The Productivity issue in educational organisations: some educational implications of efficiency campaigns

Year: 1989

Author: Burkhardt, Geoffrey

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In an economic climate which has emphasised the issues of educational output, school effectiveness and efficiency it is argued in this paper that there has been too little public consideration of the difficulties of applying input-output models to education organisations, in the manner of a business firm or a factory. The motivation for such "economic solutions" to making schools and universities "more efficient" has derived largely from purely short term economic considerations. In both USA and Australia attempts have been made to determine the "production functions" of education organisations. These efforts tend to ignore a number of important differences between education organisation and profit maximization enterprises in the business sector. The most important difference arises from the diverse nature of long term educational and social goals of schools and universities.

Evidence of this recent preoccupation of Australian governments and educational planners with short term "economic priorities' for education at the expense of longer term considerations can be seen in three recent important documents. In the National Interest - secondary education and youth policy in Australia highlights at the outset an economically dominant role for secondary schooling - designed to make schools more "productive". Beare has most aptly drawn attention to the application of the "Economic Paradigm" to education and the consequent dangers of an over-emphasis upon this perception of education.

In May 1988 the document Strengthening Australia's Schools states in its foreword the central role schools play (should play?) in the economy and emphasises that "we must concentrate on the most effective use of resources available to Schools" - further "we must continually look for ways to improve the quality, relevance and effectiveness of schools throughout Australia". It is not the intention in this paper to argue that schools and universities should not strive for quality and effectiveness, but rather that the pathways being followed currently by government and educational administrators towards the goals of quality and effectiveness appear to be those embracing mainly economic measures of efficiency, productivity and quality based upon input-output models more relevant to business organisations.

A third document which has had a profound impact upon the productivity/efficiency debate in Higher Education is Higher Education: a Policy Statement about which there has been extensive debate in the higher education sector. This debate has revealed the predominance of economic motives to justify moves to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of tertiary institutions. Again the input-output model has been applied to justify the economic desirability of mergers, increased graduate outputs, reduced costs per student place and the application of "performance indicators" to measure the productivity of educational organisations.