If You Think Education is Expensive, Try Ignorance

September 19, 2007
Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta

Derek Bok, an American educator and lawyer, and a former president of Harvard University, says ignorance is more expensive than education. Quite an impressive chap and what he said was spot on. Getting an education is absolutely vital, and this survey from the OECD proves it.

You can see the full report here but here are the high-level points.

  • More than 40% of young people now complete university courses in Australia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland, with graduation rates tending to be highest in countries where programmes are of short duration. By contrast, in Germany and Austria, where programmes are longer, only around 20% of young people get degrees.
  • Higher education enrolments continue to grow, with more than 50% of high school graduates – and in some countries more than 75% — going on to higher education.
  • Even with this continued expansion, the earnings advantage of those with university degrees has not deteriorated and in many countries has in fact increased.
  • Moreover, in countries where university education has expanded most, this has not gone hand in hand with deteriorating employment prospects for the lesser qualified, contrary to what many predict. Between 1995 and 2004, France, Ireland and Korea had the fastest growth in higher education attainment and saw unemployment among the less-well qualified decline or rise only marginally. By contrast, Germany, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic had little or no growth in higher education attainment between 1995 and 2004 and substantial growth in unemployment among the less-well qualified.
  • In all countries the penalties for not completing upper secondary education are significant. On average, unemployment rates among people who do not complete high school are five percentage points higher than people who complete upper secondary education and seven points higher than people with university degrees.
  • The successful integration of immigrants into schooling systems is a major equity challenge in many countries. The poorer performance of first generation immigrant students compared with their native counterparts represents more than a year’s worth of study.
  • Countries are collectively spending more than they have ever done on education, with expenditure increasing in real terms by more than 40% since 1995. But the results gained from that investment are far from maximized. Analysis suggests that given current levels of expenditure, learning outcomes could be increased by 22%.

Recently, I had talked about the challenges in Greece for example. And now the OECD says, "In contrast, many Continental European countries are not investing more public money in their universities nor are universities allowed to charge tuition fees, with the result that the European average for spending per higher education student is now well below half that of the U.S."

There are some major issues with immigrant children with the report noting, "Among the 14 OECD countries with significant immigrant populations, first-generation students lag an average of 48 score points – equivalent to more than a school year’s progress – behind their native counterparts on the PISA mathematics scale. The performance disadvantage of second-generation students is a still-significant 40 score points. In Canada, Luxembourg, Sweden and Switzerland and the partner economy Hong Kong-China, second-generation students perform significantly better than first-generation students, with the performance gap reduced by 31 score points in Switzerland and 58 score points in Sweden."

If the OECD countries want to compete in a knowledge economy, then they have to work very hard and improve their education systems. It is no longer necessary to just invest in education or ask 50% of school leavers to go into education. See the review of the British Educational System results from the Guardian.

If you think we are spending too much on education, see this report. This states that, "Education is worth more to UK exports than financial services or the automotive industry, according to a report published by the British Council today. A total of £28bn in 2003-04 was earned from overseas students by a sector ranging from world famous universities to small English language colleges, from independent schools to publishers and broadcasters."

It is vital that you ask about the efficiency of education and whether the education is relevant for the needs of society. For people who refuse to change, they will fall behind. Quite an interesting time ahead of us, I am afraid.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!

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Dr. Bhaskar Dasgupta works in the city of London in various capacities in the financial sector. He has worked and travelled widely around the world. The articles in here relate to his current studies and are strictly his opinion and do not reflect the position of his past or current employer(s). If you do want to blame somebody, then blame my sister and editor, she is responsible for everything, the ideas, the writing, the quotes, the drive, the israeli-palestinian crisis, global warming, the ozone layer depletion and the argentinian debt crisis.
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If You Think Education is Expensive, Try Ignorance


Author: Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta


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A. S. Mathew
September 20, 2007
07:58 AM

When fund raising was started for Afro-American
colleges in the U.S., this motto was used. "It is a terrible thing to waste the mind". Indeed,
millions of productive and brilliant minds are
not fully utilized due to the lack of proper

Educated parents of Children everywhere in the world give great importance for the education of their children. When I see young people working in minimum salary, I tell them to get into college and to calculate the income potential in their lifespan.

But it is very sad to see that some Indian parents get too greedy and push their children to some field with a total goal of making plenty or money, and the childen get discouarged and
miserable for the rest of their lives. Let every student further his or her education for the
field in which they can develop their fullest
potential and interest. Investing money in education is the best and stable investment.

September 20, 2007
09:27 AM

actually, the slogan was "The mind is a terrible thing to waste"

sorry to be picky! :)

A. S. Mathew
September 20, 2007
08:10 PM

smallsquirrel, thank you for correcting my mistake. After hearing so many good and bad things down through the years, my brain is getting less
powerful to quote everything as exactly when I
heard them first.


