Book Review : Education, Economy and Society by Salim Vally and Enver Motala (Wayne Dirk)

Education, Economy and Society (2014) attempts to dispel myths about the relationship between education, the economy and society. It argues that there is not a seamless relationship between the provision of skills through education and training and the capacity of the economy to absorb such skills. The editors and the various authors argue against the view that there is a skills-deficit which, if removed, will solve the problem of youth and adult unemployment (human capital theory). Such a view, it is argued, leads to an instrumentalist approach to education that reduces all learning to its usefulness to the economy. According to the authors, market-based economies are unpredictable and cannot be relied on to deliver long-term solutions for the problem of unemployment. Drawing on empirical research, the book provides evidence that market economies tend to shed skills in a manner that leads to insecure forms of employment. From the case studies presented, it is evident that deeper empirical research is needed about the nature of the South African economy and its relationship to education and training.

The word of caution submitted by Education, Economy and Society is that education policy-makers should not regard the formal economy as a panacea for the problems faced by unemployed youth and adults in a developing country such as South Africa.

The arguments presented in this book are important for government policy-makers and academics who have to find creative solutions for the problems of unemployment, poverty and access to quality education and training. Government policy-makers, in particular, will find some resonance between the themes of Education, Economy and Society and the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training (DHET, 2014). Both place emphasis on increasing the knowledge-base to address the complexities of post-school education.

The Research Agenda (2014-2017) published by Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), attests to this view and it is hoped that research in the areas it has identified will develop new concepts, ideas and theoretical frameworks that will assist in developing practical responses to the concerns raised by the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training and Education, Economy and Society.

The critical worth of Education, Economy and Society is that it forces a renewed dialogue on human capital theory. It is therefore a significant and valuable starting point for collaboration between policy-makers and researchers tasked with addressing the many challenges facing post-school education in South Africa.    

The Education, Economy and Society publication by Salim Vally and Enver Motala is available from the UNISA press.

Dr Wayne Dirk is a Deputy Director in the Directorate: Private Higher Education, DHET.


For further information contact Dr Wayne Dirk at