Category Archives: Economics

The myth of over-education

The fear that we are over-educating our population is not a new concept.

Back in 1963, when only 1 in every 100 people went to university full-time, policymakers were already convinced that any expansion of the sector would result in an over-supply of graduates – many of whom were incapable of benefiting from higher education – and the inevitable falling wage premium (Barr, 2014).

Fast forward 50 years, with nearly 40% of young people enrolling in university (BIS, 2014), and here we are, still having the same argument. A report issued today by the CIPD argues that the number of graduates has now “significantly outstripped” the creation of high-skilled jobs, and that over-qualification at “saturation point”. This has led to calls for the government to encourage alternatives to university, and for our young people to think twice about going to university.

But do we really have too many graduates?

Whilst there are many ways to answer this question, simple economics can help us here.

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Paying for higher education – what are the parties proposing?

By Gill Wyness  (UCL Institute of Education, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, and EconomicsofHE)

The UK has dramatically increased the supply of graduates over the last four decades. The proportion of workers with higher education has risen from only 4.7 per cent in 1979 to 28.5 per cent in 2011. Rather than this enormous increase in supply reducing the value of a degree, the pay of graduates relative to non-graduates has risen over the same period: from 39 per cent to 56 per cent for men and from 52 per cent to 59 per cent for women. This implies a strong and continuing employer demand for education. Continue reading →

Would capping student fees at £6,000 be as damaging as universities make out?

By Gill Wyness (UCL Institute of Education, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, and EconomicsofHE)

Labour’s much anticipated but yet-to-be confirmed policy to reduce the cap on university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 a year will be highly expensive, could leave universities £10 billion out of pocket – and would only help richer graduates. That, at least, has been the tone of a growing chorus of alarm sounding ahead of what might be one of Ed Miliband’s key pre-election pledges.

Universities are right to be concerned – they may well lose money out of this policy. It also appears a somewhat opportunistic move by Labour to please a proportion of the electorate. But despite this, there are reasons why the policy should not be totally condemned.

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Choosing the type of income-contingent loan: risk-sharing versus risk-pooling

By Maria Racionero & Elena Del Rey, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University

There is a growing trend around the world towards increasing students’ contributions to the cost of higher education. One of the advantages is that, when students pay for their education, they do so in the country where they study. Relying on tuition fees to finance higher education can however be both inefficient and unfair, preventing access to higher education to liquidity constrained but academically deserving individuals. Even if loans are available, risk aversion can negatively affect participation. Income-contingent loans (ICLs) provide insurance against adverse labour market outcomes by making repayments dependent on the amount of income earned. In particular, no repayment is typically due when earnings are below a minimum income repayment threshold. Australia was the first country to implement in 1989 an ICL scheme to finance the cost of higher education, and other countries have since adopted similar schemes. These schemes have traditionally relied on general taxation to finance part of the cost of education, and most notably the cost of education of those unable to achieve the minimum income repayment threshold.

In Chapter 8 of “The Mobility of Students and the Highly Skilled: Implications for Education Financing and Economic Policy”, we explore the choice between two types of ICLs: one partly subsidised, often denominated risk-sharing ICL, where the cost of the education of the unsuccessful students falls on the taxpayer; and the other self-financed, often denominated risk-pooling ICL, where the cost of the education of the unsuccessful students falls on the successful graduates of the cohort. Our purpose is to capture the situation faced by governments, such as those in Australia or UK, considering switching from partly subsidised to mostly self-financed funding schemes, while still providing insurance through income contingent repayments.

We consider individuals who are risk-averse and differ in their ability to benefit from education and inherited wealth. We first compare the higher education participation achieved with each scheme. We then show how each individual’s preference over the schemes depends on her ability and wealth and characterise the majority voting outcome. We identify circumstances under which the self-financing ICL is supported by a majority, even if a proportion of those who always study regardless of the scheme in place – precisely those with relatively higher wealth and ability – prefer the subsidised to the self-financed ICL.

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International mobility and career consolidation of European researchers

By Elisabetta Marinelli (Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Joint Research Centre, European Commission, Seville, Spain), Fernandez-Zubieta Ana (Institute for Advanced Social Studies-Spanish National Research Council (IESA-CSIC) and Elena-Perez Susana (Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Joint Research Centre, European Commission,  Seville, Spain)

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of their institution of employment.

The mobility of researchers, particularly internationally, has been encouraged at the policy level to promote enriching experiences, build networks and facilitate the processes of knowledge and technology generation and dissemination. We estimate the impact of international research mobility on the careers of established university researchers working in five European countries—France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. We find that stayers and researchers who return to the country of their PhD, are the most likely to achieve tenure, and repeat-migrants  – who have left the country of their PhD and moved countries again since – are the least likely.

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