Universities need a consumer culture

This may seem counter to what universities should be about. And I would agree. Universities are meant to be these great centres of learning, places to achieve, places to learn for the sake of learning, places to discover you and your values. Even I can read the idealism in that. Universities are, unfortunately, no longer about the pursuit of knowledge. They are, of course, about the pursuit of cold, hard cash. 

I am coming to the end of my year at UCL. I was so excited this time last year; I’d been accepted onto a fantastic Masters course at one of the best universities in the UK. What a thorlughly disappointing experience. I feel like I was there to provide the money for the lecturers’ research and the pay for ineffective administrators!

We, as students, have to start demanding more. Lecturers should have teaching qualifications for starters. They are expected to teach on taught courses rather than only to supervise research students. So why can some of them get away with such poor teaching that a maths graduate just out of university that year has to teach you the entire module?

We, as students, have to start shaping the courses that we want, not simply the courses that are handed to us. Why should we accept compulsory modules that are little more than timetable fillers and box checkers? Why should we accept remaining in sub-standard modules because too many other students will then want to change? Incidentally, if that is the case, the module needs looking at!

We, as students, didn’t come out to vote in the election that brought the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition to power. The ‘compromise’ reached between the parties who wanted respectively to put fees up and abolish them was a six grand hike. All I can say is, I’m glad my sister didn’t know that kind of compromise when she was little! We are now paying in excess of £9,000 a year or an undergraduate degree and more for a Masters. What do we get for our money?! What we do get is not good enough. And that little we do get, is becoming too much for a lot of students.

It’s time universities recognised that we are paying too much to accept what they deign to give us. And for some it’s too much. I love learning, I love researching politics and related topics in the Russian and post-Soviet sphere. I am slightly concerned that I will never pay off this debt. I am even more concerned that it won’t have been worth the money. But I refuse to let myself think about that too much and instead focus on the fear my dissertation instills in me!

Modules are poorly taught, marking and grading is thoroughly inconsistent leaving students’ grades at the mercy of the armed rather than the quality of their work, lecturers are rarely available for students – by email or in person, and the little things like accommodation, printing, and textbooks rocket the costs up without limit. This is not what we deserve and lay for.

Students as a group are always being criticised for being too materialistic and consumerist, too glued to our phones, and too willing to spend money frivolously. Because those are, of course, characteristics shown only by our generation. Then let’s make it true. Let’s have a revolution, led by social media, demand more from universities for the huge sums of money that we are handing over to them. And then we can get back to enjoying the true purpose of university: to broaden our horizons, increase our knowledge, and achieve all that we can. Well, a little idealism never hurt anybody…

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