The Marketisation of Education
I’ve been hesitant to write an article of this nature, but now seems like an opportune moment. Higher Education and Universities are constantly evolving; you’d like to think that this was to meet student demand, but in reality it’s governmental pressure and funding which leaves institutions across the UK in a state of flux. Higher Education has quickly become ‘marketised’, this article will explain what this means for Universities and students alike.
Over-reliance on league tables and a move towards data-driven metrics is evidence of marketisation. Students want a product they can rely on, a product which other customers have used and reviewed previously. This is why Universities obsess over their score on the National Student Survey (NSS), Student Experience Survey and the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). This sets a dangerous precedent. Universities which fall towards the bottom of these tables, metrics and surveys are struggling to recruit students, meaning they are threatened with closure. In contrast, 10% of BME students would have reconsidered apply for a ‘TEF Gold’ institution according to Wonkhe. This suggests that some students from stereotypically underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds feel like they don’t belong at an outstanding institution.
Another piece of evidence to suggest that higher education has become marketised is money; principle tuition fees. Given current levels of funding, Universities can only survive if the year charge £9,000 (now £9,250) for undergraduate students and raise the cost of postgraduate courses. There a lot of misconceptions about how much money Universities have, where there funding comes from and how much lecturers are paid. This are all interesting discussions, but have minimal impact compared to some of the challenged students face today in an ultra-competitive sector. The press have chosen to focus upon the issue of Vice-Chancellor’s pay, rather than the underfunding of counselling services and the mental health crises facing higher education. The argument ‘Why I am paying 9k a year when the VC is on X amount’ is somewhat justified, but partially a red herring. Yes, some Vice-Chancellors are paid an extortionate amount for poor results (i.e. In the league tables mentioned above), but the real issue here is that Student Services departments across Universities are criminally under-resourced. When students are not sufficiently supported, satisfaction decreases thus having an impact on a Univerisity’s position in league tables, so SURELY something must change. This is not where the debate around money ends. Students are plunged in to debt after completing their degrees and a maintenance loan doesn’t always cover the cost of accomodation, let alone living costs.
Everything mentioned above means that students, quite rightly, demand more from their degree. If a University has a TEF Gold status and ranked in the top 20 for student satisfaction you can expect a high level of service. In an era of instant gratification, students expect quick responses to emails, a flexible learning experience and tailored support. In reality, even at the UK’s top Univiersities, students can’t find a place to study or park, struggle to access journals online and pay over the odds for accommodation. This brings me on to the issue of the upcoming UCU strikes from a student perspective. It’s quite understand that students want a reimbursement of their tuition fees. Students have been offered a product which has been advertised to them. Students have purchased that product, expecting a certain level of service and contact time. When this is not achieved, the product is considered to be ‘faulty’ and students’ demand a refund. I’m not saying that students will receive or deserve a refund; in reality, tuition fees don’t just go towards lecturer’s wage and the issue is far more complicated than any of us could have ever imagined. However, given what I mentioned above, it is not unreasonable for students to demand reimbursement for missed contact hours.
This is the state higher education is in at the moment. Education is no longer for the public good, it is a product that can be advertised to and purchased by potential students. No matter your political affiliation or your experience of higher education, it is clear that the sector is changing and nobody seems to be prepared for the consequences.