to increase the number of students interested in their University, inevitably increasing the University’s monetary worth).

Although there will be no U-turn in student-consumerist culture in the foreseeable future, there are things that we as students can do to optimise your student experience:

Firstly, be aware of your consumerist behaviours. Do not demand things from your lecturers that you can do yourself, especially if you are expecting to finish your degree ready for independent working life. Of course you can seek help and guidance from your lecturers, just make sure you are polite in doing so. Secondly, complete student feedback forms, especially the National Student Survey. Make sure you consider both positive and negative experiences when filling them in, do not base your judgments on that one time you got a library fee or received feedback one day later than expected. Finally, make sure that you enjoy the degree that you are pursuing. This may sound patronising but it is important that you are interested in the subject so that you are motivated to explore the subject area rather than just learning what you need to reach a grade. Also, you will be making the most of your tuition fee when you enjoy the subject enough to actually attend lectures.


Do you know this term? (n.d.). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from

Gillard, D. (n.d.). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from

The Browne report: higher education funding and student finance. (n.d.). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from

Translations for university. (n.d.). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from

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