Category Archive • Economics of education
January 26, 2005
The unintended consequences of selective price control

Oxford University is allowed to charge the full wack for foreigners, but is forbidden to charge what it likes to locals and the government won't make up enough of the difference. So, it wants more foreigners and fewer locals:

Oxford University, under-funded by the Government by £95 million a year, is to cut the number of British undergraduates it admits and "vigorously" recruit more foreign students, who pay the full cost of their degrees.

The one-to-one tutorial system - the heart of Oxford teaching for almost 900 years – is to be reduced and more will be done by graduate assistants instead of "overworked" lecturers.

Applicants are likely to face new verbal reasoning and aptitude tests similar to those taken by pupils wanting to study medicine and law so as to eliminate the "tail" of under-performing students and ensure that only the brightest are admitted.

Dons will face regular reviews of their performance and a reduced role in governing the university following a drastic reduction in the "multiplicity" of its committees.

The reforms were part of a radical package announced yesterday by John Hood, 52, a New Zealand academic and management expert who took over as vice-chancellor three months ago, the first outsider to be appointed to the post.

Ah yes, those management experts, the bearers of bad news which the academics don't want to face but know they must. Just so long as Oxford University confines itself to doing management, and refrains from speaking it. (Mission statements, etc.)

Nations get poorer without realising it, and then suddenly they do realise it. This story reminds me of the stories I hear from France about how old French people can't afford to buy little houses in the country, because the foreigners are buying them all at prices beyond what they can manage.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:52 AM
Category: Economics of education
January 25, 2005
Paying children to stay on at school

Tonight and tomorrow I want to attempt (although I promise nothing) some slightly more substantial blog writing, maybe for here, maybe for elsewhere. So I just want to fling up something here to enable me to forget here for the day.

And the education news story from recent days that I have found most interesting just now has been this one:

The Government is set to give a £100 bonus to thousands of teenagers throughout the UK for continuing in education.

Under a scheme rewarding teenagers for carrying on in education after completing their GCSEs, children who have managed to maintain good attendance records over the past few months are to get a bonus £100 on top of their means-tested Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

That programme has seen students receive up to £30 per week since September, and of the 270,000 children across England who have taken advantage of the scheme, around three-quarters have good enough attendance figures to qualify for the bonus award.

The UK has one of the worst continuance rates for 16-year-olds in the industrialised world, but the Government's EMA scheme is designed to combat that by encouraging more teenagers from economically deprived backgrounds to further their education.

It is understood that the total cost of the bonus system will reach around £20 million, prompting criticisms from the Liberal Democrats that the payments are "excessive".

As educational outrages go, this one doesn't strike me as especially outrageous. Indeed, as a preparation for working life it seems to me rather better than demanding attendance in exchange for nothing.

Because it is a new and untried method of spending public money, this scheme has attracted lots of criticism, but honestly, many of the educational spending initiatives I read about tend to be far more wasteful. Presumably, any month now, all kinds of stories will start emerging about kids showing up for their money, but otherwise doing bugger all, but I'm guessing quite a few will genuinely benefit from the arrangement, quite aside from the money.

I of course hope that once the principle of paying children to do school work is accepted, this might lead to wider acceptance of the idea of children being paid to do work work. But alas, this scheme is more likely to be viewed as yet another way to entice children away from work work, to rescue them from it. Heaven forbid that children should ever do anything truly useful. That would never do, would it?

How about a compromise? Children (especially boys) leave school at 13, when they think it's stupid, and get paid to do work work. Then, they get paid to go back to school, when, at more like 17, they start to see the point of it. Just thinking aloud.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:24 PM
Category: Economics of education
November 18, 2004
Does education cause economic growth or is it the other way round?

Busy day today, Volunteer Reading Helping at Paradise Primary, and then out again this evening.

This was the most interesting thing I was quickly able to google to. It begins thus:

Research has failed to establish whether increasing education levels drive economic development or whether economic development affords improved education.

Quite so. Rich men's wives have diamond necklaces. So get rich by buying your wife a diamond necklace. Well, I can imagine circumstances in which this just might work.

But goodbye for today. More substantial fare tomorrow, I hope.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:17 PM
Category: Economics of education
September 21, 2004
Australia ahead of other countries in not chucking money away on education

Just to say ...

Education seen as cost, not investment

... that I think those doing the seeing (here - free registration required) have a point.

