What is education worth?

Interesting piece in the Guardian about a new (but already out of date) British Council report (PDF link) on what education is worth to the UK. I’ve always wondered where the philosophy that universities or education should be profitable in the most basic, business sense comes from – it makes little sense with something so crucial to the fabric of society. That is, one would hope, what taxes are for.

It’s the same narrow economic thinking that asks hospitals to make a profit too. Nobody, however, seems to ask the military to make a profit (“Please make sure that $1.9m missile gives us a decent ROI when you blow up that desert village. Don’t miss.”)

The answer to the title question in the UK, by the way, is £27,771.50 million. More than financial services or the automotive industry.

3 Replies

  • ‘return on investment’ is not the same as profit! Even Oxfam, when they invest money to help the world’s poor, make decisions on how to make the most of their (finite) resources! And so do universities, and society at large – and so they should: I want my children (and everybody’s children) to receive good education – or health or security; but I also want to know the public purse is not a bottomless pit, and that between two or more options that achieve the same effect, the less-costly one is being chosen. “that achieve the same effect”… herein lies the trick! – and it is not an exact science.

  • That’s a very good point and I agree about my flippant ROI aside. But what I’m complaining about really is that one set of standards gets applied to another. Educational institutions, when they’re so audit and admin heavy, tend to feel the pressure of simply balancing the books. It’s the ‘do more with less’ problem that I talked about at ULS.

    What usually gets left out of the balance sheets, however, is the return on investment that institutions generate outside of direct income streams. It’s convenient for government funding bodies to ignore that when doling out education budgets and to remember it when justifying, for example, military spending.

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