Are university students customers? Watch

Poll: Who is most responsible for your success at university
Mostly me (1130)
90.26%
Mostly my university including my lecturers/tutors (122)
9.74%
Liverpool Hope University Guest Lecturer
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We've now had tuition fees for 20 years. They were first introduced at £1000 in 1998, then they went up to £3000, and now they're £9250 - in England, at least.

Fees have been around for longer in some countries, less in others, and a handful still don’t have any. Student debts and graduate salaries tend to dominate the discussion of this topic, but there is another important issue here. That is:

"Whether tuition fees change the relationship between students and universities, and between students and the staff who teach and support them."


If students are paying fees, then they’re customers, right? Yes. However, what kind of customer are they, and what should they expect from their university? It’s not the same as other buyer-seller situations where you're paying someone else to do all the work for you. Or is it?


What do you think universities should be doing for students at uni, and what are students' responsibilities? Where's the right balance?
________________________________ ________________________________ ________________________________ ________

Richard is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology of Education. He teaches at all levels, from undergraduate to postgraduate, in the Department of Education Studies at Liverpool Hope University, where he is a co-director of the Centre for Education and Policy Analysis (CEPA). His main research focus is on the ways in which different aspects of universities - locally, nationally, and internationally - influence the experiences of students.


He originally studied Psychology and Business at Leeds Trinity University and worked in comparative education policy for for government agencies in the UK and New Zealand. He then taught English in Japan for an extended sabbatical period before completing a Master's in Education Research at the University of Oxford and a PhD in Sociology of Higher Education at the University of Bristol.
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LvlAndFarm
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I believe unis should provide an adequate learning environment where the students can develop their skills and do their research, while the students are responsible for making the unis worth it by working hard to improve their knowledge and get ready to do whatever they want to do after graduating/masters/phd
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pereira325
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It's difficult to say exactly what I'd want from a university but what I do know is that it does not feel like the current experience is value for money.
As a customer, and a student, I wouldn't buy my lunch from Waitrose for instance, I'd go to Tesco because that's better value.
Unfortunately, there is no competition in fees for universities as they all set it to the same price, which, in my opinion is not value. I think it depends on what course though because my course is only 12 hours teaching time a week, and for 28 weeks? For people in STEM, I've heard they get a lot more time... so their course is better value for money.
Universities believe it is fair to charge people the same amount irrespective of how much "output" they actually provide, so at the end of the day, you're paying for that degree certificate. And I suppose that degree certificate to me is worth a lot... can't pin-point a figure, but we know the graduate-non-graduate pay average life-time pay gap or something is there.
I would just like to see really more teaching time, because that is what I'm paying for? Contact with someone smarter than me so I can learn from them.
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Retired_Messiah
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University guest lecturers be posting some wild questions recently.

The part that does make universities' selling strategy quite unique is that every seller decides to charge the exact same amount, and yet the value one gets can vary wildly from course to course and uni to uni, in all aspects; from contact time to graduate prospects to how good/awful the city you're going to have to live in for the next 3+ years is. It intrigues me that no university bothers to try and 'compete' by charging less than the maximum in an attempt to sway consumers one way or the other.

As markets go it's about as dynamic as a plain white wall, and it's quite hard for students to find the best value if they're forced into paying the maximum amount, regardless of where they end up and what they end up doing. It's no wonder some might end up feeling a bit ripped off: It's hard to imagine that everywhere needs to charge £9250, and with everywhere charging the same it feels more like you're paying for the qualification at the end rather than anything to do with your actual learning experience.