Australia has neglected its financial responsibility on education by not matching the funding increases to schools and universities made by other countries, according to a report released yesterday.

Education people think education should get more money. Stop the Internet, I can't handle the excitement.

"There is only one explanation for this: education has become a lower public priority," the deans say in the report, New Teaching: New Learning. "Despite rhetoric to the contrary, education is presently viewed as a cost rather than an investment by Australian politicians."

"New" teaching and "new" learning sounds like it's all going to cost a lot more, very soon. Just how much of an "investment" it will be, on the other hand …

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:49 AM
Category: AustralasiaEconomics of education
September 03, 2004
Teacher poaching – don't stop it – profit from it

This definitely remains the biggest school related story just now, with this other horror, also related to the French headscarf ban in schools, not far behind.

But in some ways I found this story to be the most interesting educational titbit in the mainstream media recently.

I have been banging on about educational globalisation here for months. So I am not a bit surprised to see the kind of people whose reaction to any problem is to try to ban it, trying to ban the importing of teachers by rich countries from poor countries, regardless of all the longer term benefits that might result from such a migration.

A clampdown on the poaching of teachers from developing countries to plug recruitment gaps in British schools was agreed yesterday by the government.

Education ministers of 23 Commonwealth states signed up to a package of measures designed to tackle the plundering of teaching expertise by the UK and other states. The poaching has put at risk flagging international efforts to achieve universal primary education within a decade.

This sounds like a classic case of scapegoating to me. They were never going to achieve universal primary education within a decade, and this sets in motion the process of explaining why it isn't their fault but is someone else's.

Instead of moaning about "poaching", why don't these places try to get this thing organised as a valuable export industry? How about some kind of transfer fee system, or something similar. Don't ban it guys. Profit from it. If you are so good at training internationally desirable teachers, be proud, and get rich from it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:55 PM
Category: Economics of educationTeacher training
June 03, 2004
Why teachers are "underpaid" compared to orthodontists

Here is an article bemoaning how little teachers are paid in the USA, compared to orthodontists.

And here are the gratuitous pictures used in the article to help explain what else teachers do to make ends meet.

TeachPay1.gif  TeachPay2.gif  TeachPay3.gif

Answer (reprise): a free market in education.

Actually, that would probably result in quite a few fabulously well paid teachers, a lot of adequately paid teachers, and even more very, very badly paid teachers, desperate to get plum jobs but mostly never getting them. Like acting in other words.

The reason that teachers are "underpaid" and orthodontists better paid is that poking about in people's brains is a lot more appealing than poking about in their mouths.

Also, most of teaching is basically child-minding rather than actual teaching, and any old twat can learn to do that, whereas not any old twat can orthodont. Orthodonting even adequately is hard. If done incompetently, huge damage would routinely result after only a few hours of idiotic orthodonting. How often do idiot teachers do the kind of serious and irreparable damage to a pupil that an idiot orthodontist would do almost every time if he was an idiot? Therefore people are rationally willing to pay extra for properly qualified orthodonting.

Plus, nobody can agree what good teaching is, whereas there is widespread agreement about what good orthodonting is. Therefore, people are rationally willing to pay a lot for an actual agreed product, but they skimp on that which cannot be rationally decided on. Instead they (rationally) pick with a cheap pin. The more of a free market in teaching there is, the less this is true, but it would still remain somewhat true, I think, no matter how free the teaching market.

There is more widespread agreement about what a good school is (as opposed to "good teaching"), so people pay fortunes to buy, in fees or in mortgage payments to be in the right area. But this money doesn't find its way through to the mere teachers, on the whole, for the reasons stated above.

Nevertheless, a few free market teachers do already get paid a lot. I have already written here about Tony Buzan and Michel Thomas. They both get paid a lot. As do British TV's star history (two links here) teachers.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:41 PM
Category: Economics of education
April 05, 2004
The Economist on the economics of home schooling

I missed this when it was first posted. It's called "A Free Market in Education", so it's right up my street. It's about the economics of home schooling, and the fact that the Economist is impressed by said economics.

One homeschool family started a homeschool retail business in 1994, and spent the last 10 years learning how to successfully serve other families that teach their own children at home. Nathan and Lindley Rachal have decided to take what they learned as homeschool entrepreneurs to serve other homeschool businesses. They have founded the homeschool books and business association, with a trade journal, "The Connection," and a website at Their mission is to make sure that other homeschool families don't have to "reinvent the wheel" as they step out to bring new products to market.

