Merchants of knowledge

Emma Davies (Oxford Brookes University) reports from the Society's Annual Conference.

Does paying for education create ‘merchants of knowledge’? Dr Louise Bunce from Oxford Brookes University began her presentation with a warning from Socrates that that the marketization of teaching could have a corrupting effect on the process of learning. Are the ‘merchants’ within the university now willing to give students what they want rather than what they need in order to keep the coffers full? 

Dr Bunce drew a distinction between the phrase ‘reading for a degree’ and ‘getting a degree’ as she introduced her study of 700 undergraduate students, which explored consumer identities and approaches to learning. In a previous study, Bunce and colleagues found that higher levels of consumer identity were associated with lower academic performance. To explore this further, this new study measured surface versus deep approaches to learning alongside consumer identity and academic performance. Results suggest that a surface approach to learning mediates the relationship between consumer identify and performance. These findings will worry those involved in teaching, particularly with the Teaching Excellence Framework just around the corner.

It is timely for us to ask how we can continue to engage students in an active process of learning, rather than reacting to the fee-paying culture ourselves, and simply becoming merchants, when we recognise that these ‘customers’ are not always right. As Bunce puts it, going to university is more akin to paying your gym membership than a simple transaction; you only get out what you put in.  

- See also 'The rise of student consumerism'.

- You can find lots more coverage from the Society's Annual Conference here, including more about the online world, and coming up in the July print edition. Find out about our 2018 event 

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