Fit for purpose

July 20, 2007

Wes Streeting is correct in saying that the description of students as customers is not an accurate reflection of their relationships with universities and lecturers - "education is not a commodity but an act of partnership" ("Move to curb student rights", July 13).

However, the connotations of customer and consumerism have infected the thinking of many students and their advocates. Recently, I have been involved in discussions concerning students' entitlement to a good degree in exchange for the fees they pay. The notion of entitlement used in this way is extremely problematic. If you pay fees for plastic surgery or a health spa that guarantees weight loss and the results are unsatisfactory you are entitled to ask for compensation. But if you join a fitness club, there are no guarantees of success. You can expect facilities to be commensurate with what you pay and that you get expert guidance in their use. However, if you use the equipment infrequently and inefficiently then you can hardly blame the service provider if you remain unfit. Paying the fees buys you the opportunity for success but does not guarantee it.

This, I think, is the appropriate model of student entitlement to a good degree. It puts clear obligations on universities to provide the learning opportunities and environment and on the students to take responsibility for using them.

Terry Wassall
Leeds University

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