Free minds and free markets have made America great, and homeschoolers are well on their way to establishing a lasting tradition of entrepreneurship in education. As more families choose homeschooling and more homeschoolers serve this market, the "Economist" story will not be the last on homeschool capitalism. Next stop, Wall Street Journal?


To be a bit more serious than that, one of the fatal defects of the "progressive" tradition in education has been its besottedness with "democracy" - used pretty much as a code word for socialism, state control, etc. – and its hostility to "capitalism". And the problem with that is that this means favouring freedom in education, but opposing it everywhere else, because "capitalism" is what free people do when they are left to get on with doing what they want with what is theirs. The marriage of progressive educational thinking with entrepreneurial and pro-capitalist thinking is thus a switch of great historic significance.

The fun really starts when entrepreneurial thinking starts to penetrate the lives and thoughts of children, with a continuum being established between the education of themselves that they boss at their schools (or whatever) and the larger enteprises they later boss in the big wide world out there. At the moment, you pretty much have to drop out of education to become any sort of serious entrepreneur.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:43 PM
Category: Economics of educationEducation theory
March 15, 2004
Paul Graham on nerds - revisited

A nerd-friend who wishes to remain anonymous emailed me with a link to Paul Graham's excellent essay entitled Why Nerds Are Unpopular, pointing out that Graham is also the person who wrote this.

I wrote about this piece here. But, having re-read Graham's piece, I am appalled at how completely I misunderstood it, saying of it, this:

Notice that Graham doesn't say that "in the abstract people in poorer countries are monstrously cruel to one another". He merely notes that cruelty happens, without claiming that the people being cruel are cruel by their inherent nature. Yet he makes that exact claim about children. I think he's flat wrong, and that children, like adults, are nice or nasty depending on the pressures they face. A few are truly evil, even in a nice world. A few are saints, even in a nasty world. Most children, like most adults, go either way, depending.

The only explanation I can offer for that is that I hadn't read the piece other than the bit I quoted, from near the beginning.

Here's a big chunk from the middle of Graham's piece:

Teenage kids used to have a more active role in society. In preindustrial times, they were all apprentices of one sort or another, whether in shops or on farms or even on warships. They weren't left to create their own societies. They were junior members of adult societies.

Teenagers seem to have respected adults more in the past, because the adults were the visible experts in the skills they were trying to learn. Now most kids have little idea what their parents do in their distant offices, and see no connection (indeed, there is precious little) between schoolwork and the work they'll do as adults.

And if teenagers respected adults more, adults also had more use for teenagers. After a couple years' training, an apprentice could be a real help. Even the newest apprentice could be made to carry messages or sweep the workshop.

Now adults have no immediate use for teenagers. They would be in the way in an office. So they drop them off at school on their way to work, much as they might drop the dog off at a kennel if they were going away for the weekend.

What happened? We're up against a hard one here. The cause of this problem is the same as the cause of so many present ills: specialization. As jobs become more specialized, we have to train longer for them. Kids in preindustrial times started working at about fourteen at the latest; kids on farms, where most people lived, began far earlier. Now kids who go to college don't start working full-time till 21 or 22. With some degrees, like MDs and PhDs, you may not finish your training till 30, which is close the average life expectancy in medieval times.

Teenagers now are useless, except as cheap labor in industries like fast food, which evolved to exploit precisely this fact. In almost any other kind of work, they'd be a net loss. But they're also too young to be left unsupervised. Someone has to watch over them, and the most efficient way to do this is to collect them together in one place. Then a few adults can watch all of them.

If you stop there, what you're describing is literally a prison, albeit a part-time one. The problem is, many schools practically do stop there. The stated purpose of schools is to educate the kids. But there is no external pressure to do this well. And so most schools do such a bad job of teaching that the kids don't really take it seriously-- not even the smart kids. Much of the time we were all, students and teachers both, just going through the motions.

And here is how the piece ends:

It's important for nerds to realize, too, that school is not life. School is a strange, artificial thing, half sterile and half feral. It's all-encompassing, like life, but it isn't the real thing. It's only temporary, and if you look you can see beyond it even while you're still in it.

If life seems awful to kids, it's neither because hormones are turning you all into monsters (as your parents believe), nor because life actually is awful (as you believe). It's because the adults, who no longer have any economic use for you, have abandoned you to spend years cooped up together with nothing real to do. Any society of that type is awful to live in. Occam's razor says you don't have to look any further to explain why teenage kids are unhappy.

