The notion of students as "customers" has been banned at Liverpool Hope University as it and other church-based institutions lead a fightback in favour of a more rounded approach to higher education.
Gerald Pillay, the vice-chancellor, said: "Students should not be treated as customers but as part of scholarly communities."
The phrase "customer service" implied that universities were caring for students for financial reasons rather than out of a moral duty to do so, he added. "We place distinctive emphasis on the individual."
Professor Pillay said the approach was one way in which universities with church foundations could distinguish themselves from other institutions. A Council of Church Colleges and Universities debate last year questioned how its 16 members should "go on being distinctive".
But Professor Pillay does not think that church universities should market themselves as Christian institutions.
"The Christian tradition is something that is part of the fabric of an institution and should be obvious in its graduates. Collective memory is the best form of marketing," he said.
Patricia Broadfoot, vice-chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire, said: "To think of students simply as 'customers' seems to miss all the most important aspects of the kind of student experience we want to foster. We encourage students to become fully engaged members of the university community, which apart from its obvious academic dimension also has broader social, cultural and moral dimensions."
Christopher Carr, vice-chancellor of the University of Cumbria, said: "Institutions with church foundations have always regarded the relationship that a student has with the institution as of great importance.
"It is important to recognise that students are undoubtedly consumers of what universities provide. Consequently, universities must recognise and respond to that aspect of their relationship with students."