‘Pedagogical Clientelism’ in British Higher Education: From ‘Student Experience’ to the ‘Palliative University’


The Teaching and Higher Education Act of 1998 introduced tuition fees in British universities and made provisions for a new system of student loans, marking the end of free public higher education in the UK. In conjunction with the rise of a managerially-minded workforce, this has led to the consolidation of what has been termed a ‘target culture’, whereby the institution’s main strategic focus becomes maximising recruitment numbers, retention rates, and positive feedback on the National Student Survey. As the country witnesses a steep decline in the mental health of its student body, and as the burden of debt is increasingly taken by end-users as the measure of value of a university career, more and more emphasis is placed on enhancing ‘student experience’. In this paper, I use the term ‘pedagogical clientelism’ to describe a framework of interaction between providers and end-users of British higher education. Succinctly defined, ‘pedagogical clientelism’ is the conditioning of teaching mechanisms to end-user demands for the strategic gain of the institution regardless of whether the adjustments in question have sound pedagogical reasoning. Building on the philosophy of Byung-Chul Han and how it relates to developmental psychology, I seek to show the myriad of detrimental effects that the indiscriminate removal of displeasure from higher education apports to the student body. I conclude by claiming that the marketisation of higher education violates the ‘télos’ of public universities because, by enabling ‘pedagogical clientelism’, it taints the service that these ought to provide to both society and their end-users.


Pedro Branco
Lecturer in Film Production , Arts and Humanities, Brunel University London, Hillingdon, United Kingdom

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