I've said some harsh things in this essay, but really the thesis is an optimistic one - that several problems we take for granted are in fact not insoluble after all. Teenage kids are not inherently unhappy monsters. That should be encouraging news to kids and adults both.

Mea culpa.

I agree with my nerd-friend that this really is an excellent piece.

Once again, the hormone theory of adolescence is challenged. Society is to blame for adolescence, not hormones.

Where I think I really do (still) disagree with Paul Graham is when he says that kids are kept away from work merely because they are useless. I think they have been kept away from work because a lot of powerful people thought that was a good idea, including parents. If they can be persuaded that it was not a good idea to render teenagers useless, and I believe a lot of them have been so persuaded already, then we are well on the way to solving this problem.

I don't think teenagers are inherently useless, any more than they are inherently "teenagers". If we wanted to make better use of these people, we could.

But none of that in any way diminishes my admiration for this piece of Graham's, or my gratitude to my friend for reminding me of its existence.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:03 PM
Category: Economics of education
March 11, 2004
Education is harder to steal (and therefore also harder to tax) than physical wealth

I went looking (i.e. googling) for "Blaise Pascal" and "Phonetics", in order to sort out the connundrum here (see comments), but without success so far. I have as yet found nothing except a string of links to writings about information technology which mentioned phonetic alphabets in connection with the rise of printing, and then later the fact that Pascal invented a primitive adding machine.

But I did chance upon this (where there is apparently some kind of phonetics/Pascal nugget that I have yet to find), a compendium of quotations. From there to another compendium of quotations about education was an easy step. Of these, this, from Benjamin Franklin, on the economics of education, was new to me:


"If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him."

How true. That would go a long way to accounting for the way that the graphs measuring education mania and measuring crime have both gone upwards together. The latter trend would intensify the former, as a method of protecting wealth.

For "crime", don't just read the private sector version. Although some of the means of acquiring education can be taxed, in a very crude and approximate way, the final state itself, of actually being educated, is far harder to tax than it is to tax physical wealth.

This process makes itself felt most strongly in the relationship between parents and children. Handing physical wealth on to children is hard, in most parts of the world. So, handing on education replaces the handing on of physical wealth as the means by which our selfish genes assert themselves in the modern (i.e. heavily taxed) world.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:40 PM
Category: Economics of education
March 09, 2004
The Alien Landscape Weblog on how to nurture "teenagers" differently

My warmest thanks to Alan Little for emailing me about a posting on the Alien Landscape Weblog called On the evils of easy grading.

It's about the economics of education. Education as currently organised is a gigantic waste of juvenile energy. Teenagers - I would say: by definition (this is what a "teenager" is) – sit around doing extraordinarily little, and the truly scandalous bit is that the cleverer they are, the truer this often is. Result, they behave like "teenagers".

Key paragraphs:

But, you say, we're talking about teenagers here. Teenagers lack judgement and maturity, and if you let them out without a keeper, who knows what they'll do?

Teenagers behave that way today, of course. But that's not because that's all they're capable of. Remember the old Soviet saying "As long as they pretend to pay us, we'll pretend to work"? Teenagers, like their older counterparts, rarely put forth their best effort unless they have a reason. Since diligence and maturity don't shorten their sentences, and immaturity and laziness don't get them into real trouble or lower their standard of living, it's not surprising that they're not really trying. There's no biological reason that they're incapable of being productive, useful adult citizens, it's just that there's no payoff for them. If they've got marketable skills and their own place, property, and liberty that they can improve through hard work, common sense, and ingenuity or lose through laziness, impulsiveness, or viciousness, they'll be just as inclined as anyone else to straighten up and fly right. It's clear that they're not pushing themselves to their limits, so I don't see any reason to believe anyone's assertions about just what their limits are based on observations of today's teenagers.

I have the feeling that the claim that smart kids do less work may be false, in lots of cases if clearly not in all. Smart kids generally have smart parents, and smart parents often "clean up" those confused signals by attaching rewards to each item of educational progress, and punishments to educational torpor or general "teenager"-ness. (Remember the girl who got a Cadillac, just for doing well at school?)

Nevertheless, the point about the non-biological-ness of teenager-ness is surely right. I did a sociology degree, and I actually learned quite a lot from doing it. The main thing I learned is that what my sociology teachers called "society" or "social structure" - and what I, under the influence of libertarian writers and pamphleteers and economists was starting to think of more as an "incentive structure" (although not yet with those sort of exact words) - matters.

