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Rethinking higher education: Students as producers, not consumers

Increased tuition fees and changes to the regulatory framework have placed too much emphasis on students as transactional consumers of higher education, experts have warned.

Speaking at the Enhancing Student Experience Conference 2018, Dr Sam Grogan argued that students should instead be viewed as “co-producers of their future self”.

Likening tuition fees to a gym membership, Dr Grogan said students must be encouraged to play a more active role in their own academic and professional development.

 “The regulatory environment places increasing emphasis on the idea of student as consumer,” he said.

“However I think when students consider the idea of consumer they immediately default to the idea of retail, which is transactional.

“It is much more akin to a gym membership. A student will pay a subscription, as they pay their student fees, they have access to facilities and they co-produce with their personal trainers, or tutors, a future self.

“There is a consumer model there but it’s very unlike a pure retail culture. If someone paid a gym subscription and didn’t turn up for six months they couldn’t complain that they weren’t thin and fit.”

In order to respond to this new consumer model, Dr Grogan believes universities need to adapt and change quickly and not be afraid to discard the long-held practices that are no longer fit for purpose.

“Student experience isn’t a singular, it’s actually a many faceted plural. I think the key challenge is to be able to keep pace with expectations in a marketised higher education sector.

“I think the higher education system is simply not agile enough at the moment,” he said.

“The nature of the shifting sands that we are sitting in, both within the sector but also socially and culturally in society, means there’s an expectation from students for universities to demonstrate how they add value.

“One example being the traditional academic year. It is still set from September or October through to June and there’s big break in the summer. That was because people needed to go out to harvest but they don’t need to do that anymore.

“There needs to be a reshaping of what has been quite a long tradition of higher education and the rhythms it adopts, the planning it does. Like it or not we need to adopt practices from private sector and from business but without becoming overly managerial or corporate.

“One thing that should be protected is academic autonomy, academic freedom and the university should be protected as places for opposing ideas and debate.”

Salford Professional Development’s portfolio of briefings, conferences and training courses bring leading experts together with those working on the front line of the education sector. See a full list of our events – here.


Posted in Education
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