22 SES 14 A, Paper Session
In my youth, I listened quite often: “If you did not learn properly, you would not get to university and you would have to make a living by manual labour”. Certainly, I was not the only child to hear that from the parents. It was based on the belief that education, especially tertiary, not only contributes to the individual's personality development and is associated with higher social status, but also manifests individual's future ability to perform "cleaner" work, especially better paid work.
Many people, whether professionals or public, see tertiary education as a form of personal development, especially dissemination of knowledge, critical thinking, and other areas, including development of key competencies. It increases the social status of the individual and, depending on the chosen focus of higher education (doctors, lawyers…), contributes to the inclusion of the individual among the elite of the nation, at least from a sociological point of view. Although, the view to the contribution of tertiary education to the difficult goal of securing future success in life is changing through time. Access to tertiary education can thus be compared to “temple”, “elevator” or “insurance company” (Liessmann, 2008), how the perception of the institution has evolved over time. In other words, tertiary education could initially be understood in terms of access for only a limited number of people, and thus it was associated with a significant increase in social status, as well as temple. Subsequently, the situation changed, and this education was more of an opportunity to get to positions associated with both higher social status and higher financial earnings, as well as elevator. In the last stage, persistent to this day, however, tertiary education becomes more of a necessity, as well as insurance company, but in the end, it cannot even secure the acquisition of the desired job position. In this context, there is also the concept of tertiary education through the developmental stages when this education is conceived as elite, massive, and universal (Thow, 1973)
Another question connected with the evaluation of tertiary education is the discussion of how suitable and necessary it is for society to have a high share of the university-educated population. The approach advocating a wide representation of university-educated people in society is based on development of key competencies, critical thinking, and democratic principles, which in overall context create a favourable environment for development of individuals as well as society. This is reflected in the development of educational society, knowledge economy, access to and intensity of innovation, society of solidarity and ecology. On the other hand, criticism is directed at the issue of lack of interest in manual skills, crafts, and traditional production, in which it is a problem to find a skilled workforce. For Industry 4.0, the need for educated workers and specialists is important, but in many cases, they do not necessarily need a university degree, but vocational education and training (Marinič & Zathurecký, 2019; Pecina & Sládek, 2017).
The whole concept outlined above needs to be supplemented by purely economic evaluation of effectiveness of tertiary education. This purely economic view is based on concept of opportunity costs and the consequent rate of return on investment in tertiary education. At least in the full-time form of university studies, an individual waives the opportunity to earn as a full-time upper-secondary educated employee. On the other hand, as tertiary educated employee, earnings are higher than that of upper-secondary educated employee, and thus there is return on investment to tertiary education. These economic indicators can be quantified and thus the effectiveness of tertiary education can be evaluated.
The contribution uses available data about mean and median wages according to educational attainment in EU countries published in the Eurostat database (Eurostat, 2021). The concept of opportunity cost operates with the fact that the cost of a decision (implemented) is the potential return associated with the inability to implement another, usually the second best, activity (not implemented). If individual decides to continue at tertiary education after completing upper-secondary education, especially in full-time form, restricting (even preventing) the simultaneous pursuit of paid employment, the income from such employment for the duration of tertiary education is an opportunity cost. Its amount is therefore determined by the period of university study (standardly 5 years) and the mean/median salary of an employee with upper-secondary education. As an employee with a university degree earns more than an employee with upper-secondary education, this difference can be considered as yield from achievement of tertiary education. The opportunity cost of tertiary education can thus be related to the yield from tertiary education and both the payback period and the rate of return can be determined. This approach is a simplification of the economic evaluation of the impact of tertiary education. Indeed, the evaluation of economic viability should also consider other economic factors, such as tuition fees, which exist in many countries. It would also be necessary to include the effect of unemployment in the evaluation; easier and faster entry into employment after completing the educational career, respectively. Unemployment threatens more individuals with upper-secondary school education than university graduates. However, even this view is considerably distorted, because the problem of unemployment affects graduates of various study fields differently, both graduates of upper-secondary and tertiary education. The situation also varies by region or gender. It is problem of getting a job, but also problem of wage earned amount. The problem is quite complex, and therefore the aim of this contribution is to introduce the concept of opportunity costs and its application to the issue of tertiary education, and to identify other potential economic factors influencing the assessment of economic return on tertiary education.
Efforts to evaluate the economic viability of tertiary education are not uncommon. Different calculations appear, in which authors try to point out the economic advantage and profitability of tertiary education (OECD, 2008, 2012). The aim of the contribution is to point out the possibility of using the concept of opportunity costs to evaluate the economic profitability of tertiary education by valuing it through differences in the mean/median wage of employees according to attained education level. It is thus possible to determine the return period and rate of return on tertiary education for individual states. Expected factors include the educational structure of each country, where a high share of university-educated population can lead to relative stagnation in the wages of university-educated employees, and at the same time low share of upper-secondary educated employees, especially manually skilled, creates a shortage of skilled labours and relatively increases their average earnings. It turns out that the educational structure of the country's population and the level of average earnings of employees according to their educational attainment are interconnected and significantly influence the assessment of the profitability of tertiary education. Potential factors influencing economic profitability also include the field of education, where the amount of earnings, and thus the profitability of tertiary education, depends on the previous choice of study field of upper-secondary education and the choice of the field of tertiary education itself. This fact is reflected in the preferences of the humanity studies at the expense of science or technology, and concerns about the advent of Industry 4.0 in discussions in the Czech Republic. Potential gender discrimination, manifested in the gender pay gap assessed according to different criteria, also affects the assessment of the profitability of tertiary education (Marinič & Straková, 2020).
Eurostat. (2021). EU-SILC Survey. Statistical code: ilc-di08. Liessmann, K. P. (2008). Teorie nevzdělanosti: Omyly společnosti vědění [Theory of Non-education: Mistakes of the Knowledge Society]. Marinič, P., & Straková, N. (2020). Mzdová diskriminace žen a Gender Pay Gap [Wage Discrimination of Women and Gander Pay Gap]. In MMK2020 - Mezinárodní Masarykova konference pro doktorandy a mladé vědecké pracovníky. OECD. (2008). Tertiary education for the knowledge society – Volume 1. OECD. (2012). Education Indicators in Focus: What are the returns on higher education for individuals and countries? Pecina, P., & Sládek, P. (2017). Fourth Industrial Revolution and Technical Education. In 11th International Technology, Education and Development Conference. doi:10.21125/inted.2017.0621. Trow, M. (1973). Problems in the Transition From Elite to Mass Higher Education. Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. Záthurecký, V., & Marinič, P. (2019). Industry 4.0 – Analysis of the economic development in the chosen European countries. In 6th SWS International Scientific Conference on Social Sciences 2019. doi:10.5593/SWS.ISCSS.2019.2/S05.073.
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