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ASCI to crack down on misleading education ads

ASCI to crack down on misleading education ads

New Delhi/Mumbai: Ads making tall and usually unverifiable claims from assorted engineering and business schools, universities, even coaching centres may soon be a thing of the past with India’s advertising watchdog deciding to crack down on them.

“We want to a have a code for all types of educational institutes. The first draft will be ready within the next few days," said Dhananjay Keskar, chairman of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). He added that the body has received several complaints from students, parents and “intra-industry parties".

While the code will be universally applicable, Mint learns that ASCI’s primary target will be institutions not recognized by bodies such as the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).

The choice of educational institutions is a “life-impacting" decision and “we must try and curb misleading ads", said ASCI general secretary Alan Collaco. He added that there had recently been a spurt in the number of ads from engineering and business schools claiming that they were the “No.1" in placements, foreign exposure, or quality of faculty. It is common for the topper of a high-profile entrance examination to be claimed by several coaching centres, Collaco said.

Education is big business in India. According to a survey report by financial analysis and research firm CLSA, the market size of private professional colleges is $7 billion (around Rs32,750 crore). An additional $5 billion is the market for prep schools and coaching centres that help students prepare for admission to professional courses in engineering, medical, and business schools, according to the report published in 2008.

Educational institutions are big advertisers in newspapers, magazines, and TV channels. According to data from TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, advertising by educational institutions was the highest contributor to print advertising in the first half of 2009 and 2010. And advertising by educational institutions on TV grew 51% during the first half of 2010 over the same period in 2009.

Though the exact size of the market is not readily available, ASCI estimates that educational institutions spent at least Rs3,800 crore on advertising in TV, print and online media annually.

Some experts feel this could encourage media firms to overlook the veracity of claims being made in the ads.

The number of misleading educational ads is increasing and there is a need for a certain amount of standardization, said P.N. Vasanti, director of the Centre for Media Studies.

“Both sides—educational institutes and media—are working without any standardization," she added. “No one is cross-checking the veracity of the claims."

ASCI will try and put a stop to this, said Collaco. The code it is envisioning will stop the ads of educational institutions not recognized by AICTE, UGC or other regulators.

Print and online media too will be covered by the code, he said. Many educational institutions are increasingly looking to the Web because it is a cost-effective way of reaching the target audience. Mint reported on 20 May that online ads, as a proportion of their total advertising budget, would increase to around 30% for most educational institutions in 2010, from 15-20% in 2008.

The move is a good one, say experts and educationists, but not everyone is convinced ASCI’s code will solve the problem.

“This No. 1 race via advertisement is misleading. Self-regulation is good, but there is a need for some amount of external regulation to curb mis-information," said Prashant Bhalla, vice-president of Manav Rachna International University in Faridabad.

“Misleading ads is a concern. These days, there are a lot of claims about (being) world class faculty and such things should be curbed. But I doubt if ASCI guidelines will be a practical solution for it," said Sushma Berlia, head of the education wing at industry lobby PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.


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