The customer isn't always right: Limitations of 'customer service' approaches to education or why Higher Ed is not Burger King


  • Daniel E Wueste
  • Teddi Fishman



The increasingly popular trend of conceptualising education in terms of 'customer service' is, in some ways, attractive. It encourages educators to think in terms of meeting students' needs and to develop innovative ways to deliver their "product." In other ways, however, it fails to convey the essential collaborative, participatory, reciprocal relationship that is central to effective teaching and learning. With respect to academic integrity, the customer service model also obscures students' roles and responsibilities. In this paper, we identify some of the ways this model provides an inappropriate metaphor for understanding the project of teaching and learning (i.e., education) and argue that, when embraced uncritically, the model has the potential both to undermine education and at the same time derail efforts to develop and sustain a culture of integrity. After identifying this model's shortcomings, we suggest ways to develop and promote a more robust model in which faculty and students work together toward a shared purpose while recognising and embracing their interlocking responsibilities. This is a revised version of a paper presented at the 4th Asia Pacific Conference on Educational Integrity: Creating an Inclusive Approach, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia, 2009.