In many societies, (higher) education has been equated with a form of professional formation whose focus lies on the requirements of enterprises. At the same time, a reduced individual dividend for education (that is, a decreasing value of titles and degrees because of an increasing level of education throughout the whole society) has become observable. To what extent are opportunities in the labor market dependent on education and (to what extent) has this connection loosened during the last decades? Besides university studies, which alternative routes are likely to lead to a successful career? How are the factors of inter-generational inequality, on the one hand, and education and the labor market, on the other, intertwined?
Education is sometimes thought of as the means of reducing structural inequalities within and across societies. Nevertheless, access to education itself can be distributed in unequal ways, contingent on the very structures it is supposed to even out. A historical perspective reveals that educational opportunities were often tailored to the social background or gender of the students. Sometimes, such differentiations have been institutionalized as parallel strands within education systems, which can result in the exclusion of certain groups from mainstream education and subsequent career opportunities. This opening panel seeks to address general questions and concepts with a view to the relationship among inequality, education and social power, such as: When and how do structures of education work in favor, and when do they work against social mobility? How are issues of inequality and education dealt with in different countries and regions, which topics are considered crucial and which actors are involved in the debate?
Anja Weiß is a Professor for Sociology at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Her theoretical interests in the transnationalisation of social inequality translate into comparative empirical studies on the localization of knowledge, highly skilled migrants, (institutional) racism and legal exclusion, ethnic conflict and anti-racism, and qualitative research design.
In the human capital approach, returns on education are usually assessed within framework of the nation-state. In a transnational perspective, the value of cultural capital (cf. Bourdieu) should be assessed in terms of a plurality of contexts in which it may be recognized and rewarded. In regard to skilled personnel’s access to the labor market, the borders of the nation-state continue to be salient: foreign educational credentials are often seen as having lesser value and migrants are subject to exclusionary legal regimes. At the same time, other contexts, such as professional fields, need not be congruent with nation-state borders and they counteract the impact of the nation-state. In professional fields as diverse as management and legal studies, transnational sub-fields have emerged in which the value of education is determined independently of national systems of education.
Based on findings by the international study group “Cultural Capital During Migration” (headed by Nohl, Schittenhelm, Schmidtke, and the author), the input will focus on the situation of highly skilled migrants and the factors that impact on the validation of their educational credentials in diverse labor markets. These factors include discrimination by employers, but also the emergence of ethnic niches in some professions, such as medicine. Also, and especially among skilled employees, education does not stop at the moment of graduation, but undergoes continued development, fine-tuning, and also devaluation.
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).