As the economy has crashed and burned around us, there are few people who haven’t taken more of an interest in finance recently. Consumers nationwide are now less inclined to spend or invest large amounts of money without careful consideration of what exactly they are buying, and given that now we pay many thousands of pounds for our education, it seems silly to make an exception. Often it’s a question that slips off the radar: what are the dynamics of the financial relationship between university and students, and what model of participation do we expect given the money and time we invest here?
It’s no secret that the language and mentality of the corporate world is creeping into higher education, and along with it a perceptual shift towards a ‘student-as-client’ scenario. We the clients pay a sum of money to the university in exchange for services provided; the provider receives feedback on our experience through tutor meetings, satisfaction surveys and a council of representatives, and tailors the environment accordingly.
The flaws in this model are twofold: firstly, students do not simply consume the goods of university education, but create their value in equal measure. Secondly, unlike most client relationships, once committed there is little realistic possibility of withdrawing – part of the reason why those who are dissatisfied, but have exhausted the officially sanctioned channels in saying so, can be led to more direct forms of action.
Turning again to the business world, an alternative view suggests itself: the student-as-shareholder. Having bought a stake in a company, shareholders are entitled to a say, however small, in how it is run; and crucially, companies are expected to be accountable to shareholders for the decisions they make. In the university context, when students voice serious concerns on an issue of policy, engagement from the university should not be a favour which is granted, but a right which is acknowledged. Given the breadth of business partnerships the university maintains, extending the logic to students does not need a huge cognitive leap.
For Nottingham to be awarded Entrepreneurial University of the Year, a great many students must have mastered the ins and outs of the business model. All the more reason for us to take a good look at the way we are managing the biggest investment of our young lives, and demand to be more than transient clients here.