Education, ads and ethics

Education, ads and ethics

Mint reported on Monday that India’s advertising watchdog, Advertising Standards Council of India, or ASCI, was considering a code of advertising for educational institutions in an attempt to prevent them from making false and misleading claims.

In a country such as India, where there is a huge demand for education, such claims often fool students and their parents into shelling out sizeable tuition fees—in the hope that entry into a “good" educational institution will translate, after two, four or five years into a “good" job.

ASCI’s move, while commendable, only serves to highlight one aspect of a hydra-headed problem.

At one level, it reminds us that the quality of regulation governing the creation of educational institutions, or their running, leaves much to be desired, with corrupt regulators often turning a blind eye to irregularities in schools that have been set up with the primary objective of turning in a profit.

At another, larger level, it is a reflection of the state’s inability to create enough educational institutions to meet demand; many students who fall prey to the kind of schools targeted by ASCI are those who do not make it to the few good engineering, medical or B-schools in this country.

And, at still another level, the preponderance of ads featuring obviously false claims that appear in mainstream newspapers, magazines and television channels is indicative of the media putting profits ahead of its social responsibility. That works very well for the educational institutions which make false claims in their ads. They are willing to spend money on ads because it helps them attract students willing to pay good money to be “educated".

The larger issue of whether ASCI’s code will help stop such misleading ads remains.

Some of the claims made by schools—on hard infrastructure such as buildings and campuses, for instance—are easily verified.

Many, such as those on soft infrastructure such as systems and process and quality of faculty, are not as easily verified or are subjective. And some claims, such as success at placement, are next to impossible to verify, given the shroud of secrecy around this process. Any code shouldn’t just figure out a way to authenticate this information; it needs to assign the responsibility of doing so.

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