284. Education Inc.

It’s a very worrying thing, what our institutes of education have become.

There has to be something wrong when you go to a movie theater, and when the lights dim down for the movie previews to start, instead of getting movie previews, you get a whole barrage of university ads thrown at you.

(“Hi! I’m living my dreams at the nation’s number one law school…”)

It’s everywhere. In print ads. On TV. Over the airwaves. On freakin’ YouTube. You’ve probably heard before the saying that “no publicity is bad publicity”. But here’s some food for thought: what if – bear with me now – the statement does not mean “any form of publicity is beneficial”, but simple “a lack of publicity is not good”?

The worst part about these university ads is that they’re corny as (strong expletive). Man, you ever went to one of those toilets where they overdo the antibacterial soap and perfume, and the whole place begins stinking of sweetness instead? Because that’s exactly what your ads look like.

I mean, for the love of all things good, I don’t care. If I did, I’d pick up a catalog. Or do a Google search.

Geez.

Corporations, I understand. Coca-Cola has millions, if not billions, of dollars just sitting there – they have to do something about it, right? Why not a cinema ad? The same could be said for Ford, Nikon, and all those other commercials that I automatically tune out of. But universities? Come on. You guys are supposed to be Non-Profit Organizations! Where in the world did you rake together a budget for a cinema ad?

(“What do you mean, my degree course costs RM62,000? Oooohhh. Right.”)

I recall my first day at university, going through the orientation. We were being showed around by an overweight senior in a red t-shirt who, as we walked past the library, gestured towards it and said: “And this is where we were supposed to have our own Starbucks. Until the college decided that it was too expensive and scrapped the idea.”

Maybe that isn’t such a great example. Campus Starbucks are, by default, completely superfluous, though still pretty cool.

I just find it startling that our colleges and universities apparently have more money to spend on making ads than creating a good campus experience. To me, it just sounds like they’re more interested in pulling in more students than creating a quality education for their existing students.

Do you see it? I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees a big problem with this. Because what it tells me is that our institutes for education are no longer interested in providing education – not as much as they’re interested in making money, at least. It tells me that they’re more interested in a student’s pockets than their potential. It tells me, simply, that they don’t care. Not about us. Not about the people we’ll be.

(it’s my belief that given the present standards of education, the average person can learn everything they’ll ever learn from a degree course within half a year. All they need are two things: the internet, and a whole lot of dedication)

The thing about education is that you can’t approach it like a business. Just like how you can’t approach science from a religious perspective and vice versa. See, business is about maximizing profits. Education is about maximizing potential. One’s interested in taking. The other’s interested in giving.

The disconnect comes in that the two cannot meet in between, unlike aggregate demand and aggregate supply. You can’t mass-produce education anymore than you can mass-produce adulthood. The process of learning, like the religious experience, has always been a personal rather than a collective thing.

What the people who run our institutions need to understand is that they’re not offering a product, but a service. To be specific: an environment that is conducive to learning. It’s about stocking up the libraries and making sure the chairs in there are made for long hours of sitting. It’s about creating spaces where people can sit together to discuss. It’s about putting money into the cafeteria so they don’t have to serve what should legally be classified as roadkill day after day.

It’s definitely not about making shitty ads to be played endlessly over the mass media.

(the jingles composed for various college/university ads haunt me to this day. “I’ve got the whole world in my hands…” “Aim for success, together we progress…” “U-C-S-I University! It’s-Your-First-Choice-University…”)

A word of advice to the colleges all around: take that money you’re putting into advertising and spend it – no, lavish it upon your students. Their words to their friends and juniors will be more persuasive than anything your copywriters can ever come up with.

A word of advice to those looking to enter an institute for higher learning: steer far, far away from any place that spends more money on attracting students than producing good students. Just like how you should steer far, far away from anyone who’s more interested in helping themselves than helping those around them. Especially if you’re looking to score a boyfriend/girlfriend.

And finally, to the corporations in charge of the mass media:

Remove those ads. They harrow my soul.

Thank you.

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