Is Education a Commodity? |


Is Education a Commodity?

Dr. Mir Obaidur Rahman     21st December, 2017 10:33:51 printer

Is Education a Commodity?

Consider starkly any economic transaction. There are always two sides in any transaction process.


The person who sales the commodity is always guided by a markup that makes the profit in the transaction process.

The seller is justified for the markup for three reasons. First, he carries all the production management activates from A to Z. Secondly; he incurs capital for which he pays a price. Thirdly, he often spends money on research and development. This is true both for large scale and small scale production. Ultimately, any transaction result in a win-win situation both for the sellers and the buyers. There are also certain in built provision when the buyer is not happy with the product. Products are often called back when the producer think that he previously sold the product with a major defect. Even in developing world there is customer care centre to look for complains of the buyers. There we observe the decency and fairness in transaction both for consumer durables and daily necessities.


The world of education and the world of commodity market are quite different. Education is considered as social or public goods whose positive externalities bring dynamism and growth in the economy. Human capital manifests both the soft and hard skill embedded in the education system. The main purpose of an education system is to bring balance in the external and internal efficiency so that the country can get the required manpower in industries, research, education and technology. Private sector seldom creates positive externalities and it is the moral responsibility of the state to ensure different tiers of education at reasonable cost with financial subsidy to the disadvantaged group. This is the practice all over the world and Bangladesh is also not exception in the public domain of education. Another dimension of the education is the quality through which the educated manpower drives the wheel of growth and unfortunately Bangladesh is lagging on many aspects of quality education.


Affordability or the price one pay for education and the quality of education are important both for individual and national perspective. It is important for individual on the criteria of value of money when students bear all the costs. It is also important when state finance lion’s share of educational expenditures. Only a sound and pragmatic education system can create congenial environment for qualitative improvement in education.


There is serious deterioration of quality of education in many countries of the world including Bangladesh. The quality deterioration is a regular feature of the daily newspaper in Bangladesh and it is unfortunate that no solution is in sight. For the last few months, leakage of question papers of different level of public examinations tells a gruesome story of the weakness of the education system. Transparency International of Bangladesh [TIB] published a report in 2015 that details some of the weak links in the process and suggested remedial measures. The magnitude of the problem is reached in such a state that entry examinations and admissions in important academic institutions is at stake. There were some drives to eliminate the parallel coaching intuitions that absolutely replaced the regular academic program. It is unfortunate to see that teachers of the same institutions often using the school infrastructure coaching the same students. Do they sell education like a commodity or fortify their monetary greed?  It is alleged that students those who are not in a position to pay extra money often suffer with poor marks. This brings the affordability issue in limelight and poor parents are worst victims of such illegal pursuit.


The concept of net price i.e., the difference between the comprehensive fees minus grant is crucial to understand the quality of education. It is time to scrutinize this for the private sector education in Bangladesh. The infrastructure, logistics and the professional quality of the instructors are important dimension to ensure quality of education. Many private universities conduct academic program with inadequate infrastructures and logistics. There are only a few private universities endowed with instructors of higher academic calibre to man important positions. Many instructors have Ph.D. degrees with just a thesis and without any academic rigor or residency requirement as we see in the reputed academic institutions; not to speak of comprehensive examinations on basic and major fields. A rigorous Ph.D. program cannot be substituted by a piecemeal gesture. How do you equate a Ph.D. degree from Australia to a Ph.D. degree from a country that offer the degree just by writing a thesis. The floodgate is open now for many fake higher degree holders who really pay between $200 to $6,000 for a thesis or an essay to fulfil their requirement for degree.


It is a simple question that if any private universities requires at least three Ph.D. holders for three important positions, how many private universities out of ninety five operational universities in Bangladesh can afford to man those three positions? We often see in the Annual Report by the University Grants Commission that several universities are running without Vice Chancellor or Pro-Vice Chancellors or lack of qualified teachers or without adequate infrastructures. It tantamount that these higher academic institutions are selling just commodities not the hard or soft skills or the academic rigors to a disgruntled cohort who indeed longed for a real product or they sell to dubious customer a commodity that is devoid of real worth. Unfortunately, this is rampant in different tiers of education in Bangladesh which is ossified and coalesced in the statement of employer’s frustration. You do not need an enemy to invade your country but you devour your own country when corruption and indulgence reign in your academic pursuits. Now it is reported that the question of second grade question is leaked before the examination.


The Writer is a Professor of Economics, United International University