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The dynamics of human capital and the world of work

Towards a common market in contemporary tertiary education

Author - Aidan Kenny


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1 Introduction

Over the last twenty years both developing and developed countries have placed a policy priority on developing investment strategies in tertiary education[1] and training, as a means to stimulate economic growth, maintain competitive advantage, facilitate high-level skills employment, social cohesion and socio-cultural development. Influential ‘supranational organisations’ (Ball 2008) such as the World Bank (WB) the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) have all produced reports proclaiming both the economic and social benefits that follow on from national investment policy initiatives in education and training. In the European context, the European Council in March 2000 adopted the Lisbon Strategy. A key component of this strategy was that further strategic investment in education and training by member states was necessary in order for Europe to become the most competitive economy and knowledge-based society by 2010. The Irish Government set forth its own intended investment priority in education and training in both the National Development Plan (NDP) 2000–2007, ‘Employment and Human Resources Programme’ and the NDP 2007–2013, ‘Human Capital’. Within these documents there seems to be a correlation drawn between the investment in ‘human capital’ and the positive effect this has on economic growth, productivity, competitiveness and employability.[2] From these emerging policy agendas it would seem that tertiary education and training is being positioned as a primer for economic development, perceived as a crucial ‘intermediate zone’ between the world of learning and the world of work. Underpinning the political drive towards the knowledge economy are an array of high-level modernisation policy initiatives which seek to stimulate reform in higher education structures, systems, standards, developing processes and procedures that enable cross-national compatibility and comparisons.

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