Educating for a Just Transition, or the Poverty of Human Capital Theory

New Formations - ISSN 0950-2378
Volume 2023 Number 110 & 111

Educating for a Just Transition, or the Poverty of Human Capital Theory
David Ridley pages 131-146
DOI: 10.3898/NewF:110-111.08.2024


The focus of this article is on the contemporary re-application of human capital theory to higher education, looking specifically at the English system. The introduction of ‘income contingent loans’, a neoliberal invention enabled by modern big data finance systems, allows the state to calculate the financial value of specific degrees at particular universities. This financialisation not only shapes students into ‘entrepreneurs of the self ’ but also disciplines universities into advancing the marketisation of higher education. However, a critical examination of human capital theory reveals contradictions between its ideological underpinnings and the reality of graduates’ experiences, with the application of human capital theory in practice leading to an oversupply of graduates in the job market. This situation, exacerbated by the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, has resulted in a generation facing overqualification and underemployment, contributing to a generational crisis. However, this deepening contradiction between ideology and reality, combined with heightened awareness of global crises like climate change among young people, creates an opportunity for counter-hegemonic struggle. By addressing environmental challenges through a ‘net zero’ strategy actually worth its name, the UK government would create millions of green jobs, many requiring university education. This, then, presents the educational left with a strategic opportunity to advocate for the future of both the planet and higher education, highlighting the interconnectedness of environmental and educational concerns.

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To cite this article
David Ridley (2023) Educating for a Just Transition, or the Poverty of Human Capital Theory, New Formations, 2023(110 & 111 ), 131-146.

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