Sometimes I feel like I could do a lot of the learning myself armed with nought but the set texts and google. I go to glasgow uni where they do the whole scottish "do 3 subjects for the first 2 years lol" gig. My theology and philosophy lecturers will drop some immense knowledge bombs outside of any of their recommended reading, and help me to engage in a way that I don't think I'd be able to otherwise. Meanwhile, I also do level 1 economics, who more or less teach directly from the textbook (which is £80) and provide absolutely nothing that I wouldn't have been able to get from the set textbook other than the final exam papers and the grade to get me into honours. Economics is my third subject and I have no intention of taking it to honours so it doesn't affect me so much, but somebody with real passion for economics with the intention of doing it for the full four years a scottish degree takes is going to be spending £9250 in year one when they could've learned the entirety of first year's content with an £80 book, some sample questions downloaded off google and a bit of elbow grease. I know from experience that I get through the content faster sat in bed with my laptop than most of the people that turn up to the lectures and tutorials do.

I'm not sure if universities are doing anything wrong with their pricing per se, as they assume you're going to turn up to the vast majority of teaching sessions, and lecturers don't come cheap. However, in some courses/years (particularly first year courses), if they simply offered a package of just the exams and a list of set texts and nothing else, some students would be far better off. I think to answe the poll question, it's more that in certain subjects, it can almost entirely be you in some courses, whereas in others the contact time is essential. Universities do not bother to make this distinction, and thus vastly overcharge sometimes. They should perhaps assess how much some courses are actually worth, in terms of contact time and the impact of attendance on overall results.

This has been a ramble, I would certainly never hand this essay in to any self respecting lecturer. M'pologies, hope something in there was clear.
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bigger niche
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If students were "customers" in the same way that somebody walking into a supermarket to buy a loaf of bread is a "customer", any student could attend any HEI.

However, that is not the case, and many HEIs are selective with regard to those whose tuition fees they will accept.

If I am only qualified to shop in Aldi or the local corner shop, can I reasonably expect the same level of service and quality of goods as customers who are permitted to shop in Waitrose or Harrods?
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kpwxx
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I answered the poll Mostly uni, because I don't think that I could have gotten anywhere near self teaching my degree, but I really wanted to post to say

BUT MOSTLY MEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!

Seriously though, I think that having fees does make a difference in terms of the expectations of the quality of teaching. In particular, sometimes unis focus on having good research staff then have them lecture on the side - when paying a lot, I would expect lecturers who have good teaching skills (who may also be good at research, but they aren't always the same people!).
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Unknown-99
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Of course we are. I teach myself 90% of my course all the university gives me is notes, software (which can be bought by yourself if you have enough money), equipment for practicals and people to mark my work. If I let someone who isn't a student use my resources they could learn the exact same things I am but they wouldn't get a fancy bit of paper for doing the work.

I should mention though that as a Scottish student my fees are paid for but you guys in England are getting well and truly mugged off.
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Liverpool Hope University Guest Lecturer
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(Original post by pereira325)
It's difficult to say exactly what I'd want from a university but what I do know is that it does not feel like the current experience is value for money.
As a customer, and a student, I wouldn't buy my lunch from Waitrose for instance, I'd go to Tesco because that's better value.
Unfortunately, there is no competition in fees for universities as they all set it to the same price, which, in my opinion is not value. I think it depends on what course though because my course is only 12 hours teaching time a week, and for 28 weeks? For people in STEM, I've heard they get a lot more time... so their course is better value for money.
Universities believe it is fair to charge people the same amount irrespective of how much "output" they actually provide, so at the end of the day, you're paying for that degree certificate. And I suppose that degree certificate to me is worth a lot... can't pin-point a figure, but we know the graduate-non-graduate pay average life-time pay gap or something is there.
I would just like to see really more teaching time, because that is what I'm paying for? Contact with someone smarter than me so I can learn from them.
This is a really good point, and highlights one of the problems with fees in the UK, that degrees all cost the same on the surface, but actually the cost of delivering the course (and what students receive) varies hugely. Some courses need to be more self-taught than others as they're more reflective than content-heavy, and this is the way of the social sciences and humanities, while science subjects require more taught time. In fact, tuition fees don't cover the costs of engineering degrees, for example, so they are being subsidised by other subjects. One of the problems of charging different fees at the cost of the course means that some other subjects would become unaffordable to universities. Also, if you charge different proces for different courses, then people from poorer backgrounds might be discouraged from studying certain subjects.

