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State education as high-yield investment: human capital theory in European policy discourse

Gillies, Donald (2011) State education as high-yield investment: human capital theory in European policy discourse. Journal of Pedagogy, 2 (2). pp. 224-245. ISSN 1338-1563

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Human Capital Theory has been an increasingly important phenomenon in economic thought over the last 50 years. The central role it affords to education has become even more marked in recent years as the concept of the ‘knowledge economy’ has become a global concern. In this paper, the prevalence of Human Capital Theory within European educational policy discourse is explored. The paper examines a selection of policy documents from a number of disparate European national contexts and considers the extent to which the ideas of Human Capital Theory can be seen to be influential. In the second part of the paper, the implications of Human Capital Theory for education are considered, with a particular focus on the possible ramifications at a time of economic austerity. The paper argues that Human Capital Theory risks offering a diminished view of the person, a diminished view of education, but that with its sole focus on economic goals leaves room for educationists and others to argue for the educational, social, and moral values it ignores, and for the conception of the good life and good society it fails to mention.