That was the view of speakers at the latest event held by the Council for the Defence of British Universities, entitled After the Election: Alternatives in Higher Education policy.
In a nod to the title of the government’s 2010 higher education White Paper, Students at the Heart of the System, Rachel Wenstone, vice-president (higher education) at the National Union of Students, told the event on 20 March that “students are not the heart, but the hands of higher education”.
She said the current system was “concerned with trends towards the marketisation and privatisation of universities” and that she did not believe “this marketised model of higher education serves the best interest of students”.
Ms Wenstone said students should be seen as partners rather than consumers, and added that the “idea of student consumer power exists more in rhetoric than in reality”.
She went on to argue that “the student whose views are welcomed, who is actively encouraged to contribute and who feels a sense of responsibility…that student is truly a partner”. If universities were to produce more students like this, “the world would be a better place for it”, she said.
Meanwhile, Andrew McGettigan, a writer and researcher on higher education, focused more on the role of academics within institutions.
He encouraged universities to follow the Oxbridge model where “academics are members, not just employees” and have a proper democratic say in the running of the institutions.
Dr McGettigan argued that the “key long-term battle” in improving the management of UK higher education was “revivifying democratic accountability within universities”.