Student or customer? The risks of having satisfaction as the preferred end of the educational process

Whoever enters a surgery room as a patient closes his eyes believing that whoever handles the scalpel has been prepared for years with the highest level of demand. If you discover that the doctor asked you, when you were a student, to reduce the difficulty of the exams and increase your grade, your last thoughts before passing out will be: “why did I go into surgery if…”

The scene is a fiction, although it could only be in part, since several press vehicles reported, in October, that dozens of aspirants to study medicine had complained to their universities that a professor of organic chemistry took tests too difficult, which would make it impossible for them to follow the course. In response, the center decided not to renew his contract. This happened to Maitland Jones, renowned researcher at New York University (NYU): 30 of his 350 students inferred that, given the low grades they had received, he had not made “student learning and well-being a priority”, which left “the Department of Chemistry in a bad situation, as well as the institution as a whole”. rigorously, there was no need to be “punitive”, and what was mentioned was not “up to what we demand from our professors”. Jones, who during the confinements had paid more than 5.000 dollars out of his own pocket to record his classes and the students not to be left behind, he protested: he had already been warning that those were “unfocused”, and either weren’t going to classes, or weren’t studying.

But the annoyance weighed more of the plaintiffs, for whom, at the stroke of a pen, the center’s authorities raised the grades, not without opposition from some of Jones’ colleagues. One of them assured that the modification had been “a hand gently extended” to the students “and to those who pay their registrations” – the parents –, and another said that the directors want “happy students”, who speak with enthusiasm about NYU, to convert make it a magnet for new students and, collaterally, rise in the rankings of universities.

Satisfaction as preferential purpose

Happiness is not a bad thing, but traditionally the university has not been an institution in charge of distributing it. Until now, those interested in acquiring a high degree of specialization have come to it to receive, from the hands of professors, a voluminous deposit of knowledge, which they must appropriate through study and which they can enrich through research. There are not – there should not be – passive subjects in university classes.

But the perspective seems to be changing in some places. It’s no longer students, just: it’s better to say clients. In his study The student as a client: a paradigm shift in higher education, Professor Javier Paricio Royo, from the University of Zaragoza, recalls that the term, used to refer to referring to students and their parents, began to become popular in the years 30.

“The general rationale was that since students and their families pay for education, either directly or indirectly through taxes, or both, they are customers; therefore, educators and administrators must be considered providers. In this framework, education becomes in a simple market equation. It replicates a business model in which customer satisfaction is the key.”

In the dynamics of the market, with satisfaction as the main objective of the teaching- learning, the educational center undertakes to give the student greater facilities so that he is satisfied and recommends it. The competition, after all, is very tough – there is the fight to climb the rankings –, and whoever dares to raise the standard of demand to a level fair will run the risk of another provider picking up the client.

He is not always right (but he always thinks he is)

The customer, that, as the famous slogan indicates, is always right – or so it is said –, it detects or imagines more easily when its consumer rights are violated. This perception is increasingly spreading at the university level, as can be seen from the increase in complaints, mainly through grades and evaluations.

According to the Independent Conciliator Agency (OIA), in the United Kingdom, entity in charge of managing student complaints, in 2006 were registered 586 complaints. In 2015 were 1.586; in 2020, 2., and in 2021, two.763. Complaints rightly? It doesn’t seem like it: last year, 2020% of them were declared “unjustified” and 2021% were removed by whoever made them. Only 3% of all complaints were upheld.

As you can see, few have succeeded, but the interesting thing is that more and more students are trying to pick fights. According to Professor Paricio Royo, the increase in complaints in the United Kingdom and elsewhere derives from the reconfiguration of the parties as provider and customer: the latter has made a investment – the registration fee and other things – and expects a positive result, but without a special increase in the effort for his part. It’s supposed that if you’re paid well, you’re supposed to do well, aren’t you?

Some universities were picking up on the message. Yan Dominic Searcy, associate dean of a faculty at Southern Connecticut State University (USA), noted that at centers offering four-year degrees, A grades—the highest in the U.S. system—increased by 5% or 6% per decade. in the last 30 years.

Is it because, as a saying goes popular, “who pays, rules”? The teacher admits that the pressure works: “Now is three times more frequent than in . It is the most common grade at these four-year institutions. Some students and parents believe that if they complain enough, a faculty member will change their grade. And if it doesn’t change, they call the manager.”

Get rid of what is not “useful”

The criteria and manners of the market are, therefore, in their time. Searcy confirmed this: “I had students who said to me: ‘I paid for this class and I didn’t get anything, so I shouldn’t have to pay’. In general, at the end of the semester, several ask how to get reimbursements for the subjects they want to abandon, because it is possible that they will not approve them.”

Another consequence of “I only pay for what I think is useful” is the dissemination of the idea that it is necessary to offer students specialties in which their investment will have a quick and safe return, which is why courses such as Philosophy are off the menu in many places, in a trend encouraged, moreover, by those responsible

“According to this reasoning”, stresses the dean, “if customers are not ‘buying’ Philosophy on the shelf (…), then it should be eliminated, since the product is not moving’. Unfortunately, legislators and others confuse popularity with usefulness. The reality show ‘The Kardashians’ is popular; the usefulness of the show, I leave it up to you”. Philosophy, the study of ideas, on the other hand, “is the basis of all higher education”.

This is how what is gaining ground is going straight to the point, to the practical, to the expedient. “quick consumption of ‘knowledge pills'”, with the information that the teacher gives already well organized. But this does not achieve what the more leisurely learning of the contents which, with research as a tool, provides greater solidity and depth in knowledge.

A positive asymmetrical relationship

The perspective of the student as a client would lead to asking, for consistency, if anyone knows what is best for you more than the customer. In this scheme, a student at an aviation school, convinced that it is enough to learn just to take off and land, would ask his provider educational that download Asses the assessment standards for these “boring” and “useless” subjects in Principles of Physics and Mathematics, Meteorology, Aircraft General Knowledge, Aeronautical English, etc. He already knows what is necessary, the key, the indispensable…

But does he know? Anthropologist Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, USA, advises not to lose sight of the fact that the student is someone who arrives at the university ignoring the bulk of the contents that the university has to teach him, and that he must put aside his judgments preconceived to be able to apprehend all this information.

“This does not mean”, he adds, “that students cannot or should not make any judgment about their professors and about the study plan. Obviously they can, and they do. But they do so from a position of weakness, in which the university can always claim that it knows more and better. The asymmetry of this relationship is essential.”

Paricio Royo points out, in this sense, the difference between what university students want and what they really need to graduate properly. “While in other sectors customers know what they need, in higher education students may not have clear ideas about the knowledge and skills they will need when they enter the job market.” In fact, he points out, the awareness that a certain content was really necessary and decisive in his formation may only arrive after several years.

If, however, the desire to retain the clients and not harm the prestige of the provider result in giving them the ability to decide on the subjects to be studied, the way they are divided, the grades, etc., no doubt there will be very happy faces on graduation day, but they will not guarantee anything.

A Physics professor who had to resign due to pressure of the university and the unreasonable demands of its students sums up the risks simply: “Our children’s teachers may be among those graduates. We may trust them to make life-or-death medical decisions about us or our loved ones. And, as contributors, we may be asked to help with the enrollment of those who are not well prepared to join the workforce, and who will be poor employees and colleagues .”

And dangerous pilots, one might add.

©2022 ACEPRENSA. Published with permission. Original in Spanish.

Recent Articles