Education being marketed as positional good

Zeeshan Wasim

In its entirety, education is categorized as either a private or public good. If we analyze the history of education system, it becomes evident that it started off as a means of welfare for all. According to historians, the first system of education in China was formed in the Xia dynasty. Schools were opened for educating the aristocrats about literature and other essential arts. Similarly, other ancient civilizations also established such structures for conveying knowledge, for the greater good of all.

Hence, history indicates that education at its core has always been a ‘public good’. Economists might label it as a private good today. The predicament is in the fact that educationists and marketers are now utilizing practices that exhibit it as something completely disparate. They have made education transform into a positional good.

Positional goods refer to a service or a product that offers their possessors a prominent and significant status among others, due to the fact that others do not have access to the same good. This is mostly due to a limited supply which reduces the number of people that can have access to such goods.

In Pakistan, higher education is being marketed through innovative and enticing ads and other promotional content. The important point to consider is that these educational institutes might not be presenting education as a positional good deliberately, but the contemporary standards of promotion and advertising can only present it so.

It is the nature of humans to care about and compare their relative standing with others in society. The level of education and the institute at which one studies has a paramount effect on how satisfied and momentous a person feels in life. A Harvard or a LUMS graduate will obviously outshine everyone in terms of social status and satisfaction level in life, even if the peers are well-educated too. The question that arises here is: Why does it matter where we get our education from, other than the factor of the quality of education offered?

If one is eager to get admission in a reputable university for the sake of getting quality education, it is understandable. In that case, education would still be a private or public good. However, if the factors for the consideration of an institute go beyond the basic purpose of gaining quality knowledge for a comfortable and successful life, the elements of education being a positional good come to light.

The visual snippets of a student’s life filled with extraordinary and wondrous in the advertisements of current educational institutes and the tough selection criteria that might extend beyond the academic capabilities of a student highlight a dream that is wanted by many but available to a few. The changes in global marketing practices have made educationists diverge from just promoting quality education and attainment of knowledge as their key offering.

Yes, it is important for them to promote the other benefits and advantages that students will get from their institute but the educational-marketing tactics of today consider students to be clients, the knowledge as a product and getting admission to the institutes as access rather than a process of selection.

At the end of the day, as we can see from the promotions and advertisements of educational institutes that often clutter our minds, education is now being marketed as a positional good as opposed to what it started off as in the world: a public good, for the welfare of all. Education is no longer only what you need for your welfare, but it is a good that helps you stand out from the rest in terms of your status and significance.

The writer is a digital marketer, entrepreneur, columnist, freelance content writer and a graduate of the Institute of Management Sciences (IMSciences), Peshawar in business administration. He can be contacted at: He also tweets @ZeeshanWasim8.

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