This investigation explores the pressures currently exerted on the UK higher education (HE) sector to become focused on their consumers. The conceptual framework is developed through a review of the political contingency and competitive positioning schools of strategic management, which are grounded in the concept of environmental determinism. The framework and rationale for managing a consumer focus are further developed through a review of the changes that have impacted on the UK public sector and, more specifically, the HE sector over the past two decades. The most significant changes were found to be increased pressure to manage organisations more economically, efficiently and effectively and to improve the quality of the service provided to consumers. The investigation provides prescriptions for achieving this. The different relationships that can exist between HE consumer and provider are explored, and the limitations of the consumer as a customer of HE services discussed. The roles of the HE consumer as client and citizen are also discussed. The investigation then provides the results of fieldwork undertaken at 8 UK business schools involving MBA course participants and course directors. The fieldwork, including a census survey at each institution, and a personal interview with each course director, found that the customer / client status of the consumer was acknowledged by the majority of directors, although the consumer's role as citizen was not. The study also unearthed an implementation gap between the institution's intended strategies / messages and consumers’ perceptions. The final section of the investigation provides conclusions for both theory and practice. Here, recommendations for the development and management of consumer focus in the context of HE are provided. The implications of the operating environment for institutions are also outlined, and recommendations for further research are provided.