• University: investments to consumption

The lowdown The student population in the UK is massively increasing. It has done so over the past decade. Students amass to approximately 2.3 mil/65 million strong population. They are a very large market segment which despite our serious lack of money, still provides a hefty contribution to the economy. Higher Education institution numbers vary depending on how you define 'higher education'. Universities UK states there are around 109 universities within the market, whereas UCAS recognise around 300 strong universities and higher education establishments (inclusion of old 'polytechnics, and vocational colleges make up the difference). Regardless of how you formally define what constitutes a university, you have a clear and simple case to argue that a rise in student demand has led to a shift in power between market buyers (students) to market suppliers (institutions), and thus subsequent exploitation of this position.

Increase in supply The higher education market is now such that the supply has essentially reached its given capacity. The recent trends illustrate this, with historically very few institutions being defined and formally recognised as market suppliers, to a modern day market whereby a looser definition is adopted of what constitutes a university, subsequently leading to the inclusion of 'redbrick' universities, old polytechnics and training colleges previously considered inferior and without the competencies to provide customer (student) satisfaction. This increase in supply was not due to the improvement of educational standards, but rather a response of the supply to effectively profit maximise at the point of which demand and supply are equal.

A case for consumption Institutions themselves have massively expanded and become all encompassing. Universities now provide a plethora of subjects from astrology to zoology, offering a course for any taste or interest. This development in supply offering is an attempt to tap into a greater market segment. Universities are forever increasing student accommodation to incorporate larger student numbers, with students footing the construction costs through accommodation and tuition fees. Universities are choosing to hike up the cost of tuition fees arguing that without it, their educational institutions are 'unsustainable'. Of course growth and development is 'unsustainable' during an economic credit crunch. This begs the simple question as to why in a time of economic crisis with unemployment increasing and deflation, why is it tuition fees and living costs are being inflated? A simple case of supply and demand.

What once constituted an investment for the future has no become a necessity. The value of a degree has changed from a privilege to a given norm. We often argue the case for our degrees as firm investments for an economic return for the future, in that the initial injection of finance now will yield a greater lifelong return through greater career prospects. So goes the classic justification. There are only few one can say are justified by this financial assessment, those who lead directly to employment such as dentistry, medicine or possibly engineering. One could easily argue these are relatively 'safe bets' in financial return, certainly more so than the majority of degrees.

University and the pursuit of a degree have far more grounding in the realms of consumption, not investment. The fashionable debate of personal growth through socialising (i.e. getting drunk and having too much of a good time down you SU in an array of fancy dress items), independence (i.e. being forced to work out how to hunt and gather food for yourself and mastering the usage of an oven, or failing that the microwave), and educational capital (i.e. listening to those mundane lecturers who really have no people skills, or being intrigued by an occasional gem of a lecturer who makes education bearable). It is this side of university, which despite being heavily rooted in stereotypes and far too often than not being used as a scapegoat as explanations for the 'student experience' whereby the truth return on investment (sorry consumption) is made. We consume university as we do a pint. We down it in one and once it is gone, it is gone.

Mat --Mathewdowling 00:59, 18 May 2009 (BST)

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