Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Universities learn that ignoring student rights could cost them dearly

Consumer protection organisation, the Office of Fair Trading, is now starting to look into how the rights of students, as consumers, are affected by the way in which universities carry out their business. This has got be a good thing particularly when you think about the amount of money that is paid out, to these institutes of higher learning, in the form of tuition fees.

The term “value for money” comes to mind when reviewing the hours of tuition, lectures and one to one guidance offered by academics, against the amount paid out by, what in essence are, their “customers”.

Teaching time and options available to students under inspection

Most universities endeavour to provide a high quality form of tutoring, with qualified and experienced professionals, appropriate up to date facilities and learning resources, along with the odd celebrity lecturer. Last year some courses at Manchester University had to have security guards posted at lecture theatre doors to stop unwanted visitors when Professor Brian Cox was lecturing to the undergraduates. However, the OFT is keen to review how universities decide on which courses they will offer, along with how they deliver them and how they compete for the students business. And it is now a business proposition, having put one child through university it was interesting prior to them picking a prospective seat of learning, to note the various marketing techniques used to attract interest.
Also equally interesting to look at the total amount of formal teaching time on offer from each establishment, against the fees being charged. This latest statement from the OFT follows on from a report by consumer group Which? and the Higher Education Policy Institute, that was produced back at the beginning of the summer. In their May report they compared the various differences in teaching time offered between establishments. They found that some universities, offered twice as much teaching time as other universities, to students undertaking the same course.

Students as consumers are a new school of thought

It is about time that students and their support network, i.e. parents and guardians, are viewed as consumers and purveyors of goods and services. Education is something we tend to take for granted in this country, as we have recently been reminded by the observations of 16 year old Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl activist. Now that we are having to contribute to university fees to educate our young people, then we do need to ensure that the service we are getting from our universities, is fit for purpose, as described and of good quality. Otherwise it will cost the universities and in the long run, the economic success of this country, dearly.


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