Education Quality and Education Equity: Using Welfare State Typologies for Comparative Analyses

Conference Paper to be presented by Klaus Hurrelmann

Klaus Hurrelmann is Senior Professor of Public Health and Education at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. He served as a director and managing team member of several population surveys, among them three Shell Youth Studies and two World Vision Children Studies. His main research is on the connection between family and education policy.

The educational level of each member of society is relevant not only for the individual, but also for the entire societal development: Individually, the level of education achieved is primarily significant for the position a person will have in the labor market, while also having crucial secondary effects on other important societal issues, such as health status throughout his or her life course. Socially, education is fundamental for achieving a productive economy, creating a cohesive society, combating social exclusion and poverty, and securing the prosperity of the entire society.

In the light of these correlations it is surprising that comparative analyses of welfare regimes pay little attention to educational policy. The influential Typology of Welfare States (Esping-Andersen) is based first and foremost on a country’s social policy, which in turn is primarily understood as being part of social security policy. There is much evidence that educational policies are highly correlated with particular types of welfare states and are decisive for the results produced in the respective educational system. Ideally, these results should be evaluated according to two standards: (1) the educational level of the population should be as high as possible with a view to the level of qualification and competencies achieved (education quality); (2) differences in the level of education achieved by the various population groups (i.e., different gender, social background, etc.) should be as low as possible (education equity).

More and more research shows that the varying importance attributed to educational policy affects the structure of a country’s educational system. Comparative research has identified a variety of structural aspects within educational systems that are relevant to educational quality. Further research shows that a balanced combination of social and educational policies must go hand in hand with an effective organization of the educational system, if not only the first goal of education quality but also the second goal of educational equity is to be achieved. Comparative analyses come to the conclusion that countries such as Sweden have the best outcome in terms of both education quality and equity. Sweden uses a dual or combination strategy of focusing on status security and investment to ensure that every member of the population attains the status of a “top performer” in the education system.  All in all, there is much evidence that particular kinds of welfare regimes have distinctive educational policy profiles and that, in turn, particular kinds of welfare regimes and their educational policies have an influence on educational outcomes.

During the last two decades, several studies have adapted Esping-Andersen’s work to regions outside Europe and the English-speaking world.  In many regions of the world, informal welfare regimes exist. There are different types of informal welfare regimes that are correlated with different variations of social and educational policies. Overall, each of the different welfare typologies points to diverse educational scenarios that alter the architecture of social policy. What clearly emerges from the findings is that the basic components of education and social policy of top-performing countries such as Sweden (North European Cluster) could be a model that the countries of other regime types could follow. In Latin America, there is also much to be learned by examining the policies within the country cluster that produces the best results (among others, Chile). But before discussing the extent to which they could serve as a model for other cases, further research is required to analyze how – in the face of high path-dependency – certain components from countries with effective social policies can be successfully implemented in other regime types.


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