The decision to make the student population financially responsible for their own university education has major implications for the future of higher education provision. Chief among these implications will undoubtedly be a much stronger emphasis on the student experience, not least the experience of the teaching and learning environment. Given the increasing influence of consumerism on student identity, the distinct possibility exists that such notions of market-led accountability will be first in line to shape how the academic–student relationship is redefined and understood in future years. It is therefore an appropriate time to explore alternatives to such a narrow understanding of relationships—an understanding that inevitably tends to frame direct accountability in terms of economic exchange. It is argued in this paper that one alternative can be developed by exploring a more relational approach to HE pedagogy, and more specifically one that is based on a synthesis of critical theory and psychoanalysis. By emphasising the intersubjective nature of learning and teaching and the role of emotions in this regard, the paper argues that a relationally centred approach takes seriously questions of trust, recognition and respect at the heart of the academic–student relationship, while also making space for doubt, confusion and relational anxiety.
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