Recent news from the BBC has demonstrated that the undervalued, but highly vocal demographic of Students are starting to make a noise about the level of service they are getting, or more importantly, what they are expecting to receive.
Since tuition fees were raised in 2013 (in some cases up to £9,000 per annum) students’ expectations are now higher than ever – they expect more for their money and want their voices to be heard...exactly as a consumer would.
Rob Behrens, independent adjudicator for Higher Education, summed it up perfectly when he stated, "I think the decision to raise the fees has had an impact on student thinking. Students do see themselves more as consumers than they used to. They want the best possible degree they can get."
The trouble is, Universities have yet to recognise this. And if they don’t start delivering against this increased expectation, then the discrepancy is likely to lead to mass dissatisfaction, more complaints and a drop in University applications.
Let’s compare this to another sector prone to high volumes of complaints – the Utilities industry. With consumers now empowered to share their voice and raise their concerns, more is being demanded of all elements of service delivery. For example, it’s no longer enough to simply fix a gas leak – one must now ensure they’ve followed the correct identification procedure, are wearing appropriate attire, have clean boots to avoid trampling mud through the property and that they ensure that nothing is broken in the meantime. Small issues when considering the bigger picture of a dangerous gas leak, but issues that consumers will nevertheless raise time and time again in their expectation of great service.
The difference is the attitude towards consumers. Whilst many Utility providers now have feedback channels in place so that complaints can be addressed and consumers responded to in real-time, student feedback and their complaints go largely unheard.
This escalation in expectation should be seen as a good thing, driving us all to meet higher standards. But for Universities to survive the ‘Age of the Consumer’ they need to start ensuring that feedback is easy for students to share, and importantly, that they’re meeting the expectation that something will be done about it.
Perception is reality – it’s time for Higher Education to step up.
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