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March 05, 2005



I have been thinking about just this subject recently. I couldn't really afford university when I was younger and my loyalties were always stretched between the McJob and school work. I finally gave up and joined the US Navy, to take advantage of educational benefits. I am now studying for a bachelor's degree in business finance from an American university in my spare time. While this impresses my immediate line manager, I highly doubt it would impress the people above him...Everyone my age here in England had more of an opportunity to pursue a bachelor's degree than I did in the US.

I really appreciated the issues you brought up about expansion of higher education while I lived in Germany. I was actually hired in London because my company could not find people who were competent or experienced enough to handle the job I took on in Germany. (Ironically, I beat out an Oxbridge graduate for the role.)

After a while, it appeared that the position was in danger of existing, so I had to start looking for work. In Germany, most of the people who would be considered my colleagues would have at least five years of state subsidised education. (In fact, many people I would interview for assignment to roles within our company had doctorates.) But I had no higher education qualifications. I had almost 20 years of work experience, most of it in management positions, but my CV would be tossed out in favour of people who only knew how to collect the dole and go to university.

Anyway, when its prizes all around, the qualifications become meaningless. Although I'll be proud when I finally graduate, because I have worked for it.

Thanks for letting me twitter on; great blog.



Surely an expansion of so-called 'vocational training courses' (HND, BTEC) and apprenticeships would go some way towards addressing the human capital deficit of continued education? Perhaps that's where the government ought to be focusing.

I would just chuck one more factor in: a value in education that is captured by neither human capital nor signaling theory - an purely innate value that produces utility that expects no specific return to the individual, and the obviously unquantifiable societal benefits ('having an educated population') that would flow from that. Of course, that's something that would be near impossible to measure so we could argue about it all night and get no resolution. Might it have an impact on crime levels, for instance? No idea what the answer to that is - I'll just leave the question hanging.


Made me laugh you cited a DfES research report - there are some great gems in the research they paid for, that if taken together undermine most of current education policy. Might well be one of the reasons why they're less interested in funding research projects these days..!


I've worked in Unis most of my life and have always KNOWN that for many of the students it was signals that matter: didn't it use to be called credentialism? But three thoughts: (1) there are great wodges of uni where it ain't so, or at least it's less so - medics, vets, engineers, lawyers etc (2) as the educational levels of school leavers sinks, the educational merits of Unis could become more important, but for (3) my guess is that in the humanities the education imparted in British Unis is sinking steadily. One result is, I suspect, that in the humanities, the difference in standard between Oxbridge and the rest keeps growing whereas in medicine, for instance, it matters much less where you go. All British medical schools are, in my supposition, full of bright students amd bright staff, and all will work you hard.


It's an interesting hypothesis. The real answer is probably that education does both - it (generally) improves human capital , but it also acts as a screen.

People with degrees demonstrate the ability to stick the course and therby signal their personal qualities, but also they demonstrate a certain minimum of academic ability/training (a reservation level of training if you like).

Is there an obvious reason why it should be exclusively one or the other? Both points are attractive to employers. Employers in diffferent sectors moreover may put different weights on one or other quality and/or signal.

An interesting issue is the question of how this affects the case for students paying their own way. If state subsidy to students has little return in terms of human capital, and all one is doing is shuffling people on a list, then why spend public money on it?


Might well be one of the reasons why they're less interested in funding research projects these days



What is the evidence for the statement that "Mature students earn less than newer graduates". Does it apply to the many part-time, mature students e.g. with Open University? Such students are unlikely to be doing the same jobs as recent graduates. (Link to PDF does not seem to work)

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