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Higher education chairman warns against ‘consumer culture’

Michael Farthing, chairman of the 1994 group for higher education at research-intensive universities, has warned against universities treating students as ‘consumers’.

The 1994 Group is a higher education group for research-intensive universities and aims to promote excellence in research and teaching.

The chairman criticised the government’s recent plans to improve higher education in England. He said that there has been too much focus on undergraduates and a ‘lack of attention’ towards postgraduate students and research.

Farthing, who is also vice chancellor of Sussex University, said in a recent speech, “we cannot fall into the trap of reducing higher education to a set of simple transactions. Universities are so much more than warehouses that sell of-the-shelf qualifications, and students are more than consumers purchasing degrees”.

The government’s White Paper has proposed an option for the higher education system to be driven by competition and market forces.

To encourage more competition on price between universities, the government has allocated 20,000 undergraduate places for courses with tuition fees below £7,500.

This business-like course of action is the reason why academics such as Farthing have expressed fears about the change in higher education. He said, “we need to talk about the student experience less in terms of transactions and more in terms of relationships. Universities are communities where people come together to create and share knowledge”.

34 universities and 167 further education colleges have made applications for almost 36,000 places.

The allocation of these places will be announced next year and could see places move from universities and into further education colleges.

Tags: consumer culture, higher education, Michael Farthing

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