The University Student in a Reflexive Society: Consequences of Consumerism and Competition

Richard Wellen


In what follows I argue that, with the transformation from elite to mass university systems, the consumer role is ascendant, especially as higher education systems become more institutionally diverse, complex, inclusive and expansive. In this environment, students and their patrons (parents, governments, etc.) demand more responsive and flexible institutional forms, which some sociologists have argued reflects the advent of an increasingly reflexive society. In the case of universities, the result of social reflexivity is an inevitable blurring of some important boundaries, especially those between the external and internal values of the academic culture. In this context it is not surprising that students are more directly and exclusively focused on the utilitarian value of education, and its role as a gateway to occupational opportunities and social prestige. However, I propose that student consumerism need not be a threat to academic communities, especially in a public university system like that of Canadas. In particular, wise government policies concerning student financing and institutional competition can help to avoid some of the crises emerging in market-oriented systems like that of the United States.


public universties, funding, marketization, reflexivity, mass higher education,

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Higher Education Perspectives. ISSN: 1710-1530