Sat, 03 Apr 2004

FOR FOCUS ISSUE -- April 4 -- Overseas Study

Caution necessary when considering overseas education

Simon Marcus Gower, Executive Principal, High/Scope Indonesia School, Jakarta.

Nobody would question the statement "we live in a competitive world". It is, and indeed has long been, a growing reality that competition influences, and to a considerable degree determines, the way we live our lives.

Globalization has probably added to and speeded up this process. Ultimately we have, then, become competitors in the world. There are those that do not accept this process -- antiglobalization activists have become a familiar sight all over the world, but competition has infected almost every conceivable aspect of human existence.

It is probably an uncomfortable reality for many people that competition has also infected the world of education. High ideals for altruistic endeavor in the name of educating others do not sit well with notions of competitiveness and money-making.

However, it is an observable reality that competition and business practices are now part of educational institutions' constituent elements.

It certain ways this can be seen as appropriate and acceptable. Any endeavor that incorporates the bringing together of people has to be organized and has to be carried out under good business practices in order to achieve its mission. However, the aspect of this process that is most troubling for even the most casual of observers is the danger that education is going to be run as a purely money-making venture. Rather than being an altruistic, nonprofit-making affair, education can become a hard- nosed, profit-orientated venture in which the educational outcomes being achieved are only marginally considered.

Commentators have expressed concern about this in this newspaper, fearing that education in Indonesia is increasingly predicated on and premeditated toward making money for owners and investors. In this sense, Indonesia is effectively following a pattern that is being exhibited the world over. It is, therefore, a pattern that is well-established and is unlikely to go away anytime soon. In fact, on the contrary, it is only likely to increase.

This does mean, then, that we need to be aware of it and be wise to the game that is going on here. It demands that people entering into the world of education as users or students have to be evermore vigilant and circumspect in their consideration of what they want from an educational institute and what that institute can offer to their future prospects, both in terms of educational development and career options.

In a very real sense, (and perhaps there are those that would be appalled by this but it is the reality), students have become customers. As such it is important that they exercise their right to determine what is best for them. As noted, there may be those who would be appalled by the notion of students as customers but then again, looking at the reality of what is actually happening in the world of education today will confirm this point.

There is now an effective circuit of exhibitions and fairs that colleges and universities send their representatives to in order to promote their courses and programs. Universities have overseas representatives and agents that work on a fee basis in gathering students for those universities.

In short, for many, many universities being able to gather overseas students as enrollees is lucrative and highly beneficial to their profiles and their finance departments.

This leads to a veritable mass of education institutes vying for students, and students in our globalized world may come from literally any corner of the world. Indonesia is no exception, as often the "education bandwagon" of exhibitions and fairs rolls into this country with institutions eager to sign up students.

This, then, is where students should be proactive, cautious and vigilant.

All manner of marketing and customer relations tricks can and will be used by education institutes to attract new students (or is that customers?). From discounted sign-up fees to attractive glossy brochures, a variety of marketing ploys can and will be applied to attract the attention.

Educational institutes (or perhaps it should be stated, certain institutes) will even stoop to quite shallow tactics that have nothing whatsoever to do with the courses or programs of education that they are offering. For example, during one exhibition an institute was prepared to entice students (customers) to its display with the promise of a free pop music compact disc for all those who were willing merely to give their names and addresses for further information to be sent to them.

Tactics such as this really do need to be very carefully scrutinized, as often they may be covering up the weaknesses and shortcomings of such an educational institute. The above example does illustrate this point. At the time that this ploy was being implemented many teenagers could be seen signing up and showing interest in what was being offered, but looking at the brochures these people were distributing tended to suggest that a very small and probably quite inadequate institute was on offer.

The program information was very limited and much of the sales pitch revolved around the institutes' geographical proximity to a world famous city and world-renowned landmarks and buildings.

Any student (customer) considering an overseas education is entering into a vulnerable time in their lives and an increasingly volatile and competitive marketplace. This makes it all the more vital that caution and care are exercised. It is all too easy to be duped and have short-term benefits and goals thrust upon you that suggest that the right choices are being made, only to find later on that the wrong direction has been taken and long-term goals and benefits will not be met.

Obviously, there are great benefits to be gained from experiencing an overseas education and there are truly great educational institutes that have so much to offer potential students in both the short and long terms.

But the competitiveness of the twenty-first century demands that the selection process of where to go, what course to study and which institute is best equipped to meet your specific needs means that a great deal of forethought is required.

If for no other reason the considerable expense involved in gaining a good education heightens the need for a careful selection process.

To a considerable degree then, a great deal of study before a student even begins studies at an educational institute will go a long way. Doing research and investigating an institute before signing up is an astute and appropriate course of action; to do both meets short-term needs and longer-term goals.

The thoughts expressed above are personal.