'Customer': not always right

June 3, 2010

It is excellent to see that institutional researchers are now beginning to turn their attention to the experiences of academic staff in higher education ("'Service excellence' means treating staff as customers", May).

However, although Hina Khan's work is clearly motivated by good intentions, I fear that her claim that a "service excellence" approach will improve the morale of academic staff may well backfire.

By the regular use of the notion of staff as "customers", a paradigm shift may occur (as has happened with students) in which government policymakers will be encouraged in their view of higher education as a business rather than as a unique educational sector. Both teachers and students are multifaceted individuals who do not sit easily within any imposed classification.

James Williams and David Kane, Birmingham City University.

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