This article in Times Higher today by a PhD early career researcher really brings home the reach of the classic marketing management discourse set in motion by Sydney Levy, Ted Levitt and Philip Kotler.
This discourse is epitomised in Kotler’s 1972 article The Generic Concept of Marketing – Kotler, P (1972) A Generic Concept of Marketing. Journal of Marketing, 36, (April), 46-54
If ever there was a selling job it is this. What it has produced is an army of neophytes who have bought into the idea of market orientation lock stock and barrel, who evangelise its principles and sneer at those who ‘don’t get’ marketing’s apparently obvious revelations about how business should be done.
Now marketing has reached higher education and the idea of the student as customer reigns supreme. This is an idiotic idea.
Don’t misunderstand me, of course students deserve good service but casting them as the arbiters of the educational value of higher education is ludicrous.
Imagine I had an interest in space science and I attended a course by Professor Brian Cox. In this course he introduced concepts and ideas I struggled to understand such as the uncertainty principle, quantum mechanics and relativity. I then claim that it is Professor Cox’s poor teaching is unstructured and disorganised and the reason I am not learning. It’s all his fault I don’t understand the subject and I’m paying him to teach me.
The problems with this view are firstly it is assumed that an education is a product that is given to the consumer and the value is embedded in the product rather than co-created at the point of delivery (Vargo and Lusch 2004) and that secondly higher education is simply a 3 year extension of secondary /high school. The identity of ‘student’ is far more complex that re-describing them as a consumer.
The marketing assumptions driving the current policy and management attitude to higher education are flawed because the idea of higher education is to take ownership of one’s learning within a designated challenging and transformative framework devised by highly qualified and experienced professionals. It is not to consume the intellectual equivalent of a bar of chocolate.
The marketing concept is not all good news as the consequences for people in the article link above show. It is generating an attack on professionalism and encouraging a discourse of anti-intellectualism.
And by anti-intellectualism I don’t mean making the abstract approachable I mean the suppression of the critical voice. In other words if you don’t agree students are customers you are out of touch and possibly weird.
Work by Zaltman revealed that marketing is metaphorically seen as a manipulative and ‘noisy neighbour’. Writing by Saren, Brownlie, Hackley and Tadjewski show marketing to be a force for unfettered consumerism and materialism.
Philosophically (and not many marketing neophytes know this) it is base on a Postivist epistemology that deliberately airbrushes human beings out of the picture in favour of objective metrics. All that matters is the numbers. All that matters is consumer satisfaction. All that matters is the survival of uncritical marketing.
I think it’s time to push back. I think it’s time to talk about where the value is for all stakeholders not just the consumer. I think it’s time for uncritical marketing to #stfu