Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Consumer Vision of University and Student Commitments

There is an interesting assumption behind the so called Vision For Universities which seems to imply that students should be worshipped as 'customers' because they pay fees.

I completely agree that the experience of university should be a good one and that the thinking power in universities should be tapped to solve real world problems (as well as develop cultured reasoning and understanding of our world). Like any conceptual statement there are real world implications for charactersing students as 'consumers'. This implies that there is knowledge on a shelf which students simply access and 'swallow'. Anybody coversant with the way in which adults learn knows that this is a gross and misleading simplification. Higher Education isn't the mere consumption of knowledge it is a transformative experience. It requires the student (clue in the name btw) to enagage in effortful thinking about definitional issues, conceptual issues, categorical issues, and issues relating to what consitutes 'reality' and how things are known. Education and learning is not a product in the transactional sense.

There is an issue of commitment though. Sure universities and their staff can commit to providing a good student experience, they can commit to articulating the value proposition and the 'deliverables' but this omits consideration of a crucial element the system...the student themselves.

The 'value' and outcomes of a university experience are co-created. The student attitude and behaviour is directly correlated to what they are likely to get from the experience as much as the 'contact' time, tutor capability and facilities. What part do students play in the creation of their university experience?

What responsibilities fall to the student? If they turn up hungover at 2.00pm in the afternoon after getting to bed at 5.00am is there an entitlement to penalise them for adversely affecting a lecture or seminar experience for other students and the tutor?

Can tutors penalise students who don't engage and participate and make seminars more like seances? And don't give me the 'its all down to the tutor' argument that is simply unfair and untrue.

In the commercial world if attendees to a meeting were disengaged, sulky, hungover uncommitted then the person in charge of the meeting would have the right to remove them and even possibly sack them.

Just how 'real' does Mr Mandelson want a University to feel for the student? If he wants universities to get real then I don't see why universities don't get real with students. Instead of molly coddling them with 'formative feedback' and respecting their individuality, perhaps the weaker students should be told exactly how it is?

How would this go down? 'I don't think you are intellectually capable of doing the work? You are idle get your arse into gear, I don't like your attitude, sort yourself out or get out of my seminar, if you don't bother to contribute don't bother coming, if you persist in texting and checking facebook whilst I'm lecturing get out of the room, if you haven't bothered doing private study and reading the articles for the seminar I'm not letting you join in the seminar etc etc.

Commitments work both ways. If Mr Mandelson wants to 'up the ante' I'm all for it. I'm confident that tutors can deliver excellent experiences and courses. I'm not so sure students are up to the same commitment.

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