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4.0 out of 5 stars Strongly Undermines the Too Widely Held View that the Expansion of Post-Secondary Education will lead to Economic Growth, April 22, 2012
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This review is from: Does Education Matter?: Myths About Education and Economic Growth (Penguin Business) (Paperback)
The author, Alison Wolf, concentrates her analysis on post-secondary (referred to as "high school" in the U.S.) education and specifically on the popular and all too widely held view that among politicians, businessmen and the public at large, that an expansion in post-secondary school education (both university and technical) contributes directly to economic growth. The book specifically examines this issue in the United Kingdom but the analysis itself carries over well into the U.S. and other developed nations. The author herself, a PhD with research specialization in the education field and one of the United Kingdom's leading authorities on education, is eminently qualified on the topic.

The author starts out by providing a history of post-secondary school education. In that history she is careful to emphasize that the connection between higher education and economic grouch has only come about since the late 1800s and even then has not been a paramount factor in the expansion of post-secondary education until the second half (and particularly towards the end) of the 20th century. Before that education, at that level, was intended to benefit society and the state primarily through the production of civil servants and the intelligentsia, a fact that is difficult to comprehend today.

In the remainder of the book, Wolf specifically debunks the myth that an expansion in higher education will necessarily and logically lead to higher economic growth. She does this (at the University level) by showing that that educational expansion has led to expanded educational requirements for positions over time (i.e., overeducation in the workplace), that education spending is more the result of economic development than it is the cause and how the expansion of education has led to the dilution of educational quality at that level. Considering that most of the benefits of post-secondary education come almost entirely from the top-tier school graduates, the last point has serious implications. The author also discusses technical education in England in detail and shows how disastrously it has failed.

The author implies that the money used to expand post-secondary education, both at the university level and for technical training, could be far better used at the pre-secondary school level. This is in lines with research regarding education spending in the less developed nations. Wolf also recommends using this money to provide job creation subsidies (i.e., providing employers a subsidy for taking on secondary school graduates). The author also examines, in some depth, why it would so difficult to reduce spending on higher education (i.e., the political constituency of parents and businesses, reversing the zero sum game that higher education has become for potential post-secondary students, etc.).

All and all an excellent book on the topic and one that needs to be much more widely read, especially by those making the very unsubstantiated claim that higher education spending, per se, leads directly to economic growth.
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Location: Hadera, Israel

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