Research around student-faculty partnership suggests that such partnership challenges Western higher education systems in several important ways. Student-faculty partnership or Students as Partners in Teaching and Learning:

  • destabilizes the existing consumer-oriented model of teaching and learning (Cook Sather et al., 2014) and, as a consequence, current institutional culture becomes a barrier to the successful implementation of such partnership(s) (Bovill et al., 2016);
  • challenges the claim of our higher education institutions that they are following a democratic teaching model (Manor et al., 2010; Cook-Sather & Alter, 2011); and,
  • challenges the outcomes-based and goal-oriented model of higher education system (Healey et al., 2014).

While all of these challenges are interconnected, each one merits separate consideration. In this blog post I address the ways in which student-faculty partnership, if done correctly, has the potential to challenge the consumer-oriented model in the higher education system.

Based on the arguments that Cook-Sather et al. (2014) make about student-faculty partnerships, there are several ways in which partnership could challenge the status quo of the higher education. Students normally come to us after having been used to a “transmission model of teaching” that promotes passive learning through standardized tests and discourages curiosity and inquiry (p. 17). Colleges, on their part, frequently treat students as consumers and advertise education as a product that one delivers to them. This practice comes from a flawed understanding of education as a one-way process in which faculty have knowledge that can be seamlessly transmitted to students. Such an attitude towards education encourages students’ passive behavior, as well as establishes clear power structures in the relationships between faculty and students, in which faculty have all the expertise and, consequently, all the power to make decisions about students’ education. As a result, “students’ perceived powerlessness in their own education translates into a lack of their taking responsibility for their own education” (Manor et al., 2010, p. 10).

The students-as-partners model questions this premise, suggesting that our understanding of how learning happens should change:

  1. We all, faculty and students, have something to teach and learn, and it is our shared responsibility, as faculty and students, to exchange the knowledge that we all have. While faculty knows what to teach, students might know better how they learn; hence, they can and should play an active role in the decisions about what and how to learn (Cook-Sather et al., 2014); and
  2. Student involvement in the process of course- and curricular-development fosters more responsibility for and engagement with learning in students. Students as partners start viewing education differently and take a more active role, become more engaged with learning as they develop a greater sense of responsibility (Cook-Sather and Alter, 2011; Manor et al., 2010; Werder et al., 2012).

It is precisely this reciprocal engagement with teaching and learning that destabilizes “the students as clients” model, suggesting that faculty and students work together towards one goal instead of one working for another (Cook-Sather et al., 2014).
But there is one caveat: Partnering and collaborating with students should never mean succumbing to all of their wishes and wants. It should never be about asking students what they want and then unreflectively implementing students’ wish list. Such understanding of student-faculty partnership will do the opposite of what’s intended: to foster student engagement. Rather, it will replicate the consumer-oriented model of higher education in which students are viewed as paying consumers and are offered the “product” that they want with a flawed understanding that the transmission is seamless and uncomplicated.

As Werder et al. (2012) argue, through partnership, done correctly, students start to understand learning as a dialogic experience that is divergent and difference-driven and to question the hierarchical dynamics inherent in a contemporary education system that make it difficult for students to be active learners. Both faculty and students come to value equality that comes with partnership and that enables all participants to have a voice in the decision making process.


  • Bovill, C., Cook-Sather, A., Felten, P., Millard, L., & Moore-Cherry, N. (2016). Addressing potential challenges in co-creating learning and teaching: Overcoming resistance, navigating institutional norms and ensuring inclusivity in student-staff partnerships. Higher Education, 71, 195-208. doi:10.1007/s10734-015-9896-4
  • Cook-Sather, A. and Alter, Z. (2011). What is and what can be: How a liminal position can change learning and teaching in higher education. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 42(1), 37-53.
  • Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., and Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: a guide for faculty. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
  • Healey, M., Flint, A., & Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: Students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. York: Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from
  • Manor, C., Block-Schulman, S., Flannery, K., Felten, P. (2010). Foundations of Student-Faculty Partnerships in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. In C. Werder and M.M. Otis (eds.), Engaging Students Voices in the Study of Teaching and Learning (pp. 3–15). Sterling, VA: Stylus.
  • Werder, C., Thibou, S., & Kaufer, B. (2012). Students as co-inquirers: A requisite threshold Concept in educational development. Journal of Faculty Development, 26(3), 34–38.

Ketevan Kupatadze, Senior Lecturer in Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, is the 2017-2019 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. Dr. Kupatadze’s CEL Scholar project focuses on student-faculty partnerships.

How to cite this post:

Kupatadze, Ketevan. 2017, August 29. Challenging the Consumer-Based Model of Education. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from