Underneath all of this is a policy which doesn't quite add up. The government, when they allowed universities to charge £9000, took away nearly all of their support for student fees. This in essence made universities have to charge the full whack because they couldn't afford not to. They also put a lot of that money into supporting disadvantaged students, too.
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Liverpool Hope University Guest Lecturer
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Interesting to see how teaching cultures differ between departments - and this is quite depressing when teaching is so textbook based. I've posted something below on the way that fees work - there's cross-subsidising, which makes it more or less untenable for universities to charge less. This overlaps with contact time, too, in that some subjects need more time in the classroom than others, but universities can't charge differential fees because they can't afford to.
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Liverpool Hope University Guest Lecturer
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(Original post by kpwxx)
I answered the poll Mostly uni, because I don't think that I could have gotten anywhere near self teaching my degree, but I really wanted to post to say

BUT MOSTLY MEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!

Seriously though, I think that having fees does make a difference in terms of the expectations of the quality of teaching. In particular, sometimes unis focus on having good research staff then have them lecture on the side - when paying a lot, I would expect lecturers who have good teaching skills (who may also be good at research, but they aren't always the same people!).
This is part of the question at the moment - are students asking for too much, now that they're paying fees, or is it about right? It's a grey area, and your point that some universities might be more focused on research is right. The problem is that universities are under huge amounts of pressure to do 'world-class' research and do excellent teaching. Some people prefer/are better at one or the other, but for those people who want to do both, there are only som many hours in the day, and being the best you can be at teaching and research is a big ask!
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Liverpool Hope University Guest Lecturer
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(Original post by bigger niche)
If students were "customers" in the same way that somebody walking into a supermarket to buy a loaf of bread is a "customer", any student could attend any HEI.

However, that is not the case, and many HEIs are selective with regard to those whose tuition fees they will accept.

If I am only qualified to shop in Aldi or the local corner shop, can I reasonably expect the same level of service and quality of goods as customers who are permitted to shop in Waitrose or Harrods?
Yes, there is a point here in that universities are in the odd position of (usually) selecting their students, but then the students are paying to be there, too. Not many other places where this applies. It's like having a gym where only people who are really fit are able to join!
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04MR17
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The UCU strike this year was when the student consumer came out of it's shell from what I saw. There were petitions asking the university for refunds for student's missed teaching!

University and student now have a very weird relationship; but I don't think it's a very simple consumer-vendor relationship. A university education is not a product, it is a service. A bit like your car being serviced - the better the car goes in, the less work has to be done. The worse your car goes in, or the less good garage you give it to, you may regret your decisions.

As for student/uni responsibilities: I think the right balance can be determined by each university: we don't need a sector-wide consistency. There will be variance between years for instance: a third year doing their dissertation is not going to be relying on a textbook in the same way as a foundation year student. Some students leave school entering university and expect the same level of academic support and I don't believe that's fair on the institution. There should be a clear demarcation between school and university (academically speaking) and that difference should lie in the independence being offered to students with their studies.
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JohanGRK
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(Original post by 04MR17)
A university education is not a product, it is a service. A bit like your car being serviced - the better the car goes in, the less work has to be done. The worse your car goes in, or the less good garage you give it to, you may regret your decisions.
Good analogy

Re OP: Yes, students have become consumers of services in the UK. Every feature of a commercial relation is there.

(Original post by Liverpool Hope University Guest Lecturer)
Yes, there is a point here in that universities are in the odd position of (usually) selecting their students, but then the students are paying to be there, too. Not many other places where this applies. It's like having a gym where only people who are really fit are able to join!
This is wrong - most universities give out offers to the vast majority of their applicants, and it's the students who have the choice about where to go.