September 21, 2007
03:24 AM

Dear Sir,
What is education. Is education going to school, college, another course, another P.hd. another D. Litt, or does it mean something else. Does it mean that all of us end up as cogs in the wheel and nothing else.
Bill Gates, Apples Job. Tata's Jeh, Edison, Ramanujam, I am only naming a few! Are they educated or is that they have made money or is it something elsae I am missing.
Aesop, Aristotle, and may be Marcus Aurulies, I do not have historical Data to prove where and when they went to college or had great education.
Alexander, Juluis Ceaser, or Robert Clive for that matter, I rest my case.
May be we are missing that element that makes a country great. Greatness lies in keeping things together. It means maintaing relationships and learning to live together. It means making the place a better place to live in.
It means not destruction.
Education means, " That which can influence human behaviour. The best thought that can be given to oneself about himself/herself. It means that "is" is more important than what one "has". It means who one "is". What one "has" may vary with what others "have". Because who we "are" is wrongly identified with what one "has" the divisions in the world is glaring.
The real teaching must introduce who one "is" and never suggest and then harden into to an achievement or role that I "have". (Swami Suddananda).
"Education is not expensive. "Education" in its true sense is the chaeapest.

September 21, 2007
03:35 AM

Krishnan Sahib

you have raised a very good question. In fact, at the risk of sounding facetious, as Mark Twain said, "I never let schooling interfere with my education".

But the people you mention, ranging from Ramanujam to Bill Gates are outliers, they are special cases. One cannot form public policy based upon outliers. Let me give you another example. Would you judge the Sanchar Committee report based upon Aziz Premji? No, you wouldnt.

Similarly, we cannot rely on self taught learning to educate our people, we need a structured framework, buildings, books, laboratories, publications, libraries, sporting fields, etc. etc.

And it provides standardisation of education. Again, if you wanted to get all your people at least functionally literate (able to sign name, read basic documents, read street signs and operate a bank account), then you do need formal education. otherwise it is very inefficient.

Let us also not forget that all the names you mention above are rich people. They arent people like Ghanshyam Das living in village pukhwara in district bastar who are currently living on 1 meal per day if they are lucky. They need formal education my friend, not informal.



September 21, 2007
04:36 AM

Dear Sir,
'Touche'. Nobody became rich, they used their capabilities to become rich. Bill, Job etc. started of in carsheds. Edison's mother was asked to withdraw her son from hte school as she was informed that he will amount to nothing.
Apart from from my comments to yours, the matter which i wished to highlight was that, only the the three "R's" will not be education in the real, sense, It will only help in knowing street names and bank accounts which will only adds strength to my arguments that we are still looking at what we "have" and not what we "are"

Temple Stark (CCE)
September 21, 2007
07:06 PM

VC, your first question seemed very different from your #6 point.

I think "education" should be taken in the spirit it was intended in this article, because otherwise you not only have to startle your definition of education but also of success and greatness as used in your first comment.

It would seem to me that the overall point the writer here was trying to make was that the effort taken, the abilities and the strength of character it takes - or should take and that's another subject too - is a great indicator of future income based on knowledge.

There are all kinds of exceptions. Teachers, who get paid poorly. Electricians or plumbers who often (not always) get paid out of all proportion to their true knowledge or worth.

There are many exceptions so the point of this piece is the unifying principles that education can bring - and as defined here.

- Temple

September 22, 2007
03:19 AM

the smartest guy I know never went to university. he completed high school, and went on his own path. now he owns a small company and does ground breaking natural language programming.

some of the stupidest people i ever met were in graduate school.

however, I do agree that education is important. when whole countries are lacking, there is a serious problem.

September 22, 2007
04:34 AM

Dear Mr. Temple,
I was not trying disagree with Shri. Mathew. You have agreed in principle with me. Maybe I was not able to convey what I wanted to say in the way I had put it across.
As you have rightly said Teachers are paid poorly, whereas on the contrary Plumbers/Electricians are paid more. That is prcisecly what I am trying to convey.
If a person decides what he is worth, it is not the monetary compensation that matters. The teacher is what he is and will always be, a Guru.
Even today after we have passed out of every type of course, when our Guru comes calling we get up, we do that in India, and respect him for what he is and not what he has.
The point that I wanted to convey was that if the same person, the farmer is made to feel his worth, it will not matter to him whether a Harvard/Cambridge/Anna Alumni is talking to him, he will not feel his lack of not knowing to read the street names.
He must be made to feel that he is as important as the guy who discovered the splitting of the atom. He must be made to feel that it is because of him that we people in the cities are able to feed ourselves. In the long run it will not matter a tuppence to him if he does not know how to read if he is respected as an Individual.
I was not in anyway belittling "education" per se.
I hope I have amplified my point properly and I stand corrected if my view points are still befuddled.
Thanks for you observations.

A. S. Mathew
September 22, 2007
05:46 AM

Mr. V. C. Krishnan, I do agree with you 101%.
Indeed I have failed to add that part of education as you have mentioned. Education is a
life long process. Some of the billionaires did't finish college. Those special group of people are only a small percentage, may be one in a million. Those people are big dreamers,
risk takers, extremely positive thinkers, and
creative in nature. But for an average person
without having that kind of mentality, without
having a college degress, their life can be gone
in disappointment for the rest of their lifetime.

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