One moment in 1945, all Germans adult males are fighting you and must be treated with extreme suspicion. Then something big happens in the big wide world out there ("Germany" surrenders in the war) and immediately all German adult males start to behave entirely differently. All of them. Society. (And in this case "history".) Explanations of previous, hostile German behaviour based on the immutability of the German version of human nature simply must be wrong. They are certainly woefully insufficient. Biology, that is to say, is not a satisfactory explanation of what is happening, even if it does have some bearing.

So yes, teenagers must have the energy to be a nuisance and the psychological energy to defy what passes for authority in their lives. But whether they behave like "teenagers" or not is a function of the society they find themselves in. Hormone theories of teenager-ness are excuses used by people who are presiding over unsatisfactory social arrangements, blaming the victims of these arrangements instead of changing the arrangements. It's the same with the theory that slaves (i.e. black people) are inherently slavelike. Or, many home-edders and home-ed supporters like me would add, the theory that children are inherently childlike.

I realise that I have a problem with biological and sociological/economic theories. I believe strongly in both. (Does this make me rather rare, apart from the general public I mean?) Young humans do have a definite nature, which is different from puppy nature or kitten nature or junior crab nature. But how that nature asserts itself is radically different depending on the social/economic influences that impinge upon it. Nature and nurture.

I could elaborate, but that's more than enough profundity for one post.

FINAL final point: I have just been wrestling with how to categorise this posting. I picked three from my list that seemed particularly pertinent, but could have picked at least half a dozen more. This shows, I think, how much the Alien Landscape man and I are thinking along similar lines, not neccesarily answering all questions the same way, but wrestling with lots of the same questions. So thank you again Alan.

September 30, 2003
Alison Wolf on how job success causes job training rather than vice versa

That wealth causes education (because wealthy people can afford it) rather than education causing wealth is a familiar notion to regular readers of this blog. Now here is some writing (from Alison Wolf's Does Education Matter?) about how job success might also cause job training. The ususal nothing being that job training causes job success (pp. 149-150 of my Penguin edition).

What little we know about training practices suggests another scenario as well. Training is more frequent for those higher up the hierarchy; but perhaps much of it follows from success at work, rather than causing it. It may not be about adding skills with a general economic pay-off but rather something that comes with certain jobs. For example, some research I have been doing recently shows that interviewing skills are a very common topic of in-company training for managers. Companies take these courses very seriously, partly because they want managers to make effective hiring decisions, but mostly because they are terrified of ending up before an employment tribunal. Attending such courses is part and parcel of promotion, and so is very likely to be associated with success and higher pay; but it is training that tags along with a successful career, rather than training that leads to one.

If a significant amount of training follows from, rather than causes, people's career success, this would certainly explain some puzzling findings. Remember that a major reason to expect systematic under-spending on training is fear of poaching. Employers supposedly train less for fear that trained employees will be snapped up (for higher wages) by other companies which didn't incur the training costs. Yet in practice individuals who receive training are less likely to move than those who do not, and the pay-off to training appears, on the whole, to be higher when you stay with the employer who provided it.

Which means that just spraying job training all over the people who are not now getting it, or who are thought not now to be getting enough of it, is unlikely to make any difference other than to spread confusion, waste and cynicism.

Note also the point about how some (lots of?) training is about legal requirements rather than about the work itself. Regulation regulation regulation brings forth education education education, in self defence. Which might account for why so many educated people - by which I mean schooled people - are so fond of regulation.

Wolf's book is one of the best I've ever read for getting a broad sense of the various educational policies our government has pursued over the years and decades, and of what expensive and counter-productive flops they've mostly been.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:05 PM
Category: Economics of education
September 29, 2003

Jonathan Wilde here explains the difference between a real free market in education, and a business merely managing government schools on behalf of the government.


Edison Schools has nothing whatsoever to do with the free market.

It's a point I often make, but I think "nothing whatsoever" is putting it a bit too strongly. Only a bit mind.

The basic point is sound, and one I make here regularly. But by running education as a business, even if governments are the only customers of it so far, Edison at least helps to establish the principle that regular education for regular people can indeed be a business. And by supplying an alternative to what I believe they call over there The Blob, Edison may at least help to break the power of that grim entity.

