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It's a bad business when the customer votes with his feet

Forget education, we are all businesses now. How many times have you heard that mantra in recent years? Let's be generous and assume that the champions of the edu-business view of the world don't actually mean "we must make as much cash as we can and stash it all in the Cayman Islands", but rather that colleges should adopt the methods of the business world in order to stay solvent and provide an efficient service.

The question that springs to mind though is, which businesses in particular are we talking about here?

Having approached or more accurately, tried to approach my local college recently in order to enrol on a part-time course, I suspect their business methods are modelled less on Marks amp; Spencer and Waitrose than the brash principles of a certain low-cost airline, whose plain-speaking boss, when faced with customer complaints, said that if they didn't like it they could go elsewhere though he put that last bit in somewhat blunter terms.

My first attempt to "buy a ticket to education" came via the college's website. I was offered the option to click on part-time courses or to search for a specific subject. I tried both. Each time the page failed to load. I tried again later with no more success.

Undaunted I picked up the phone and rang the college's information and guidance centre. A really enthusiastic man welcomed me to the "world of opportunities" his college could provide.

"We really value your enquiry," he said, "and want to help you in the best way possible to suit your specific needs."

Wow, I thought. My own specific needs. It's been a while since someone promised to address those.

He then offered me three options, including "speak to an adviser". Sounds good to me, I thought, and pressed the relevant button. This time it was a different and distinctly more abrupt voice at the other end. "I'm sorry," she said, "but all our advisers are busy. Goodbye."

After an interval I tried again. And again. Each time with the same result. By now I was beginning to doubt the sincerity of my gushing new friend. It seemed to me that he had about as much interest in my specific needs as a full bladdered dog has in the needs of a lamp-post.

If at first you don't succeed . give up. And I did. Like the good consumer I am, I took my business elsewhere - to the local adult education service, which offered a similar course at a cheaper price.

And thinking about it, I realise what a disservice I have done to that low cost airline. They actually offer a great service when you want to buy a ticket. It's only once you are in the queue to board the plane that the full horror of what you've let yourself in for kicks in.

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