Greater public funding for education is essential for economic recovery

published 10 September 2009 updated 10 September 2009

Public investment in education must be significantly increased to meet growing enrolment demands and to confront the worldwide economic crisis, according to Education International, the global union federation representing 30 million teachers and education workers in 172 countries.

Reacting to the latest edition of the OECD’s report Education at a Glance, released today, EI fully agrees that investment in education is a smart strategy in the face of economic downturn. However, the emphasis should be on public investment in education as a public good, not for private profit, said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. The report reveals a disturbing trend away from public funding and towards private investment in education, especially at early childhood and university levels.

Based on an enormous amount of data pertaining to statistical indicators monitored over time in OECD and partner countries, Education at a Glance concludes that achieving higher levels of education pays off in terms of increased lifelong earnings, better health and reduced risk of unemployment.

EI considers the report to be a valuable reference for policy makers and a useful snapshot of overall trends. However, its policies are based on an individualistic and opportunistic paradigm, which is at odds with EI’s philosophy of trade union solidarity and its broader mission to promote social justice through universal access to quality public education.

“While the OECD takes the view that education is primarily a matter of individual benefit, we at EI believe that investing in education is not only a sound economic choice, but a social and moral imperative crucial for democracy,” said van Leeuwen.

He added that it’s important to keep in mind that the most recent data in this report are from 2007, so they do not reflect the current situation brought about by the financial and economic crisis.

Recent data collected by Education International show that education budgets and teachers’ salaries are suffering deep cuts in a number of OECD countries, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. The most severe so far occurred in Latvia, where teachers’ salaries have been slashed by over 50%. In the face of a growing teacher shortage worldwide, governments ought to be doing all they can to recruit and maintain qualified professionals, van Leeuwen said.

He also took exception with the OECD’s strong advocacy of tuition fees in tertiary education. “Let’s not forget that Finland, Norway and Sweden – consistently among the countries with the best university entrance rates and highest academic achievement – do not charge any tuition fees whatsoever,” he said. “It’s powerful evidence of the value of opening the doors of higher learning to all.”