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Education Policy versus Commodity - Research Paper

Have we come to view education as a commodity?


Introductory Paragraph
Thesis Statement
Education as a Commodity
What is a Commodity
Fictitious commodities
Actual commodities
Is Education a Commodity
Buying and Selling of Education
The Role of Teachers
Recruitment and Marketing of Schools
Primary and Secondary Schools
Colleges and Universities


EducationIt has been stated, “Globally, education is now a product in the same sense as a car in that it can be bought sold and traded in the same way.” (Anonymous) It has become increasingly clear as institutions of higher learning and even some state and private schools at the primary and secondary levels spend significant portions of their budgets on marketing and recruiting new students rather than on educating them. In many countries, schools at all levels have also begun to compete for support at the multinational level. This is most true of state run schools in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States, where lower levels of state funding and increasing costs related to teachers salaries, and technology have led to serious deficits in school budgets.

This paper will look at some of the reasons that have been considered a commodity. This paper will also focus on how the combination of an increasing number of secondary school and college and university graduates, and the reduction in the number of available jobs for graduates because of globalization, de-industrialization and outsourcing has led to the de-valuing of education in our society. This de-valuation has created situations in many places where many graduates are lucky if they can maintain the same supermarket, or fast food restaurant jobs that they held as adolescents.

The perception of education as a commodity is seen by many educational professionals as having a negative effect not only on the value of education in general, but on the future prospects of students. According to Cayton-Kupiec (2007) “Past patterns of consumption suggest that as education becomes increasingly commoditized, the gap will widen between most public institutions on the one hand and elite colleges subsidized by high tuition, big endowments, or both on the other. The former will offer bare bones, interchangeable, standardized packages of credit hours that are supposed to be roughly comparable to one another, the latter, special programs in Namibia and value-added paid internships for those who can already afford them. The degrees will be called the same thing, but the quality of "higher education," the experience, will differ significantly.” (Cayton- Kupiec, 2007, p98) This essentially means that students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds will be relegated to regional and national, state-funded universities, or state-run schools at the elementary, grammar, and secondary levels, because they cannot afford quality educations at privately funded secondary schools such as, Eton, or privately funded universities such as, Oxford, or Harvard in the United States.

This marketing and selling of education at the international level has had both positive and negative effects on international education. On one hand, students may have opportunities that they did not have when they were relegated to regional colleges in their home countries. On the other hand, the marketing and selling of education has led to increasingly fierce competition to get into the best schools at all levels of educational achievement. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that in Europe and North American nations some parents begin competing for spots in reputable pre-schools and kindergartens before their child is six months old. Education, much like the car has become a commodity whereby names like Eton or Oxford are as well known as Mercedes Benz, or Rolls Royce. Much like middle-aged men compete to own the speediest, most technologically advanced automobiles, young people and their parents compete for entrance into the most prestigious and expensive institutes of secondary and higher education.

Education as a Commodity

What is a Commodity?

According to Heber, Johnson, and Mattson (2003), “a commodity is something created, grown, produced, or manufactured for exchange on the market” (Heber, Johnson, and Mattson, 2003, p45). Education in much the same sense as labour was not initially created as a saleable item, and it therefore termed by Heber, Johnson and Mattson as a “Fictitious Commodity” (Heber, Johnson and Mattson, 2003, p45). Actual commodities are things such as corn, or wheat, or gold which are objects with actual financial value. Education, being a fictitious commodity has subjective rather than objective value. This means that the value of education changes, dependent upon factors such as the economy, the job market in a given field, and where a graduate lives. For instance, secondary school graduates make differing rates of pay in the United Kingdom than they do in Hong Kong.

According to Belfield (2000), as a commodity education is a risky investment. Belfield (2000), states that, “education may be risky and uncertain both in quality and in future use, preventing individuals from making optimal investment/consumption decisions.” (Belfield, 2000, p48). Belfield also points out that the primary value education as a commodity lies in how a secondary school or university graduate chooses to use their education. This essentially means that graduates determine the value of their own education. A graduate who promotes their qualifications to potential employers, who uses networking skills to find jobs, and who is creative and entrepreneurial has a more valuable education than the person who graduates from university but, chooses to work at the local pub.

Small (2005), states that, “for as long as education is a commodity the laws of supply and demand must operate on it. An increased supply leads to a falling in the price of the commodity. We see in the market of educated labour the kind of oversupply found in the market of manual labour so that, educated workers are either unemployed or forced to accept the same unfavorable working conditions and uneducated workers.” (Small, 2005, p155) This issue with supply and demand has been most noticeable with the changes wrought by the processes of globalization, where many white -collar skilled jobs have moved from the United Kingdom and other Western nations to countries like India, Russia, or China where they can be done with the same quality at a much lower price.

