Single Blog Title

This is a single blog caption
03 Jun 2013

Skills, Work and Development: Initial Reactions to the High Level Panel’s Post-2015 Vision

By Simon McGrath, University of Nottingham.

HLP educ logoMy overall sense of the HLP proposals is a positive one, notwithstanding my wider scepticism about global development goals. The Report starts well from its title: “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development”. Rhetorically powerful, yes, but also pointing to a larger development vision than was present in the MDGs. Moreover, there is a strong, and very welcome, insistence on equity and disaggregation: “Targets will only be considered ‘achieved’ if they are met for all relevant income and social groups” (17). The proposals seek consciously to build on and go beyond the MDGs to target the poorest and most affected by conflict; to consider good governance and “inclusive growth to provide jobs” (Executive Summary). The latter is of particular interest for this response.

The HLP Report also offers a strong vision of five “transformative shifts” that it sees as essential for successful development:

  1. Leave no one behind
  2. Put sustainable development at the core
  3. Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth
  4. Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all.
  5. Forge a new global partnership.

This is welcome as is the call for a data revolution. There is also some sense of the importance of an enabling environment.

Overall, the Report offers 12 Goals and 54 targets for 2030. For the purposes of this blog, I will focus mainly on Goal 3: “provide quality education and lifelong learning” and Goal 8: “create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and equitable growth”. Each has four targets, as follows:

Goal 3

a. Increase by x% the proportion of children able to access and complete pre-primary education

b. Ensure every child, regardless of circumstance, completes primary education able to read, write and count well enough to meet minimum learning standards

c. Ensure every child, regardless of circumstance, has access to lower secondary education and increase the proportion of adolescents who achieve recognised and measurable learning outcomes to x%

d. Increase the number of young and adult women and men with the skills, including technical and vocational, needed for work by x%


Goal 8

a. Increase the number of good and decent jobs and livelihoods by x

b. Decrease the number of young people not in education, employment or training by x%

c. Strengthen productive capacity by providing universal access to financial services and infrastructure such as transportation and ICT

d. Increase new start-ups by x and value added from new products by y through creating an enabling business environment and boosting entrepreneurship

What is important for the broader education community is that Goal 3 pushes beyond primary education, with early years and secondary both included. Of most interest for me here, inevitably, is the treatment of TVET. As well as a target, the accompanying two pages in Annex 2, also has significant phrases on skills such as “Education supplies young people with skills for life, work and earning a livelihood.” (37) and “skills are important components of inclusive and equitable growth. They are needed to build capacity and professionalism in governments and business” (37). After TVET’s neglect through the EFA and MDG era, this is very welcome.

HLP goal 8 logoGoal 8 provides a far stronger vision than the MDGs on work and production. The supporting text in Annex 2 makes clear the importance of productivity and skills development as central to the Goal’s achievement. Livelihoods and the informal economy are also acknowledged.

The Report also offers a set of 12 potential impacts of successful development by 2030, which include

  • 470m more workers with good jobs and livelihoods
  • 200m more young people employed with the skills they need to get good work. (19)

These reinforce the sense of the importance of skills and work.

The significant improvement on the MDG approach to gender (Goal 2) is very welcome. For this blog, it is noteworthy that Goal 2 includes a work dimension, including a paragraph in Annex 2 that addresses vulnerable employment and women’s particular challenges in this respect.

Nonetheless, there are a range of potential problems in such an ambitious document. As regards education, it is striking that lifelong learning is in the title of the Goal but not really developed as a notion beyond the fourth target being for youth and adults, with the emphasis in the Annexe very much on the former. As Kenneth King has already noted, the EFA target of illiteracy has been lost, in spite of the overall emphasis on the most marginalised.

However, it is the exclusion of higher education (HE) that I want to address here. As Kenneth has noted, this was hardly surprising. Nonetheless, there are a number of points at which the developmental potential of HE seems just waiting to be made. Indeed, there is mention of “scientists and academics” and the need for HE and public administration schools on page 17, and universities are seen as development partners at the local level on page 31. However, several opportunities to envision a role for HE are missed. These include a discussion of better policies and public institutions; of innovation (no mention of the “global knowledge economy” here, interestingly, or the “global war for talent”); and of the new global partnership. Above all else, there is no sense of the need for professionals to help achieve many of the goals and targets. Nor is there any real sense of a capacity development vision, another obvious space for higher education.

In Annexe 2, I believe a tactical error has been made in the use of Psacharopoulos and Patrinos (2004). If rates of return analysis was to be used, then surely Patrinos’s more recent work (Colclough, Kingdon and Patrinos 2010) would be more appropriate, particularly as it significantly revises the overall message. However, the use of a paper that includes data from as long ago as 1956 and no data from the last 15 years is remarkable. Moreover, what this work, used already to advance the EFA agenda, can usefully contribute to current debates about quality of learning and insertion into 21st century labour markets is difficult to see.  However, I can see why Charles Kenny of CGD was “tempted to curse the very name of Mincer”.

Regarding Goal 8, there is little of the sense of the interesting debates about jobs versus work that have been featured in NORRAG blogs reviewing the “Year of Skills”. Rather, there is some usage of both terms that seems based on an implicit reading of them as being identical. In contrast, there is a potentially significant and controversial move on page 46, where it appears that the panel are promoting a notion of “good jobs” that dilutes the ILO’s well-established notion of “decent work”:

The ILO’s concept of “decent work” … sets a high standard toward which every country should strive. However, it has become clear that there can be middle ground for some developing countries, where “good jobs” … are a significant step

Elsewhere, although informal employment is acknowledged, it is not clear whether this is seen as a necessary evil. And, as Kenneth has already noted, the globalisation of the NEET concept is seriously problematic.

Inevitably, I am left with a series of questions that I think are important in mapping out the future of education, skills and work in the post-2015 development vision. Given the brevity of the treatment of each goal it is far from clear how any of them will be operationalised.

There is no clarity (and no consensus within the education community) as to what learning outcomes and skills should be measured and how. Whilst it is good that quality is being stressed, we are a long way from agreement on how interventions around such inputs as teachers, testing or technology impact on quality.

Although there has been much talk in the past year that there is room and/or need for sectoral goals in addition to the HLP’s goals (in the same way we now have MDG and EFA goals for education), it is far from clear now how this will work. With four education targets named, will these crowd out other areas, most obviously adult literacy and higher education?

What is meant by the new term of “good jobs”, and the implication that “decent work” is too high a standard to expect in some countries? Is it simply a pragmatic move or is it part of a wider business-friendliness that could undermine workers’ rights and conditions? Equally, what is meant by inclusive growth that is job creating?

More broadly, what does the Report imply for broader development visions? Although there is much here that human development advocates would welcome, this is far from an approach infused with the work of authors such as Sen and Nussbaum. How convincing too is it as a sustainable development vision? There is much more about sustainable development here than in the MDGs, but what does its use of the phrase “sustainable consumption and production” really amount to? It appears, for instance, that the lifestyles of the rich can be maintained as there is no inherent tension between this and growth in the South (8). Is there real appetite to address unsustainable consumption, given the likely political costs entailed? Equally, the Report talks of rapid, inclusive and sustainable growth, but there are many who would question whether this is possible.

Finally, it seems that we all need to be asking both of the Report and the post-2015 process more generally: What really has been learnt from the MDGs about setting and achieving global goals? The Report contains a version of this lesson learning, for sure, but it is very much the learning of the development insiders.

Simon McGrath is Director of Research and Professor of International Education and Development, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham. Email:




(Visited 116 times, 1 visits today)
Sub Menu
Back to top