The dominance of free trade, the open market, and the presence of multi-national companies throughout the modern world reflects the enormous wealth and influence exerted by business giants while offering education franchise opportunity, whose revenues exceed that of many countries. However, increasing globalisation and scrutiny – through social activists and whistle-blowers – has compelled businesses towards a more responsible approach to their operations to allow for society’s sustainable development and other operations historically controlled by governments. As they become ever more involved with social progress and social responsibilities, education is one area that corporations can contribute to beyond the mere signing of a cheque.
Typically, businesses establish branches for social responsibility with the aim of accomplishing specified strategic objectives; these include:
- Building a positive reputation: Critics argue that this no more than a façade for brand promotion and public relations. Nonetheless, such activities become effective in not just improving the company reputation but also contributing positively in addressing social issues such as education. Business conglomerates often support educational outreach programmes or even set up independent organisations tasked with educating the next generation. This type of “cause marketing” helps companies reap considerable benefits.
- Acquire and train a highly-skilled workforce: An implicit ambition for multi-national companies is to tap high-potential students for prospective employment, particularly by funding different educational events such as career fairs and projects such as school annex constructions. Companies advertise their short- and long-term charitable intentions through their CSR activities in higher education institutes to attract students to apply for employment, recruiting on-campus, providing funding for students pursuing further qualifications, all while building a positive brand name.
- Accomplishing a company vision: Certain companies have education and its social causes as being their entire raison d’être; Pearson Education, for instance, provides career guidance and educational services. With education being monetised increasingly, a number of companies are involved actively within the education system.
- Grassroots CSR involvement: Art, environmental, sport, human rights, and various other charitable causes receive plenty of funding since companies are involved at a grassroots level. This involvement level does not extend, in most cases, to education where donations are predominant and the implementation phase of various education-related projects often is overlooked if not ignored. Here, companies need greater involvement to make a direct impact if they wish to increase their profile and ensure that their funds are channelled into the right places.
Improvement possibilities – linked to the above point, contributions by various government- and non-government-organisations are not enough unless deeper participation and implementation is undertaken. Businesses, with their expertise in managing large-scale projects, can supersede governments and NGOs in the administration and management of such projects. Apart from their expertise, businesses can support today’s budget restrained educational projects, which rely solely upon individual and corporate donations. In turn, this will provide highly-qualified staff with an incentive to teach, since the deterrent of low pay now diminishes. The skills required in the education field are specific and attracting an appropriate workforce, which can include the involvement of company employees similar to volunteers, aids in improving the education quality, particularly in the developing regions of the world.
The ability of businesses to supplement funding to government and NGO spending on school construction, teacher training, and making education affordable circumvents the financial bottleneck and allows the business community to be portrayed positively. Coupled with their operational expertise and stakeholder outreach, businesses have the potential to transform the education sector by participating actively in the very facet from which society benefits.