Is Education a commodity?

Some have questioned whether, or not education is a commodity. The unfortunate fact is that in the age of globalization and a technology based economy education is a commodity. What you know, and how much you know determines, largely where you will go in your life. Shubert (2004) declares, “One area in which we can quickly do damage to our universities' reputation is the question of the extent to which we will treat higher education as a commodity no different from the raw materials and manufactured goods we export.” (Shubert, 2005, Para 5) The damage has already been done, the perception of education as a commodity that arose with globalization and de-industrialization has led to a situation in the United Kingdom and the United States where a university education today is worth less (dependent on one's field of study) than A and O levels or a high school diploma was twenty years ago.

This perception of education as a commodity has worked very well in fact, to change education into a commodity. Unfortunately, this has only worked to increase the competition to get into schools where the education is considered to be worth the student's or their parent's money, and to increased costs to cover the cost of marketing one's school in the education market. Shubert (2004) states that, “Critics say British schools are charging exorbitant fees, in the range of seven times what domestic students pay, to make up for low domestic fees and inadequate public support” (Shubert, 2004, Para 8). This is not just true in the United Kingdom. Research on the Internet indicated that many schools in the United States charge exorbitant tuition and fees to international students in order to cover the costs of marketing their schools.

Moore (2000) argues, “Investing in education pays off just as investing in the stock market does, provided you wait long enough. Attending a better school gets you a better job and a better income. In other words, a certified level of education is a commodity-something that is useful and can be turned to commercial advantage.” Much like with other investments however, one must have the patience to wait and watch the value of one’s education grow, before one receives a payoff. Wahlberg (2003) states that, “ the reality that schools are institutions imbued with social meaning does not contradict the reality that schooling is also a commodity that can be bought and sold, one whose supply responds to cost and demand and other rules of economics.” (Wahlberg, 2003, p216)

Education in the era of globalization is a commodity and as such, it is labeled, branded, marketed and sold to eager young consumers, anxious to provide themselves with the best education that money can buy, figuring that the more expensive one's education is, the more payoffs the investment will have in the end. Unfortunately, the value of an education is subjective and in many cases, the investment never pays off.

The Marketing of Education

Recruitment and Marketing of Schools

In the era of globalization, education has become an increasingly competitive field; Schools at every level compete for the best athletes, the best academic achievers, the most creative students, and the most alumni donations. This occurs at all levels of education and has caused the public to look at education as a commodity that can be bought and sold just like everything else. Shannon (2005), states that, “who would have imagined even 15 years ago that students attention at schools could be sold to advertisers over Channel One” (Shannon, 2005, p51)

Education is marketed, sold and purchased in much the same way that other commodities are. Schools spend significant amounts of their budgets on marketing and according to Shannon (2005), many schools have turned to corporate sponsorship so that they can offer improved computer labs, new and technologically up to date gymnasiums complete with Olympic sized swimming pools, and all of the latest textbooks to appease the students and their parents. This begins in elementary school and continues throughout the college years. This marketing of education and as a by-product schools themselves is no longer a phenomenon of Western nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States however, recently nations as diverse as the nations of the former U.S.S. R, as well as Australia and New Zealand have begun marketing their schools as products to be consumed rather than as a resource for bright young minds.

Primary and Secondary Schools

Although the marketization of education initially began in the colleges and universities, it has since spread throughout all levels of education at the international level. This marketization has included factors such as, corporate sponsorship, and competition for students, at the primary school levels this has started as early as pre-school. Parents often begin attempting to get their children on waiting lists for the best primary and secondary schools as early as six months of age. According to Oplatka, Helmsley- Brown , and Foskett (2002), this commoditization of educations has become so widespread that educators themselves are now expected to advertise the educational institutions where they are employed. The competition for corporate funding and students is fierce and teachers are expected is expected to take on the additional role of direct sales on top of their teaching responsibilities.

This is even true in Russian Schools where until 1999 a Communist government held sway. With the fall of Communism and the onset of globalization, Russian primary schools have joined the front lines in the fight for corporate dollars. According to Lukashenko (2004), “ market reforms of the system of education have been needed in order to overcome the defects of the state.” (Lukashenko, 2004, 7) This transition to the concept of even schools at lower educational levels as a commodity is occurring at the worldwide level and the competition to get into top-level primary and secondary schools is almost as fierce as the competition to get into the best colleges and universities.

