Research finds consumer mindset among undergraduates lowers academic performance

Monday, 27 November 2017

Student

The student-as-consumer approach in higher education has a negative effect on the academic performance of students, a study has found.

Students studying at universities in England have been defined as customers by the government since the introduction of student tuition fees. Although this approach has been rejected by educators, there is a lack of empirical evidence about the extent to which students express a consumer orientation and its effects on academic performance.

First published in the journal Studies in Higher Education the study entitled The student-as-consumer approach in higher education and its effects on academic performance surveyed over 600 undergraduate students about their consumer attitudes and behaviours in relation to their higher education and asked students to report the mark they had received for their most recent piece of assessed work.

Participants responded to statements such as ‘I think of my university degree as a product I am purchasing’ using a seven-point scale indicating how strongly they agreed or disagreed.

The research was led by Dr Louise Bunce, now Senior Lecturer in Human Development at Oxford Brookes University, in collaboration with the University of Winchester and Goldsmiths, University of London.

This research shows a clear and worrying association between identifying as a consumer and academic performance.

Dr Louise Bunce, Senior Lecturer in Human Development, Oxford Brookes University

Analysis revealed the more that students held a consumer attitude towards their degree, the lower their assessment mark was. In other words, if they held the attitude that their degree was like a retail product, they performed less well academically.

Dr Louise Bunce said: “Although the extent to which students identified as consumers of their education was relatively low, levels of academic achievement seem to be lower among those students who identify as a consumer. But, we don’t know which way around is this relationship.

“It could be that students come to university with a consumer mindset which leads to less effective studying behaviours and lower academic performance, however, it could also be that receiving lower grades leads to students becoming dissatisfied customers which results in them to seeing their degree like a product. Despite this, this research shows a clear and worrying association between identifying as a consumer and academic performance.

“Against a background of increasing marketisation of higher education, our responsibility as university educators is to provide teaching excellence that engages and challenges students so as to encourage them to engage intellectually with course material and not to treat their degree as yet another product for sale”.

Dr Bunce is currently developing this research on the student-as-consumer approach in higher education by looking at the types of study behaviours that accompany a consumer mindset, as well as ways to mitigate its negative effects on academic performance.