Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Academia: Are students customers?

My university is large. It has tens of thousands of domestic and international students and thousands of academic staff and millions upon millions of research dollars. It's a public university funded by governments and it profits from monetising its staff's discoveries and inventions and ideas and services and from student fees.

My current question is this: are students customers?

Are they always right? Uh... no.

But it gets a bit complicated after that point. Students pay quite a bit for their education, even if they're eligible for deferred fee payment plans like HECS or HELP or whatever it's called these days. Full-fee paying students pay more. Like, a lot more. Like, way, way, way more. And they pay it up front. So for all those thousands of dollars, are they paying for the education process or the piece of paper at the end?

I've taught a range of students, from first years to postgrads, from slackers and stoners to the deeply inquisitive and hard-driven, from the barely literate to the intensely intelligent, from those that are there because their parents forced them to be and those who've have clawed their way into the degree come hell or high water. And some of them fail.

They fail to hand in their work, fail to attend, fail to listen, to learn or understand. They fail to pass. Some of them fail to do as well as they expected. They storm into my office - grades in hand and demand I change their distinctions to high distinctions because they've NEVER EVER gotten lower than a high distinction before. Some of them fail to comprehend the gravity of plagiarism and after first and second warnings they get their names placed on a register; they get taken before a review board if they do it again. Some of them cry and turn pleading eyes to me to please, please take it away, to make it better. I pass them the tissues.

If my students are customers, do they have the right to have their education provided to their satisfaction? Do they have the right to pass or achieve high marks regardless of their actual effort quality of work? Do I have an obligation to ignore their misdeeds so they can continue on into their chosen careers unimpeded? How much am I expected to value their dollars over the reputation of the degrees they're paying for?

What do you think? Is my university an education institution or a business?


  1. Great post - I see it from both perspectives, as a teacher I have to fend off some of the over zealous parental demands and keep things realistic. On the other hand I was an international student for a year, paid a small fortune upfront and it did change the way I thought about the service I was getting.

    1. Did it make you work harder or demand more to make sure you were getting your money's worth? I'm finding there's a spectrum with lots of fee-paying students at the extreme ends of the scale and the domestic students largely fitting in the middle.


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