Students with consumer mindset ‘get lower grades’

Study suggests ‘higher consumer orientation associated with lower academic performance’

February 16, 2016
Woman in supermarket

Students who see themselves as consumers rather than learners tend to perform more poorly academically, according to a study.

A survey completed by 608 students from 35 English universities formed the basis for the study, published in Studies in Higher Education, that found a “higher consumer orientation was associated with lower academic performance”.

The article, titled "The student-as-consumer approach in higher education and its effects on academic performance", was written by Louise Bunce, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester; Amy Baird, of the department of psychology at Winchester; and Siân Jones, teaching fellow in psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London.

In light of a trend in which a “consumer identity appears to be increasingly recognised by students”, the authors set out to “conduct an empirical test of the hypothesis that there would be a negative relationship between the extent to which a student expressed a consumer orientation to their studies and their level of academic performance”.

The survey saw participants presented with consumer statements such as “I think of my university degree as a product I am purchasing” and “learner identity” statements such as “I want to expand my intellectual ability”.

Participants responded to each statement using a seven-point scale indicating how strongly they agreed or disagreed.

They were also asked to give their “most recent grade for an assessed piece of work to measure academic performance”.

The authors state that “a lower learner identity was associated with a higher consumer orientation, and in turn with lower academic performance”.

However, the authors do say that limitations of the research include the fact that “the measure of academic performance was a student’s self-reported most recent grade”, as grade point average scores were not available in the UK.

The authors say that there should be further research on the students-as-consumers approach in higher education to “help mitigate its negative effects on academic performance”.

Dr Bunce said: “While it is positive that universities are expected to offer more value to students as a result of higher tuition fees, students also need to be aware that learning cannot be bought.

“Government, too, should be cautious when talking about the ‘value’ of higher education purely in terms of a financial transaction as it may encourage students to feel like they are simply buying their degree. As a result, they may start to develop a ‘you teach me’ attitude rather than one that fosters effortful engagement with their chosen subject.”

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