Business is better than school

School advertising: criticism of lucrative business

Due to financial difficulties, directors allow advertising in their schools. It is good business for the advertising industry, parents' representatives complain that education policy has failed.

Vienna. Long break, jostling in front of the school buffet and coffee machine. On the walls there are posters designed by the students - and in between there are advertisements for cell phone contracts and fruit juice. This is almost the rule in schools today. However, this is problematic for parents and consumer advocates.

"Advertising at school is always a tightrope walk," explains Franz Asanger, school director of the Petrinum grammar school in Linz. Nevertheless, his school decided to do it. A poster brings in around 500 euros. Together with other projects, the school earns 1000 euros per year. “There's a lot to do with that.” Teachers are more likely to have concerns than students, says Asanger. “But we also have to think economically.” There are also posters in the HAK Polgarstrasse in Vienna. The school will not get rich from it. “It might be enough for one projector a year,” estimates director Christian Posad.

Schools sell their walls as advertising space, although the income is often not even in the four-digit range. In times of budget cuts, this is an opportunity to earn additional money. And the economy has also recognized the potential of school marketing. In 2004 young people in Austria had 863 million euros at their disposal. Since then there have been no studies on this in Austria, but the purchasing power of young people is likely to have increased, as in Germany. In addition, young people influence their parents' purchasing decisions. An ideal target group. And where could this be better achieved than in school?

The Ministry of Education accommodates the advertising industry. Since 1997 it has been allowed to advertise in schools as long as “the fulfillment of the tasks of the Austrian school is not impaired by this”. That means in plain language: alcohol, tobacco, sects and political parties may not be advertised. Otherwise the decision lies with the headmaster. “We give the schools their leeway,” says the ministry.


Parent representative: "Certificate of poverty"

For Theodor Saverschel, chairman of the Federal Parents' Association of Middle and High Schools, this attitude is not proof of respect for school autonomy, but rather a "certificate of poverty". The financing of the schools is a matter for the public purse, the Ministry of Education and the federal states must not be relieved of their duties, says Saverschel. By allowing advertising, the ministry is relieving itself of responsibility.

Lawyer Peter Kolba from the Association for Consumer Information (VKI) considers the "penetration of advertising right down to elementary school" problematic for another reason. Although the School Education Act allows advertising in schools, the Act against Unfair Competition prohibits addressing children directly. No problem for the ministry: "The advertising is not aimed at students, but at parents." In addition, it is up to the school principals to ensure that the law is observed. Kolba does not take this responsibility out of responsibility: "Business and schools should obey the law, that means no unfair advertising in schools." Last year, the VKI therefore sued Matura travel providers who "always and everywhere" at schools with alcohol advertise.

“You don't have to emphasize that advertising for alcohol in schools has no business,” the ministry said. But what about soft drinks and cell phone contracts? One does not want to comment on individual cases. “The headmasters have to decide according to their own instinct.” And again: One cannot interfere with the school's autonomy.


Decision by the SGA

Parent representative Saverschel is naturally less relaxed about the matter. He does not condemn a principal who tries to boost his school budget through advertising. “But if it does, then not for banks, but for theaters, music schools and sports clubs.” Kolba also comes across some content: “It doesn't make sense if a McDonald's banner is hanging in the gym. Schools should be a neutral space. "

Saverschel therefore demands that it is not the directors but the school community committee made up of student, teacher and parent representatives who decide what can be advertised. This has already been implemented in Asanger's school. “We discuss everything in the school community committee. It's a balancing act. "

At a glance

The School Education Actallows advertising as long as the personal development of the students and the tasks of the school are not impaired. Therefore alcohol, tobacco, sects and political parties are not allowed to be advertised. The headmaster decides for other products. The money raised is earmarked, it has to be put into maintaining the building or running the school. Critics demand that the federal and state governments finance schools in such a way that they do not need any advertising income.

("Die Presse", print edition, March 26, 2012)