Students as Consumers, A New Angle For My Project

I am providing an artistic product for students to explore a visual (photographing) narrative of teaching. I found a book entitled ‘Consuming Higher Education’, which considered students to be the consumers of higher education; a phrase that empowers students to have a more active role in education.

Because of the introduction of tuition fees, students have been more active participants of education. By this, I mean that they have become more anxious about whether the service they are getting matches the price that they are paying.

‘student complaints are reported to have risen 37 per cent in the two years between 2008 and 2010 (Shepherd and Williams, 2010)Williams, J (2012) Consuming Higher Education: Why Learning Can’t Be Bought, Bloomsbury Academic, 1-2

If students are paying a lot of money for their course, there is an increased pressure that they need to react to. Their expectations will have to be met, and if the course doesn’t meet those expectations then surely the money that they are paying gives them a right to complain. The figures show an increase in complaints during a phase when students were paying a lot for their course, but not as much as the recent rise to £9,000 per year in 2012. 

‘The emergence of the student-consumer is often presented in the popular media as a generally positive social development, through which students are empowered to influence their experience of university’ 3

This ’empowerment’ is used by the government to give more credence to their policy. Understandably, it is an accurate claim. But surely there is an element that takes advantage of students. They have to pay out of the odds for a service that was cheaper for others, and free for other generations.

Then again, there are positives that go with the price tag. There is the realisation that the money has to provide a qualification and a set of skills that warrant its price tag. Furthermore, there is this aspect of empowerment. Because students are paying more money, they now have more power and universities have to meet their needs. In resent years universities have given more tutoring to students. Student reps have more power than before and it is ultimately a better environment. Those students who realise the power can influence how they are taught, and become an active consumer.

‘the process by which money goes directly from the Student Loan Company to the university serves to distance the student from the act of fee-paying.’

Even though students are ‘Empowered as consumers’, it is hard to realise that they are consumers. The money that they pay for education is not a straight forward transaction, it is a length process that happens after university which may never be paid off. If a students wage does not rise over £21,000 per year, then they won’t have to pay it back, and the debts will be cancelled 30 years after the end of the course.

Regardless of this, there is anxiety that students have to get their moneys worth, so there is an increased urgency to do well.

‘One reason why education is not a commodity like any other is that its inherent worth varies with each individual who shares the same surface experience, depending upon the extent of the student’s engagement, motivation and prior learning’ 10

The worth of HE service does vary so it is difficult to find a compromise to give the most beneficial engagement. But university does cater more to the active student who involves themselves in the course. Engagement, motivation and prior learning are all important aspects of university learning, and being a consumer puts more pressure on the students to achieve positive results from using those aspects to their advantage.

The reasoning why I’ve researched this book is because it expresses a lot about the lecturer and student relationship. Since the rise in tuition fees lecturers have had to give more guidance to ensure each student is satisfied with their course. This will make sure that the student feels their views are being heard and makes it more likely that they can make their investment worthwhile. Its because of this consumer shift of learning that makes my project more current. It shows from my access to get the opportunity to hear their stories and photograph them, that they are becoming more active to the students needs. Coventry University is a university with one of the best student satisfaction ratios, showing that even in this modern age of consumer relations, they are still about to facilitate the needs of the student.

I think its important to bridge the gap between lecturers and students, or show that it has been bridged. The photographs of the lectures emphasise a personal image that has been dedicated to help students learn more. Therefore, my project acts as a documentation of this new student and lecturer relationship.

Through the way that I use text in my images, I hope to say quotes that the lecturers said while I was photographing them. I want to emphasise their collaboration with me by them saying how they wanted to be photographed and where. I hope this shows them as less intimidating. Even though they are dressed formally, I want to emphasise their collaboration with students, and emphasise their new guidance that they offer as part of the new consumer-orientated education.


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