Labor Markets in an Era of Adjustment: Issues papers

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Labor markets in an era of adjustment : issues papers English Abstract This volume is one of two volumes based on a series of five conferences and the result of a large research project undertaken by the Economic Development Institute EDI of the World Bank. Several countries have moved towards increased freedom for universities to set fee levels or income-contingent repayment systems for student loan repayment or both.

The predominantly non-market character of post-secondary education is not unique to Canada.

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Labor Markets in an Era of Adjustment: Volume 1 - Issues Papers

There is no advanced economy with a large market sector in post-secondary education. Students would purchase post-secondary studies from a post-secondary institution. The price students would be willing to pay in various fields of study would depend on market returns in these fields and on the students' competencies and interests. Students could borrow to pay for their studies with repayment on an income-contingent basis. Post-secondary institutions would compete for students in various fields of study on the basis of price and of quality of instruction. The price for a course of study in a given field of study at a given quality level would depend on the cost of providing the course of study at this quality level.

In this model of "student as customer", students' responses to changing labour market conditions would affect the course mix by changing the structure of demand for post-secondary studies. In recent years, federal funding for post-secondary education has moved away from providing funds to post-secondary institutions towards support for post-secondary students. A model of "student as customer" would support moving in this direction. The crucial assumptions of this model are that students respond to labour market signals in making their enrolment decisions and that post-secondary institutions will respond to student demand for increased enrolments.

Evidence related to these assumptions is discussed below. Freeman provides evidence of a decline in the earnings differential in the United States during the s due to rapid increase in the relative supply of university-educated workers. The paper examines the determinants of educational attainment for successive age cohorts and the results for university-high school wage differentials in Canada. They note that the percentage with university education of successive baby-boom birth cohorts did not rise significantly; and they attribute this to limitations on the supply of university "seats".

They carry out projections that indicate that unless enrolment rates grow more rapidly than their historic trend, university-high school wage differentials will increase significantly in the future, in particular, for men. Fortin's and Lemieux's results call into question the extent to which Canadian post-secondary institutions respond to increased demand for post-secondary education.

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If, as seems likely, post-secondary education continues to be funded in large part from provincial budgets, the supply response to increased demand for post-secondary education is likely to depend critically on provincial budgetary decisions. These decisions will be made in the face of competing budget priorities such as health expenditures. In the absence of a market mechanism for determining the appropriate level of post-secondary enrolments such as that described by Montmarquette and Boisclair, SRI , rising wage differentials between post-secondary graduates and high school graduates may not lead to increased supply of "seats" in post-secondary institutions.

Fortin and Lemieux also examine factors that affect demand for university seats. They cite meta-analyses of U.

International competition, returns to skill and labour market adjustment

They find a similar impact using their Canadian data, but this effect is not statistically significant when a quadratic time trend term is introduced. Several other SRI research papers examine whether students' enrolment decisions or field of study choices respond to market returns. They also shed light on two related issues: how rapidly the response occurs and indirectly whether post-secondary institutions have responded to increased student demand in fields of study by increasing enrolment in these fields.

They conclude that educational attainment responds significantly to increases in expected earnings, with the largest impact for studies beyond high school.


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They find smaller effects of parental education than in earlier Canadian research, especially for the post-secondary level. Belzil and Hansen also examine the determinants of choice of post-secondary field of study. They report no parental education effect on choice of field of study, but significant effects of expected future earnings, with the strongest effects being those for commerce and the weakest being those for humanities.


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Their choice models are estimated for and graduates; in both cases they use the labour market experience of the preceding cohort to construct their model of expected earnings in each field of study. Like Belzil and Hansen, they find that field of study choice responds to differences in expected earnings; the effect is somewhat stronger for men than for women. Boudarbat and Montmarquette also show a significant impact of attitudinal variables on field of study choice.

Sumon Majumdar and Katsumi Shimotsu SRI estimate a model of the response of natural science and engineering enrolments to conditions in the labour market for natural scientists and engineers. The relative supply of new natural scientists and engineers tracks their relative earnings well between and and again between and , but the two series move in opposite directions between and The overall picture that emerges from this research is that the enrolment choices of post-secondary students are sensitive to expected labour market conditions.

Since the responses of post-secondary students as to field of study are observed through enrolments or graduations, it seems likely that the post-secondary system has accommodated students' responses to labour market signals as to field of study to some degree. Whether adjustment at the level of fields of study would have been more rapid if post-secondary institutions had greater incentives to respond to changes in students' field of study preferences remains an open question.

By the end of , Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom will all have implemented reforms which allow greater autonomy to universities in setting student fees and which provide for student loans with income-contingent repayments. What have been the results of these reforms? What lessons are there for Canada in the experience of these countries with PSE reforms? In the Scandinavian model there is little differentiation between universities; in the Anglo-American model there can be considerable differentiation.


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Schwartz states as his underlying assumptions that the contemporary economy requires mass post-secondary education and that mass post-secondary education requires that a significant part of the costs be borne by students or their families. He notes that all three of the countries he examines followed the Scandinavian model before the s and had low rates of participation in post-secondary education. When they moved to mass higher education, they introduced significant tuition fees to aid in financing this change. Schwartz argues that there is a significant role for market forces in determining the choices of post-secondary students, that it follows that post-secondary institutions must offer a variety of educational options to accommodate student choices, and that with diversity of educational options the question of differential fees is necessarily posed.

The provision of financial aid is a key role for government, in Schwartz's view, because of the inability of students to borrow against their future earnings in a private loan market.

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He notes, however, that despite these reforms, fees in these countries do not yet actually vary across universities as envisaged in a model of student choice such as that outlined in Montmarquette and Boisclair, SRI There are three levels of fees in Australia, but they are common across universities. In the United Kingdom, fees are almost uniformly at the maximum level of?

In New Zealand, where universities have been free to set their fees since , the fee structure varies much more by field of study than by university. The most recent reform in Australia holds out the prospect of significant variation in fees, but it remains to be seen if this will occur. Schwartz reviews a number of studies of the impact of post-secondary reforms in Australia and the U.

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There does not appear to be strong evidence in either country that these reforms have lead to decreased participation in post-secondary education. Schwartz sees the following lessons for reform in Canada in the experiences of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. First, it is politically difficult to move towards a more market-oriented system of post-secondary education. Second, it has proved difficult to charge market interest rates in income-contingent loan schemes, perhaps because doing so means that real loan balances can increase during periods of low income.

Australia appears to have found a way around this difficulty by allowing up-front tuition payments of a lower amount, thus effectively charging interest for those who defer payment. Schwartz shows that it is politically difficult to make reforms aimed at moving post-secondary education towards a more market-driven system, with students as purchasers.

Partial reform may not be sufficient to assure diversity.