Human capital theory in education

Donald Gillies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionarypeer-review


This chapter is a critical exploration of the rise and limitations of Human Capital Theory (HCT) within the field of education. In recent times, HCT has become one of the most powerful underpinnings of education policy discourse worldwide. At both supra-national level, within such bodies as the OECD and the EU, and within national education systems, the influence of HCT is considerable. Promoting education as an ‘investment’ which yields returns in due course to the individual in terms of pay and to the state in terms of employment and economic growth, HCT provides a captivating model for neoliberal governance of state education. The theory thus promotes state education systems as subservient to the vaunted knowledge economy, as instrumental for economic growth. In this chapter, the nature and development of HCT are outlined, its current influence indicated, and its effects highlighted. The chapter concludes by pointing to some of the weaknesses of the theory as applied to the field of education, as well as some of the problematic issues around conceptions of schooling and of young people which the theory produces.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of educational philosophy and theory
EditorsMichael Peters
Place of PublicationBerlin
PublisherSpringer Science + Business Media
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-287-532-7
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2015


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