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Journal of Pedagogy

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State Education as High-Yield Investment: Human Capital Theory in European Policy Discourse

Donald Gillies
  • Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, School of Education, University of Strathclyde, Jordanhill Campus G13 1PP Glasgow UK
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Published Online: 2012-02-17 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/v10159-011-0011-3

State Education as High-Yield Investment: Human Capital Theory in European Policy Discourse

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. In problematizing Human Capital Theory, the paper argues that it 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.

Keywords: human capital theory; policy; discourse; knowledge economy; neoliberalism

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About the article


Published Online: 2012-02-17

Published in Print: 2011-01-01


Citation Information: Journal of Pedagogy / Pedagogický casopis, ISSN (Online) 1338-2144, ISSN (Print) 1338-1563, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/v10159-011-0011-3.

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