Monday, September 05, 2011

Reputation in Education

Shall we call it the brand? But reputation is slightly different from a brand. Brand is like personality, what one's known for. It can include the likeable and not so likeable traits, sometimes intentionally. Reputation is somewhat of a subset, what's good of the institution in question, word of which spreads far and wide. Reputation is also more than word of mouth, because it is not just what my friend said, but this is supposed to be - what everyone knows. 

I am interested in reputation as I think this is the only way way an education business can generate a surplus. In the strict economic sense, this surplus isn't profit: This will be more like rent. Profits are generated for taking risks, rent is for having created a privileged position. Reputation is all about creating a privileged position which students want to gain access to. What price is the access to the class of 2015 of Harvard: Priceless, I would assume.

The analogy to rent is useful because it seems education is more like the business of farming than hunting and gathering (though rent of this kind arise not just from land but from privileged position of any description) . Education business is hardly the place for an opportunist, because running after opportunities available often ruins the chances of building the high grounds immune from floods. Opportunism in education, much unlike some other businesses, may actually erode surplus rather than creating it. 

Also, education is that curious commercial activity where the customer does not have much choice of an exit and hence they depend on on what Hirschman will call 'Voice'. They say when they don't like things. This is unlike most other businesses , yet again. Slightly easier, perhaps, as any decline is immediately visible, and one does not have go looking far what is wrong with an education institution. Reputation in an education institution, in that sense, is omnipresent, and is being created and destroyed, every day.

Which makes its a business unsuitable for the faint-hearted. I was once advised, by someone who was a veteran in education business, that education is all about 'details'. I resented this at the time, being big picture type as I usually am, but I have come to learn that the reputational consequences of missing out on the details. And, in turn, one must deduce that the education businessmen are only those who will be painstakingly build things up brick by brick,  detail by detail, while keeping their eye fixated on the ultimate shape of the cathedral they are building, and doing so, who are brave enough to pass off some of the rewards of the day, as they would only distract and worse still, they may induce mistakes which might make the spires unsustainable.

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