‘Students are not ‘clients’ – Universities and commodification article in the Guardian

Nick Riemer contributes to the discussion of the commodification of higher education in The Guardian today.

Protests against the lack of decent pay and working conditions will greet open day visitors at the Sydney University on Saturday:

On Saturday, thousands of Year 12 students and their parents will visit Sydney University for Open Day, one of the many such exercises around the country. A full brace of marketing techniques will be deployed to convince would-be “clients” to choose Sydney’s “brand” over those of its “competitors”.

This year, however, will be different. At Sydney, the 2013 Open Day falls during the most intense industrial dispute on any Australian campus for generations. Visitors will be greeted by National Tertiary Education Union picket lines. Staff will distribute stickers and balloons highlighting the importance of decent pay and conditions for quality education, and ask students to join them over a barbecue to hear how degrading staff conditions will harm their studies.

He goes on to talk about the fact the extravagant Open Days are representative of the commodification of higher education, and that students are starting to view themselves as clients:

This commodification is just one facet of the disastrous hijacking of universities by corporate interests and ideology. It might have been hoped that senior academics would show some critical distance from the corporate shibboleths of our age. Far from it: vice-chancellors and their deputies now enthusiastically enact the values of competition, league-tables, performance indicators and similar managerial fetishes with all the fervour of recent converts.

Students, correspondingly, are increasingly encouraged to view their education as a commercial transaction, and themselves as clients. Except that they’re getting an increasingly shoddy deal, with cost-cutting bringing reductions in the number of course offerings and increases in casually employed teaching staff – a trend the union’s current campaign has successfully opposed, in the face of strenuous management resistance.

Riemer concludes with a clear statement about the purpose of Open Days:

Taking student education seriously means not trying to get more for less. That argument should be obvious. Saturday’s Open Day will be the occasion for staff to directly tell prospective “clients” about why working conditions matter for quality learning.

You can read the whole article here.

Andrew McGettigan’s The Great University Gamble talks at length about the commodification of universities, and the dangers about doing so. Click on the cover image below to buy it for just £15.

McGettigan T02659“Andrew McGettigan is in my opinion by far the most knowledgeable person in the country on the government’s obscure and yet revolutionary programme of change for universities. He provides us with a full and independent view of the short, medium and longer-term implications of the government’s plans. This book is essential and deeply worrying reading.”

Simon Szreter, Professor of History and Public Policy, University of Cambridge

“Andrew McGettigan is one of the most respected and incisive commentators on higher education. There are no other texts at present that address the political economy of higher education and none that put all the pieces of the jigsaw together to reveal the picture with such clarity.”

John Holmwood, Professor of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham, co-founder of the Campaign for the Public University and editor of A Manifesto for the Public University (2011) 

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