But I guess Jonathan's reply would be that Edison will soon become just another bit of The Blob.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:54 PM
Category: Economics of education
September 16, 2003
Natalie Solent on rebellious prisoners

There's an excellent posting by Natalie Solent about the nuances of just how direct is the relationship between time spent at school, education, individual economic success, and collective economic success. And never let it be forgotten that economic success is supposed to be about people being happy, which is why this concluding paragraph is so especially good:

Joanne Jacobs posts a link to a study that describes another reason why increased staying-on rates do not always add to the sum of human happiness. Her story refers to the US, but does anyone doubt the same could be said here? One of the nicer things about being a grown up is that for most of us the chances of being pushed around and insulted on a daily basis go down drastically once you leave school. I noticed an improvement in my quality of life once I hit the Lower Sixth and one or two of the more disaffected pupils had left - and I went to a fairly orderly girls' grammar. The improvement was nothing to do with academic selection (I really missed some friends who left to work in shops or have babies) and everything to do with all those who remained being volunteers. There's a spectrum between a student who is fully committed to education and an utterly rebellious prisoner. Government targets to "improve" staying-on rates do not increase the number of prisoners (we are talking about 16+ year olds, after all, who could leave if they chose) but they do shift the spectrum in the prisoner direction. More young people are in school who would rather be elsewhere, and they tend to horse around.

Lower the school leaving age to zero, I say.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:32 PM
Category: Economics of education
Take your pick: sovietisation or five star hotels

The Sovietisation meme is getting around:

Sports centres don't matter. Teachers do. A school is made or unmade by its teachers, and good teachers value the spirit in which they can teach more than sumptuous facilities. Part of the point of being an independent-minded teacher is that you can follow your own genius, if you have any, instead of being treated, as seems the fate of many teachers in state schools, like a Soviet coal miner whose only goal is to fulfil the latest five-year plan.

That's from a telegraph piece by Andrew Gimson on the independent sector price fixing row. There's more to education, he says, than getting and spending lots of money. Earlier paragraph:

… great schools do not depend only upon money. Many were the creation of one outstanding head teacher, who either set up a new school or else revived an old foundation. These teachers did not succeed because they had pots of money, or because they could accommodate their pupils in buildings that are scarcely distinguishable from a five-star hotel and country club. They usually succeeded in straitened circumstances, in makeshift premises, because parents and pupils realised that they understood something about education. We need many more such men and women today.

James Tooley would agree with that.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:12 PM
Category: Economics of educationSovietisation
September 15, 2003
Stephen Pollard on education

I've just done what I hope was a big plug over at Samizdata for the new Stephen Pollard blog, and while digging around there, I realised that it is now as easy to read Stephen Pollard back catalogue, and link to selected items, as it used to be difficult.

For the purpose of this blog, then, you go here, and start at the top. Go down a bit and you find that on August 11th, Pollard had a education piece in the Evening Standard:

… Money may be going into the "education budget", but most of it is not – and rarely ever has been – going to schools themselves. It goes instead to Local Education Authorities, who then pass it on – in theory – to schools. And that is the nub of the problem.

When you go to a supermarket, you go directly to the checkout. You don't wander outside, find a middle man, give him your money and wait while he buys on your behalf. But that is precisely what happens to the education budget. When LEAs get hold of the money they then, to use the supermarket analogy, say not only that they have discovered a far better product than the one you asked for, but that they need to take a proportion of it themselves to pay for the administration of this essential service.

There is only one sensible way of spending the money: abolishing the wasted bureaucracy and political point scoring of LEAs, and instead handing it over to the people who are in the best position to decide what they need and how they should allocate their money – schools themselves.

Forceful, opinionated, and better informed than most of the stuff you'll read here by me, but no agonisings about whether compulsoriness is, or is any longer, a good thing to unleash upon generation after generation of children. For Pollard, the only question is how to improve the unleashing of it. Nevertheless, well worth a trawl back.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:05 AM
Category: Economics of education
September 07, 2003
The Russians are coming

Russian teachers, that is. It seems that being part of the EU isn't necessary.

The Independent's subheading says a lot in a few words, both about the pay, and about the work:

Highly qualified, they earn huge sums compared to pay back home. But there is the culture shock ...

