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The latest evidence on whether education policy is improving Britain's skills base

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The returns to a university degree in Britain are still high by international standards, suggesting that there is, as yet, no oversupply of graduates. At the same time, some of the new vocational qualifications have very low or minimal economic value. And basic skills continue to have very high value in the labour market, indicating that the supply of skills continues to be lower than demand.

These are some of the latest research findings on the effectiveness of recent education policies, was presented Tuesday 12 September by Dr Anna Vignoles at the launch of the Manpower Human Resources Lab| at the Centre for Economic Performance.

Dr Vignoles notes that there have been many attempts to reform the UK education system to tackle persistent problems: poor and apparently falling standards in schools; underachievement of disadvantaged groups; the low staying on rate at age 16; poor basic skills; and persistent inequalities, particularly in higher education. She has surveyed the evidence on the impact of reforms:

Introducing market reforms - parental choice, increased school autonomy, testing, league tables, etc. - to raise school pupil achievements:

  • There seem to be no substantial gains from increased competition.
  • Equally, there has been no dramatic increase in inequality following the reforms.
  • But there are areas for concern: greater and rising segregation in London and in parts of the country where a high proportion of pupils attend schools that control their own admissions.

Tackling poor skills by introducing the National Curriculum, the literacy and numeracy hours and reforming vocational qualifications:

  • The reforms have had mixed success and some have not been possible to evaluate, for example, the National Curriculum, which was introduced at the national level and for which a robust evaluation of its impact has not been possible.
  • Some specific initiatives - for example, the literacy hour - have had a positive effect, at least initially.
  • But the UK still has a low rate of post-16 participation in education. And basic skills continue to have a very high value in the labour market while some new vocational qualifications have low value.
  • The need to address this patchy success is apparent in policy-makers' continuing pursuit of a radical reform of the system.

Expanding higher education by raising the participation rate to as high as 50 per cent and introducing tuition fees and income-contingent loans for students:

  • The employment share of graduates is set to rise further, and the returns to a degree remain high by international standards.

    But there is an increasing diversity of graduate outcomes, with some younger graduates and some lower ability graduates in certain subjects experiencing low returns to their degrees. It is possible that this is a sign of graduate oversupply in the future.

Anna Vignoles comments: 'The many educational reforms that have attempted to tackle Britain's longstanding problem with poor skills have had mixed results. Policy-makers' continuing attempts at further radical reform to the system are testament to this.'


For further information:

Press contact: Romesh Vaitilingam romesh@compuserve.com| 

Manpower Resources Lab contact at CEP: Jo Cantlay, j.m.cantlay@lse.ac.uk|  0207 955 7285 http://cep.lse.ac.uk/research/manpower/| 

Manpower contact: Anna Johnstone, anna.johnstone@manpower.co.uk|  0773 454 5157 www.manpower.com| 

Note for Editors

Manpower Human Resources Lab
The Centre for Economic Performance at LSE and Manpower have established a partnership to launch the Manpower Human Resources Lab, a new research programme. The aim of the lab is to establish a leading centre for the study of the impact of human resource decisions and labour market trends on productivity at firm, national and global levels. This will be achieved by linking innovative data analysis carried out by some of Europe's leading labour market experts to the practical world of business management.

The Manpower Human Resources Lab will be directed by Professor Stephen Machin (s.j.machin@lse.ac.uk|) and research will be coordinated by Alex Bryson (a.j.bryson@lse.ac.uk|)

The Centre for Economic Performance is one of the leading applied economics research centres in Europe. It studies the determinants of economic performance at the level of the company, the national and the global economy by focusing on the major links between globalisation, technology and institutions (above all the educational system and the labour market) and their impact on productivity, inequality, employment and stability. Founded by Professor Lord Richard Layard, its director is Professor John Van Reenen.

Manpower is a world leader in the employment services industry; creating and delivering services that enable its clients to win in the changing world of work. The $16 billion company offers employers a range of services for the entire employment and business cycle including permanent, temporary and contract recruitment; employee assessment and selection; training; outplacement; outsourcing and consulting.

Launch Event
The Manpower Resources Lab was launched by Bryan Sanderson CBE, Chairman, Standard Chartered & BUPA on Tuesday 12th September 2006, 5.30pm at "BOX", 5th Floor, Tower 3, London School of Economics, Clements Inn, Strand, London WC2A 2AZ. Request to attend to Jo Cantlay, j.m.cantlay@lse.ac.uk|, 020 7955 7285.

Manpower Launch Special Report
Human Resources, the Labour Market and Economic Performance
A look back and a look forward from the Manpower Human Resources Lab at the Centre for Economic Performance
by Romesh Vaitilingam, September 2006
Download pdf: http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/special/manpower.pdf| 

Press cuttings

Easy Bourse, France
Research Sees Little Impact From UK Education Reforms (13 Sep 06)
Successive education reforms by the U.K. government have failed to lift general skills levels or raise the overall ability level of university graduates, according to a leading academic think tank. Anna Vignoles, from LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, said in a paper published on Wednesday that there had also been 'no substantial gains' in educational standards from government efforts to introduce more competition between schools. 

13 September 2006