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International Experience in Education and Human Capital Growth

On April 11, Brian McCall, Professor of Education, Economics and Public Policy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, will present at the XVIII April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development in a section entitled ‘Evaluation of reforms in education’. Prof. McCall’s research has covered the economics of education, education inequality, and other topics. He spoke with the HSE News Service ahead of his presentation about his research and the trends he currently sees internationally. 

— At this year’s April Conference, you will speak about the contribution that education makes to the growth and development of human capital. What countries do you see as leaders in this regard?

— I plan to talk about how countries can motivate students, especially those from low income backgrounds, to stay in school past the compulsory schooling age in order to obtain additional skills that will help them in succeed in today’s workplace.

I will discuss two studies that I conducted that tried to empirically identify how successful these programs were using quasi-experimental methods. The first study uses data from the state of Texas. There the costs of attending community college depend on where you live. Community colleges in the US are two-year colleges that lead to an Associates of Arts or Science degree. They are non-selective open enrolment campuses and enrol large numbers of ethnic minorities and students from low-income families. Some individuals pay considerably higher tuition rates than others because they do not live in a Community College Taxing District (CCTD). Research that my co-authors and I have performed show that individuals facing the higher tuition rates are less likely to attend any college than those who live in a CCTD and face lower tuition. However, there are some unintended negative consequences of making community college relatively cheap. Namely some living in CCTDs who, by having lower tuition at the two-year community college, attend a community college instead of a four-year university, thus ultimately resulting in a lower level of education for these students.

In the United States, there has been much recent discussion of ‘free’ community college. But our research suggests that while that may induce some individuals to attend college who otherwise would not, it may also induce some students to switch from attending a relatively expensive four-year university to attending a free two-year community college. I will also discuss research by others who touch on this topic.

I also plan to talk briefly about research that I have done looking at the effect of Educational Maintenance Allowances in the UK on school attendance. This is a programme (which has recently been eliminated in England but continues in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) that pays students in low income households to remain in school after the age of 16.

— What are some of the benefits of these programmes?

— Programmes such as these are attempts by countries to increase educational attainment of their citizens, in particular among those from low-income and ethnic minority backgrounds, so as to reduce educational inequality and, hopefully in the future, income inequality.

— How does Russia's education experience fit into this global map? 

— I am not an expert in Russia’s education system, but from what I know of Russia, I think it faces problems similar to what many other countries (including the US) face, namely increasing the average educational attainment of its citizens and reducing inequality in educational outcomes. Better aligning the education system with workforce needs so that students with higher levels of education are not underemployed. Finally, doing all this with little or no increase in government support for education.

— You have been researching the economics of education for a long time. What are some of the latest trends you’re seeing internationally?

— Much of empirical educational research now focuses on identifying the causal effects of programmes either by running experiments in an educational setting or by employing quasi-experimental methods like regression discontinuity design. This is done so that researchers can more accurately identify what educational practices improve student outcomes and, hopefully, then be implement more broadly those practices that work. Researchers in many countries, including the US, are now gaining access to large unit record databases that track students through their primary, secondary and tertiary education and into the workforce. These databases will help researchers assess the long-term economic consequences of various educational policies.

— One of your latest publications is entitled ‘Effects of Autism Spectrum Disorder on Parental Employment in the United States: Evidence from the National Health Interview Survey’. This is a rather delicate issue that hasn’t been explored extensively. What are your major findings? Is there anything that other countries can learn from this study? 

— We find that both the mother and father of a child with autism reduce the number of hours they work relative to parents who have a similar aged child with no disability, with the effects being larger for mothers than for fathers. We also find some evidence that the reduction is larger for mothers whose child has more severe autism as measured by the additional presence of an intellectual disability. I would imagine that the extent of the cost borne by parents, in terms of reduced hours of work, of having a child with autism depends on the amount of support they receive from governmental and non-governmental sources in their country. In countries that provide better support (e.g., subsidized early intervention programs) parents may bear fewer costs in terms of reduced hours of work.

— Have you been to Moscow before? Are there any places of interest you plan to visit?  

— Although I have never been to Russia before I have always wanted to go ever since I took a Russian history course in high school. Although I won’t have much time to see the sights in Moscow, at the very least I would like to visit Red Square and the Kremlin and see St Basil’s Cathedral and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service