From education to employment

Looking Back to the Future with the Leading Economic Powers and

It really is amazing just what you can convince a large number of people of if you really, really try.

This probably has something to do with our heritage as animals. We came together in groups to hunt for the biggest, juiciest mastodons, then we came together to chase away other people who wanted to have our mastodon, then our crops, our water supply, our wood, our quarries, our coal, and of course our oil”¦one wonders what is next. I can picture it now; a world torn asunder because of a lost x ““ box, or someone’s i-pod being bigger than someone else’s.


But the important part of that is the notion of coming together in competition. We band together in a group, but largely through the argument of “strength in numbers” and the notion that if we do not join forces then things truly will become hopeless. However, as much as this can be trumpeted as an instance of the human spirit’s growth and the development of a level of social awareness and comradeship that will leave a lovely warm fuzzy feeling, it is actually simply an extension of the competitive ethos that makes capitalism still the natural economic path for avaricious man.

Therefore, competition is still the driving force behind both single actions and group behaviour. As such, the statements from the recent G8 conference on education do require a little examination. For instance:

“We believe that education, enhancement of skills and generation of new ideas are essential to the development of human capital and are key drivers of market productivity, and sources of cohesion for all nations. As science, technology, and economic progress become more global, international collaboration is indispensable to generate the talent and knowledge needed to find solutions to fundamental global challenges.”

The principles expressed therein are laudable; collaboration throughout the world is wonderful, education and skills training will bring nations together in greater harmony and improve their efficiency in the economic arena. However, there is something slightly troubling in these words”¦perhaps it is the fact that no mention is made of the fact that international “collaboration” is performed on the terms of the larger nations and at the expense of the poorer smaller partners. The equal division of the planet is something best reserved for theoretical discourse; to confuse policy discussions with rhetoric is politically sound but ultimately empty.


The message, therefore, is mixed. As wonderful as cooperation is, it will hardly exist ahead of competition. The Government can at least take heart from the next statement from the council, saying:

“We resolved to encourage investment in the “knowledge triangle” – education, including lifelong learning, research and innovation. We shall promote cooperation with the private sector to foster diverse, efficient, sustainable higher education institutions.”

So the lumbering machine of central government is to have the doors flung open to private investment”¦many will read this and mutter under their breath: “So what else is new?” The FE sector has already seen the rumblings against private involvement and tendering, and has broadly accepted this as a necessary evil. Other areas of public services will also experience these joyous times; but it should never be forgotten that private participation in the public services will not change the nature of the beast.

Private involvement is accomplished through meeting the motivations of the private sector; so it should come as no surprise when these private partners aim to make a profit. To acquiesce to the council’s love of geometry, expecting a private partner to behave as though profit margins are irrelevant is somewhat akin to trying to find the seventh edge of a triangle.


The council also spoke at greater length of the need for cooperation, sharing knowledge and so forth. They announced:

“We underlined the need to increase exchanges in science and technology and other areas of education at all levels and promote better understanding, recognition and transparency of foreign qualifications and educational outcomes. In this connection Russia proposed the establishment of an expert group to develop criteria and procedures for evaluating educational outcomes and qualifications. The group could include representatives of state organizations, business and civil society.”

And again:

“We agreed to cooperate with our development partners and other stakeholders to achieve high quality basic education, literacy and gender equality in accord with the education-related Millennium Development Goals and the objectives of Education for All programme”¦We resolved to facilitate social and economic integration of immigrants into host countries and societies, with education being one of the effective means of doing so.”

Sharing”¦cooperation”¦collaboration”¦what a lovely world that is. It is just a shame that this laudable statement probably does not have sufficient cogent policy strength behind it to actually create it.

Jethro Marsh

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