Colleges and Universities

Education is more typically seen as a commodity at the college and university level. It is after all colleges who must compete for the most skilled athletes, the best academic and artistic minds, and the best and brightest of international students. This competition has led to soaring tuition costs, and a reduction of financial assistance from the government as many governments figure that the students will find corporate sponsorship to pay for their education, or complete their education with student loans. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education (September, 19,2003) even the United Kingdom is considering a system whereby students must take their government sponsored tuition in the form of student loans which students will then pay back upon graduating.

The main area of higher education that is seen as a commodity is in the marketing of colleges to international students. One instance of this marketing colleges and universities to international students can be seen in the example of Australia. According to Mazzarol and Hosie (1996), Australia's marketing strategy when it comes to the recruitment of international students for its colleges and universities involves the promotion of Australia national environments.

According to Cubillo, Sanchez and Servillio (2006), there are several factors that influence the decision of international students when it comes to deciding on an institution of higher learning. These factors include location, availability of field of study and cost. According to Lowrie and Willmott (2006), the marketization of higher education is influenced like any other commodity by the relevance that the form of education has to the target group. For instance, it makes no sense to market a university with a top-notch philosophy program to students in a Technical Secondary School. The marketing of schools to international students has also moved into the primary and secondary school market. According to Gomes, and Murphy (2003), this is widely the case in Australia, a country that has spent a great deal of money in the last 30 years trying to attract new citizens by offering special deals on issues such as education. The marketing of education as a commodity is a simple fact of modern society. There is little to be done except to make the best of new circumstances and to do the best that can be done to ensure that with the commoditization of education, the quality of the education being offered does not falter.


Education much like gold, or silver is a commodity. Although it does not take physical form, education can be bought sold and traded for monetary value. This commoditization of the international education system has spread throughout most of the world and has in many cases influenced both the quality and the value of education. This perception of education as a commodity has widened to include primary and secondary schools as well as institutes of higher learning. This has also had a negative effect on supply and demand because the number of graduates far outweighs the availability of employment in a given field. The commoditization of education has also created rising costs at many top-notch secondary schools and universities, as they need additional funding to cover the costs of marketing their schools.

It is clear that the commoditization of education is something that is not going to go away. The increasing costs, and competition of achieving and education is an issue that young people and their parents will continue to face as the 21st century advances. One simple fact remains in that educational systems at the international levels must work to ensure that the quality of the education that they offer does not falter, and that the education they offer is no de-valued. This will become increasingly difficult in a global society as schools outside the Western world increase the quality of the education they offer in an effort to compete with established schools.

Works Cited

Belfield, Clive. (2000). Economic principles for education. London: Edward Elgar Publishers

Cayton-Kupiec, Mary. (July 13, 2007) “The commoditization of wisdom” Chronicle of Higher Education, 53, (45), 95-98

Cubillo, Jose-Maria, Sanchez, Maria, and Julio Servillio. (2006)“ International students decision making processes” The International Journal of Educational Management, 20, (2), p101-126

Gomes, Liza, and Murphy, Jamie. (2003)“ An exploratory study of marketing international education online.” The International Journal of Educational Management, 17, (3), 116-125

Heber, Benjamin, Johnson, Patrick, K, and Mattson, Kevin. (2003) Steal this university: The rise of the corporate university and the academic labor movement. New Jersey, U.S: Routledge

Lowrie, Anthony and Willmott, Hugh. (2006),Marketing higher education: The promotion of relevance and the relevance of promotion” Social Epistemology, 20, (3), 221-240

Lukashenko, M (May 2004). “ The market transformation of the system of education in Russia” Russian Education and Society, 46, (5), p 6-21

Mazzarol, Timothy and Hosie, Peter. “ Exporting Australian higher education: Future strategies in a maturing market” Quality Assurance in Education,4, (1), p37

Moore, John, W. (2000). “Education, commodity, come on, or commitment?” Journal of Chemical Education, 77, (7), p805

Oplatka, Izhar, Helmsley-Brown, Jane. In addition, Foskett, Nick, H. (2002)“ The voice of teachers in marketing their schools: Personal perspectives in comparative environments.” School Leadership and Management, 22, (2), p177-196

Shannon, Patrick. (Winter 2005) “What’s for Sale: The commoditization of education” Independent Schools, p50-53

Shubert, Dr, John. (2004)Why we shouldn’t treat higher education as a commodity.

Small, Robin (2005). Marx and Education. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd

The Chronicle of Higher Education “"In England, Selling Education by the Pint; Tuition Soars in Canada. " , 50, (4)

Wahlberg, Herbert, J. Education and capitalism: How overcoming our fears of markets and economics can improve America's schools. Stanford, CA: Hoover Press

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