In this first post of the Hedda monthly literature tips series, we asked two doctoral fellows from University of Oslo – Rachel Sweetman and Jens Jungblut about their recent literature tips.

Here are their recommendations:

Does Education Matter?
by A. Wolf, 2002

9780141935669HThe book’s full title, ‘Does Education Matter? Myths About Education and Economic Growth’ sums up what this book is getting at, and why it’s asking such important questions for anyone interested in contemporary higher education. Wolf is an economist and policy analyst who turns her acute evidence-based gaze on the accepted orthodoxy that universities should be approached as drivers of economic growth.

This argument has underpinned many politicians enthusiasm for expanding and investing in mass higher education around the world. However, as Wolf argues through historical analysis, economic data and also more polemical discussions about the way the value and uses of universities have been presented over time, there is not really a very strong case to support this. There is little to suggest that more higher education leads to more growth or prosperity, although these sometimes accompany each other.

It’s a book that shows how important it is to check assumptions about higher education against evidence, and not to assume that the most influential voices, or accepted opinions are correct. It is also a book which does an unusually good job of combining careful and clear empirical evidence with argument and discussion. Wolf is not just interested in arguing that the case for universities as drivers of growth is weak, but seeks to convince her readers that by pursuing policies based on these assumptions, we may do harm; we risk failing to achieve aims related to growth while undermining more important and real functions and values which universities have served over time, such as the development of knowledge and new ideas. We also risk investing money in universities that might be better spent on other or earlier forms of education.