GESF - Students as Customers? Unpacking the motivations and relative passivity of German and English undergraduates.

13 January 2015, 4.00 PM - 13 January 2015, 5.30 PM

Dr Richard Budd

Room 2.26, Graduate School of Education.

Globalisation Education and Social Futures

There is much conjecture – but little research – about modern-day students being framed as customers. It is feared that fees, rankings, and student satisfaction encourage them to be passive and instrumental towards their degrees. This paper explores this issue through the accounts of undergraduates in Germany and England, where the features that might enhance a customer orientation are strikingly different.
There is a great deal of concern in the academic literature that neoliberal approaches in higher education frame students as customers. The existence of sectoral rankings and marketing, an increased focus on student satisfaction, and particularly tuition fees, are seen to encourage an instrumental, passive attitude towards a university education. There is, though, relatively little scholarship that examines this issue empirically. Some studies have assumed a customer orientation in students and sought to generate evidence to support this, while more recent work has taken an inductive approach and is beginning to paint a more nuanced picture.
Neoliberalism is a dominant global discourse but different domestic responses to this result in contrasting national conditions. In Germany, the university hierarchy was traditionally considered flat, and tuition fees began to be introduced in the early 2000s but have since been abolished. England, on the other hand, has an established history of vertical differentiation in the sector and tuition fees have risen and risen since their introduction in the late 1990s. In the light of these and other differences, this paper examines university-related decision-making in the accounts of German and English undergraduates. While the English students did expect more from their university than the Germans — and were also more instrumental overall — there was little suggestion that this was associated with tuition fees per se. This is not to say that fees had no influence, but what shaped these somewhat contrasting positioning was related more to their understanding of their own domestic university cultures and social contexts.


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