Degrees, although an extreme example, can be said to be a consumer product. As students, we are paying for a service and an end product, and naturally this is expected to be of the highest standard possible. If a product is purchased from a retail business or service, and the quality is not up to scratch or our satisfaction, it would be returned. So why, especially when a massive debt-inducing sum of money is spent, are students reluctant to complain when problems arise, and why is complaining difficult in the first place?
We spend £9,250 a year on tuition, a number that many of us are familiar with and dread to be reminded of. If I were to break this down, this works out to be just over £250 per week of teaching, which, when using the example of my nine contact hours a week, equates to about £30 per taught class for me. I can say for definite that a purchase worth £30 that did not meet my expectations or standards would be returned or exchanged, as the £30 could be spent elsewhere and subsequently enjoyed more. Of course, within the context of university tuition, wanting to be refunded or compensated for every single class that disappoints us would be unrealistic. After all, differing teaching styles and content appeal to different people, and it is almost guaranteed that at least one individual in a class will not favour it as much as others. So, to this extent, degrees should not be treated as consumer products.
However, in extenuating circumstances, both personal or university wide, there should be some reconsideration. Last year, in my first year, during the UCU strikes which influenced teaching, almost an entire module was missed because my seminar leader and lecturer chose to partake in them. I supported their decision and the cause but each of us affected lost hundreds of pounds’ worth of tuition and I am sure other students in other schools or modules will have been affected even more than I was. Granted, it was a first-year module and did not count towards my final grade and most would disregard its importance because of this fact, but it is still a product that I have paid for and did not get. It would be like ordering a pizza and it never being delivered.
However, this sets a dangerous precedent, as a consumer rights mentality could quite easily fuel exploitation. Students could actively look for negative things to pick up on and teaching could be approached with a critical mindset opposed to an open, perceptive mentality, which in and of itself is a block on the educational value of the tuition. Our willingness to complain is also hindered by the concept of offences, a detrimental comment or complaint about a teacher or module could offend either the teacher themselves or those who work closely within the school. Obviously, we do not want to cause offence, and this affects our inclinations to act on our grievances. Furthermore, it is easier to address the faults in a physical entity than a taught class. An imperfect clothing item with visible problems cannot be contested, whereas words from a lecture offer no actual evidence of poor quality. There is therefore a reluctance to complain, out of wanting to avoid a game of ‘he said, she said’ with no substantial backing to one’s case.
Although incredibly difficult to act upon, as a paid product, degrees should be treated with a consumer approach, particularly because of the sheer amount of money in question. The notion of potentially wasting £27,000 at the end of my three years here is terrifying, and I am sure it is to you as well.