That's going to be a fun story to track. Another part for Arnold Schwarzenneger maybe, if that Californian job doesn't work out. Red Heat meets Kindergarten Cop.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:37 PM
Category: Economics of education
August 20, 2003
Australian schools in stage musical copyright fees schock horror outrage difficulty

This is rather sad:

SCHOOL students are being deprived of the chance to perform popular musicals and plays because of sky-rocketing performance copyright fees being commanded by licensing corporations.

Performance copyright laws in Australia make few allowances for schools, forcing them to pay up to $10,000 in fees for performances they seldom profit from.

As a result, many schools are being forced to cancel plans to stage popular musical productions.
Critics claim the exorbitant copyright fees are placing the creative development of students who are striving for careers in the performing arts at risk.

Roseville College music director John Barnes said the school no longer staged big musicals. A performance to farewell a principal was nearly ruined because the school couldn't afford to pay thousands to stage a section of My Fair Lady.

Yes, well, I don't know what that signifies exactly or what if anything ought to be done about it all, but it makes a change from the usual fare here, of homeschooling and school schooling of the more usual sort. Maybe there's some kind of gay angle? Anyway, if you want to read all of it, all of it is here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:45 PM
Category: Economics of education
August 02, 2003
Why Janet Daley is glad she worked her way through college

One of the better tree consuming enterprises in Britain is a thing called The Week, which is a summary of the output of the rest of the print media. This week's The Week came out today. There's some best articles page, which features some of the best chunks of commentary they can find, and this week's number two British chunk is this, from Janey Daley, in the Telegraph:

When I was a student at Berkeley, says Janet Daley, I spent my evenings in a San Francisco cinema ushering people to their seats. I was not alone. Working your way through college is what most American undergraduates do - even the rich ones. It's not just a way to pay for your studies; it's regarded as a social good in itself. To Americans, economic self-sufficiency is a virtue. Imagine my shock then, when I came to Britain for postgraduate work and was told that my college would be most unlikely to permit me to work. In Britain, I soon realised, having to take a job while at college is regarded as an affront: consider how shocked we were all meant to be this week at the news that one in five Oxford students now find it necessary to do so. Underlying this attitude is an ingrained haughtiness: you don't go to university in Britain just to be educated but to become a certain sort of person. And that person does not wait tables. Small wonder relations between the classes are so much more relaxed in America than they are here: in America, the man who brings you-coffee "may be a future professor of history".

Quite so. That point about how you never know who you might be insulting is one of my favourite arguments in favour of rampant capitalism, USA-style.

Certainly some of the best education I've had has been on the job, and the nastier the job was the more educational it tended to be. I once had a month and a half stuffing plastic bottles two at a time under a machine that spewed photographic chemicals. One mistake, and you spend the rest of the day with your genitals soaked in the stuff.

I never got it wrong, so I was spared the worst of it. Good hands, I guess. Not clumsy. All that keeping wicket at school.

But imagine doing something like that for your whole working life. I had plenty of imagining to do when I was doing it, and that was definitely one of the things I imagined. (Not necessarily ghastly, was my conclusion, if you were really good at it and not good for anything more complicated or difficult.) Maybe I was only pretending to be a worker type worker during the vacation, but the experience surely made me a better person, and a better educated person. A different "certain sort of person", you might say.

Here's the whole piece.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:07 PM
Category: Economics of educationLearning by doing
January 24, 2003
Prizes for all - private-school style

Article by Alice Thomson in the Telegraph. Claims (I have no way of knowing whether it is true or not) that private schools in the UK will, when confronted with non-academic pupils, seek to find things that they can excel at. She contrasts this with the state approach in the same situation which is to prevent anyone from succeeding.

Also includes the claim that state education (on a per child basis) is now only fractionally less expensive than the private sector. Again, I have no way of knowing whether it is true or not but it is pretty devastating stuff if it is.

Posted by Patrick Crozier at 05:00 AM
Category: Economics of educationThe private sector
December 13, 2002
Years of education equals money

One of my favorite recent blogger discoveries is Ted Barlow. Like all good bloggers, he convinces you that he is telling it as he truly sees it, which made this slice of wisdom, from his piece called "A few things I've learned working in market research" all the more depressing:

- The correlation between income and education is one of the strongest I’ve ever seen in social science. It forced me to believe that parents who force their whiny children to stay in high school and go to college are doing their kids a great favor.

What depresses me is that I bet you anything this is true, at any rate the correlation. Ted Barlow says it, and so do a thousand other people. We live in a hideously credential-dominated society.

