As some of you may already know, last week Ceredigion County Council’s Planning Committee gave the go-ahead for a retail development to be built around the Mill Street area of Aberystwyth Town Centre, with one of the shops to be built being a Tesco.
A few years from now when this branch of Tesco is open for business, there’ll probably be someone that goes in one day to buy a television. They’ll likely have thought about it for a while, done some research online and have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this television before they even buy it, and more than anything they’ll know what they expect it to do for their quality of life.
So, they get the television home and set it up and for a while it’s great; they get to watch Dermot O’Leary every Saturday night in high-definition. This television is changing their life. But then the screen starts to get a bit fuzzy, occasionally the sound drops out and the DVD loader snaps off in their hand one day. It’s ok though, this person takes the television that turned out to not be as expected back to Tesco and get a refund and the offer of a replacement. Great.
Consumerism is a model that works quite well in some areas of life. But try to think of a similar scenario to the one I’ve just given you, except with a student and a university instead of a customer and a supermarket, and you’ll see why I cringe every time someone in our University refers to students as their ‘customers’.
Let’s suppose that during your time as a student, the education you receive- or the way you expect to receive it- isn’t what was described in the prospectus or demonstrated to you on open days. What do you do? Even though the way Higher Education funding works means that universities treat each other as competitors, they don’t have returns desks or five year warranties. A degree is not a product which you can hand back in exchange for a return of your fees and go on your way to another provider.
As students we deserve the opportunity to get so much more than the passivity that consumerism would limit us to. Customers don’t get a say on the way their retailers operate, and Tesco does not have a Customers’ Union based in the building at the end of its car park. We have to stop treating our university experience as a product which we have no power to change; I want you to start bringing about the change you want to see happen at Aberystwyth.
There are so many ways to go about starting change, but in particular I want to tell you about two things which exist to enable you to be a part of changing your education for the better.
Each year 300 students get elected to represent their coursemates on everything to do with issues surrounding the educational experience here in Aberystwyth. The teaching on a module, resources in the library or the way the timetable is organised are just some of the topics that Academic Reps deal with. I keep in touch with these students as much as I can; they’re excellent, pro-active people who volunteer their time to make things better for you, so use your Rep!
Reps are great for getting your department to listen to you, and for us in the Union to use to find out more about the immediate issues that are affecting the student body, but I know that many of you have ideas about how the University should operate that are slightly bigger or longer-term than the issues Reps deal with.
The Aber Agenda is a research project I’m undertaking with the aim of listening to these thoughts, ideas and suggestions that you all have inside of you. You can find out more, and contribute here.
The students who speak to me every week and tell me what they wish the University did differently are not customers. The academic reps who email me telling me their big ideas for changing things in their departments are not customers. You are not a customer. You are so, so much more than that… and remember, every little helps...