Friday, September 18, 2009

GDP fetishism in education

An economist´s simplest answer to questions about the well-being of people is the gross domestic product, or GDP, per person of each country. However, as we might suspect, GDP-based statistics do not reveal the whole story about how satisfied people really are with their living standards. According to the Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, in recent years economists and statisticians have been looking at alternative measures of well-being, even "happiness", a notion that it was seemed absurd to quantify. Thus, the tendency is to pursue new techniques that produce more qualitative data on the issue at hand, being this national well-being, education, or health.

Higher education policy in Mexico, especially at the Legislative level, is still fixated with traditional GDP-based statistics. The debate usually revolves around the issue of how far -or how close- are we from the goal of investing one percent of GDP in higher education (currently we invest 0.67 percent). I argue that if we want to rapidly advance on the improvement of quality, relevance and equity in tertiary education, we must pay much more attention to other, more qualitative, policy measures.

Instead of solely focusing on measures such as the percentage of GDP invested and/or the expenditure per student in higher education, we must rely on "soft" measures as well, such as student learning outcomes, teacher-student interactions, and even student satisfaction at a given institution. This would give a clearer picture of how different universities compare to one another, and will reveal the extent of the impact of public money invested on the desired educational goals. The Commission´s Report gives interesting insights of the implications of such soft measures.

No comments:

Post a Comment