I suppose this comes of there being so many of us. As individuals, if we want to earn lots of money, we have to be constantly impressing strangers, and doing it quickly. That is to say, the impressing bit has to be doable quickly. It doesn't matter how long we stress and strain to prepare the impressive thing itself. And employers who want to get very rich can't only be making use of people they already know, or always be going to the immense trouble of finding out all about the real merits of the people they are considering employing. No way would exams disappear in a totally free educational market, where children were allowed to leave school at zero and go and work down coal mines or up chimneys if they wanted to. There'd be exams in that, too.

So, you get this self-fulfilling prophecy carved into the concrete foundations of our society. Clever people do lots of "education". Stupid people don't. It becomes true. If you drop out, you are stupid, because you are condemning yourself to a lifetime of either being asked why you dropped out so early and not having a really smooth answer, or of not applying for any of those jobs where you need a smooth answer. Result, you really do get your hands on a lot less money. It's true in the same kind of way that being a Soviet dissident meant that you really were crazy, because only a crazy person would take a serious public swipe at the government of the USSR.

And, before the commenters start in, it's even true despite the fact that "school leavers" are the very definition of stupidity. Despite that, it remains true that the longer you delay becoming a school leaver, the cleverer you nevertheless must be underneath all the stupidity, and the more they pay you, despite all your school acquired stupidity.

I remember being very scornful when I first learned about how the druids used to do upward social mobility by lying in a coffin full of ice-cold water all night with only their noses above water, composing Druidic poetry. Thank goodness we don't do that kind of thing now, I thought. Then I thought some more.

I wonder, if I keep this blog going for five solid years, with something here every Monday to Friday, with maybe extra somethings at the weekend, will that count as a qualification? Probably not. Doesn't show enough willingness to knuckle under and do as I'm told. I didn't know when I began it that it might count as a qualification, therefore it wouldn't. Only when it is ordained from on high that blogging can count as a course credit, will it do so. And my infinitely depressing point here is: this makes sense.

And a Merry Christmas to you all.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:26 AM
Category: Economics of education
July 31, 2002
Well does it?

I don't generally pay the full wack for books. I wait until I see good stuff in the remainder shops. But I've made an exception for this book, reviewed by J. R. Shackleton in Economic Affairs (the Journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs – Vol. 23 No. 2 – June 2003 – paper only so far as I am aware):

This is a good and timely book. The current government's obsession with 'education, education, education' has led it into one problem after another as it seeks to micromanage the huge UK education industry. Last year's botched teacher vetting and the A-level regrading fiasco, two recent examples, have not deterred its ever-growing compulsion to meddle, meddle, meddle. And don't even start me on the recent White Paper on Higher Education.

Alison Wolf, Professor of Education at London University's Institute of Education, is not an economist. But she attributes many of the government's failures - and those of previous Conservative governments - to the mistaken belief that education is crucial to the success of the economy. She writes that: 'An unquestioning faith in the economic benefits of education has brought with it huge amounts of wasteful government spending, attached to misguided and even pernicious policies'(p. xi).

Professor Wolf shows that the evidence contradicts the view that government spending on education plays a decisive role in economic growth. There are plenty of examples of rapidly growing economies where educational spending has been low, and of economies where relatively high educational expenditure has had little impact on growth.

Even in cases where high spending is apparently associated with high income per head, the causation is as likely to run in the opposite direction. Families in rich societies want to spend more on education, while complex modern economies also require educated people to perform more complex jobs although Professor Wolf rightly points out there is a continuing demand for employees in low-skilled fields which is often neglected.

Sounds good, doesn't it.

Here's a bit from the Introduction:

… an unquestioning faith in the economic benefits of education has brought with it huge amounts of wasteful government spending, attached to misguided and even pernicious politics. Just because something is valuable, it does not follow that yet more of it is by definition a good idea: that any addition, any increment, must be welcomed. Yet in practice this is what we seem to believe.

Okay, the book is definitely going to play to most of my libertarian prejudices. And that's not very admirable. What is better is that this woman obviously knows a lot about that education policy stuff that I have such a difficulty with. I will learn a lot if I read this book. The economic benefits of this, to me, and to the world in general, are going to be undetectable.

But I come from a family in a rich society, and I want more education.

Does Education Matter? by Alison Wolf is a Penguin paperback, first published in 2002.

And – isn't this nice? – this was where, this afternoon, I bought it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:45 PM
Category: Economics of education