There is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that students are increasingly thinking of themselves as consumers since the introduction of tuition fees. The BBC’s Today programme debated this last week and its website carries a report here.
Apparently this new consumer consciousness has lead to such demands as more lectures, although as any university lecturer will tell you getting students to attend the classes already time-tabled is a gargantuan struggle.
Students may be asking more of their institutions and lecturers because they’re paying for their education now but it hasn’t made them more conscientious and dedicated learners. For instance, while invigilating exams last week, a senior colleague remarked on how many students turned up late to sit their papers. ‘They used to be knocking the doors down to get in a few years ago’, he told me. Another lecturer expressed surprise that the exam hall was half empty with 45 minutes to go on a three hour paper.
The causal approach of students to their education and assessment might exasperate and confuse their tutors but surely this was a predictable consequence of turning education into a commodity.
Anybody who has ever worked in retail will recognise what is simply the costumer’s prerogative. Once they have spent their money on a product then it’s really nobody’s business what they do with their purchase. Anybody who buys a new car is at liberty to leave it in their driveway and take the bus. Splashed out on a dress? It’s your right to take a pair of scissors to it and slash it to ribbons. Your groceries, bought and paid for? Let them rot in the larder.
Conversely when university fees were paid for by public money and students received a grant, educationalists could at least argue that students had a moral and civic responsibility to engage with their education. Students might always have had a pretty poor reputation as a lazy and dissolute lot, but arguably they were better students when they didn’t have to pay for their education.