ARE STUDENTS CUSTOMERS TO THE UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN
The simple, most accepted and understandable definition is that a customer is one who pays for goods and services. University students, in general, are definitely paying or being sponsored to be part of the academic institution, therefore there is a certain income flowing into the university for the students to be there. Educating a person is considered as providing a service in the sense that work is being done by a person (the lecturer) and that work benefits someone else (the students). Educating students towards their future endeavours, is essentially what universities do. Therefore one could confidently say that universities are providing a service and students are paying for that service.
However this is not enough to ascertain that students of the University of Cape Town (UCT) are customers to the university. Being a customer stems further than the simple definition. Customers are treated or handled in a certain way which allows them to claim their status as customers. In order to strengthen the claim that students of UCT are customers to UCT, one needs to look at the typical customer mentality and customer treatment within the market place. A social comparison of students and customers would then have to be conducted.
It is acceptable to say that customers make up a large share of consumers in the market place. Consumers, normally, define the revenue of an organization. However when businesses have limited supplier and want to increase their revenue, the only way to do this is to increase prices. Therefore the idea is to keep your current consumers loyal to the brand i.e. to keep them happy. Hence the fundamental concept which states that the customer is allows right. If suppliers can keep their consumers happy then increasing prices will not result in your demand decreasing and instead your revenue will increase.
If the status quo of rising university fees in South Africa is examined, the supplier-customer relationship is certainly one which is similar to UCT and its students. UCT is always attempting to improve its facilities, even if those improvements are not particularly necessary, this can be seen as a means to keep us happy and loyal to the UCT brand. When the university feels that it needs to raise the fees for any particular reason, it does so and with very passive retaliation by UCT students.
Few students complain compared to students in other South African universities because UCT as a brand seems worth the price increase. It is because of this that students begin to see themselves as customers. They feel a sense of power over the university because they are paying such high fees. They feel that it is UCT’s obligation to keep them happy just as it is the obligation of a business to keep its customers happy. They feel that without their specific fees, UCT would cease to function. However, they forget that an academic institution such as UCT also has an operation which is completely opposite to the market place.
In the UCT-student system it is also the burden of the student to keep the university happy. For example one could look at the duly performed system which UCT makes use of. If the student does not meet the duly performed requirements, the university excludes them from that particular course. That sort of treatment does qualify students as customers. Take the analogy of a person walking into a bus and being asked to get off because they are not intelligent enough. If UCT considered its students as customers, they would help those who are struggling and not exclude them. However UCT does not free-willingly do this. On the same point, one could speak of the issue of expulsion. If students are customers, and by society’s acceptance, “the customer is always right” (as long as they do not destroy anything belonging to the business), then why are students restricted from doing anything they want within the institution, which concerns them. For example students who cheat in exams qualify for expulsion but, whoever cheats in an exam is not cheating the university, but rather excluding himself from the opportunity of learning.
Therefore students are not always right. It is not sensible for the students to consider themselves as customers if this basic rule of thumb about customer treatment does not hold for them. One can thus reverse the definition of a customer, and say that, just because you are paying for something it does not mean you are considered a customer. Of course you will be obliged to the perks which you paid for but you are not necessarily a customer. Also, if students were customers, it would imply that UCT has the main intention of acquiring financial gain from its students. This is cannot be the case because anyone would then be accepted into the institution, as long as they have the money to keep up with the payments. This is not the case. Since UCT does not consider its students as customers, it is not wise for students to call themselves customers because there will always be a misunderstanding as to what the university is obliged to provide. The university has no financial dependency on the current students; there will always be students waiting to get in.
The implementation of rating sites has been said to encourage a customer mentality amongst students. This is possibly the greatest disadvantage of the rating sites. The sites promote students to think of themselves as being indispensable to the university. Customer mentality is the last thing that any university would want, because students start to feel obliged to more than the university is required to supply. In countries where the rating systems have been implemented, it has been recorded that there are comments which are made which seem to favour younger lectures, because they can relate to them more, and the older lecturers are often discredited as being bad teachers. This pulls away from true reflection of the lectures teaching abilities. Because of the exaggerated comments made by some undergraduates, whom the sites are most often allocated to, the sites are perhaps not the best way of getting credible feedback. Students will also tend to base their ratings on a subjective analysis. The negative side of enforcing these sites can be based on students trying to use the sites as a means to flex their false customer power
However, if one takes a look at the other side of the spectrum, enforcing the rating sites may have some desirable impacts. If the sites are properly managed and regulated, ratings can be manoeuvred to reflect the truth. For example, it is often easy to pick out students who are giving an exaggerated negative opinion. If those people who are viewing the sites can be very critical in their preview of the comments, one could expect the sites to be quite successful. The other positive of the having sites is that they are the most viable solution in terms of including as much people as possible. There is probably no other system which could acquire as much student participation as the rating sites. This is generally because students are always on computers and the convenience of the sites is very appealing to them. The sites thus give the university and other people an extremely broad opinion as to how people feel. When the advantages and disadvantages are weighed, it would appear that implementing the rating sites may be in the favour of South African universities.
Therefore the rating sites could be quite beneficial if they are well implemented and if students could stop seeing themselves as having a false customer power.