The gym analogy is bad. Most students at university aren't 'really fit' in terms of their academics. Besides, there's nothing wrong with a fit person aspiring to become even fitter.

Rather, university is something like a nightclub. Different nightclubs offer different music/environments/DJs. They're also very different in terms of how they choose who to let in through the door.
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1secondsofvamps
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In terms of the course, I think that's mainly down to us students and how much effort we put in (because a lot of it is independent work).
But for extra curricular/ things outside of your degree, the uni should help support and provide for us.

For me personally, I like my course/degree. But other than that there really isn't much that's offered.
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Rainbow Bright
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I feel that this conversation is becoming more and more prevalent because since fees rose to £9250 it's not easily identifiable what has changed for students - in terms of the quality of the course or the teaching. How does it compare to students who spent £3k - has it changed? You wouldn't know unless you took the same course twice.

I can see why some students/ parents believe they're buying it as a product because ultimately students feel that university means a "better" job or long-term, a more lucrative salary. They expect a decent pay-back. For a long time this narrative has been pushed and of course there are plenty of datasets that suggest this is true... so does this feed the idea that ultimately you reap what you sow, you're investing £30k in just fees and you want to know that this pays off long-term.

I think it is more of a service - you pay to be taught and to have the resources required to independently study but maybe there needs to more understanding around this. What is the student actually investing in/ what are they expecting - I think this is made quite clear at open days when they arrive as an applicant. If they are a customer what does this actually look like? What is the responsibility of the uni to get them through this journey and make sure they achieve? When you're investing that amount of money at 18 (and older) doesn't the university take some responsibility for getting you through the other side?

I think the big issue now is that the fee does just become about the subject or the degree and not the whole package. And that is why there is questioning around the value of the skills grads have. Being on a student on a campus creates limitless potential, the SU offering, volunteering, sport, part-time work, connection with career services, alumni, members of staff that are pioneering research - I think more needs to be made of these opportunities. Getting involved can make such a huge difference to skills and could actually be the bit that you do alongside your degree that makes you more employable. If students are customers then this is really important.

Going back to the car analogy mentioned by 04MR17 - you buy a car for £9250 - you get the basics, it will get you from A-B (you just do you course). Or take advantage of the full offering at £9250 and get all the ad ons to make the car top spec - more immersed in campus life, opportunities and activities. If I was a student again, I'd be making sure every penny counted and doing as much as possible to set me up as a grad.

If students think that just doing a degree is enough they are a misinformed custormer and universities should be promoting the benefits of taking full advantage of this.
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Puddles the Monkey
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I have a question from the other side of this: do you think there is now increasing pressure on academics to give out more first class/higher grades to students compared to previously?
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ChaoticButterfly
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You should be paid to go to uni.
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She-Ra
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(Original post by ChaoticButterfly)
You should be paid to go to uni.
That's an interesting perspective.... would you mind sharing more on this :moon:
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ChaoticButterfly
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(Original post by She-Ra)
That's an interesting perspective.... would you mind sharing more on this :moon:
Monthly grants and no tuition fees. Like what happens in other more enlightened countries.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/...=.4c5d6826bb09

http://uk.businessinsider.com/denmar...aduate-2017-11
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She-Ra
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(Original post by ChaoticButterfly)
Monthly grants and no tuition fees. Like what happens in other more enlightened countries.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/...=.4c5d6826bb09

http://uk.businessinsider.com/denmar...aduate-2017-11
But what positive impact is this having i.e Danish Eternity Students - more relaxed, more well-rounded as individuals/ a blend of skills if they have tried different programmes? Similar perhaps to the US system of major and minor?

Part of me feels like students are on a bit of a conveyor belt of education and it's hard to make an informed decision when there is so much pressure to a) to the right thing b) pass your exam - if they are a customer does that mean that they don't really know what they have signed up for?

I couldn't read the WP as I don't have a subscription. What is the benefit and why are danish students paid to go to uni?
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