The reluctant customer
: case study research exploring the impact of marketisation on pedagogy and practice at three universities in england

  • Paul Gorman

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The marketisation of English Higher Education (HE) has become an important issue in recent years, yet little empirical research exists that explores the impact of marketisation on pedagogy and practice. This research aims to explore the relationship between marketisation and a customer culture in HE, whether the idea of a student-customer is internalised by staff and students, and if these factors shape student-centred learning (SCL). Through the lens of critical pedagogy, this study uses mixed methods to investigate macro, meso, and micro level processes. The analysis of 113 published university mission statements identified marketing-focussed statements as making up almost half of the content, showing that competition to bolster reputations and attract students is increasingly important as a result of marketisation. Case study research at three different English universities was the context for gathering quantitative and qualitative data. Questionnaire data obtained from 145 students, and interviews with 24 participants, which included senior university managers, lecturers and students, provided meso and micro level data. The findings show that the consequences of marketisation influences the opinions and behaviours of participants, leading to customer-focussed relationships between staff and students; an increased focus on instrumental learning; teaching being primarily focussed on imparting knowledge; and SCL principles being employed less than many students would like. Student opinions regarding the purpose and goals of HE were influenced by tuition fees, which created a focus on the financial elements of HE, and an acceptance that students are customers of HE. Despite this, both staff and students revealed a reluctance to fully internalise a student-customer concept, and were against the idea that knowledge should be imparted as part of a transactional experience. The study concludes that marketisation contributes to creating a customer culture and impedes SCL, but that there is growing resistance from staff and students against these consequences.
Date of Award1 Jul 2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJonathan Tritter (Supervisor) & Katie Tonkiss (Supervisor)


  • consumerist higher education
  • student-centred learning
  • critical pedagogy

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