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High Skills: Globalisation, Competitiveness and Comparative Skill Formation

Brown, P., Green, A., and Lauder, H.

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Since 1997 I’ve been studying issues of globalisation, the nation state and skill formation. The book is based on a three year project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council of Great Britain (ESRC).  It has proved to be a benchmark study especially in light transformation that we have been investigating in another ESRC project focused on global corporate strategies and the future of skills.

High Skills (2001) argues that economic globalisation has led to intense debates about the competitiveness of nations. Prosperity, social justice and welfare are seen to depend on the creation of a ‘high skilled’ workforce. This international consensus around high skills led American presidents to claim themselves ‘education presidents’ and in Britain, Tony Blair announced that ‘talent is 21st century wealth’.

This view of knowledge-driven capitalism led all the developed economies to increase the numbers of highly trained people in preparation for technical, professional and managerial employment. But it also harbours the view that what we regard as a ‘skilled’ worker is being transformed. The pace of technological innovation, corporate restructuring and the changing nature of work require a new configuration of skills described in the language of creativity, teamwork, employability, self-management and lifelong learning.

But is this optimistic account of a future of high skilled work for all justified? Will a convergence of national skill formation strategies become an inevitable consequence of a more integrated global economy? Would such a convergence centre on market deregulation, ‘flexible’ labour markets and a market oriented system of education and training? Or will significant societal differences remain a key feature of skill formation strategies? Will the distinction between ‘neo-liberal’, ‘social partnership’ and ‘developmental state’ models of skill formation survive the forces of globalisation?

This book interrogates these questions drawing on the findings of a major international comparative study of national routes to a ‘high skills’ economy in Britain, Germany, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States. This analysis draws on interviews with over 250 key stakeholders and represents the culmination of three years detailed research by the three principal authors.

The main aim of this book is to advance our understanding of globalisation, nation states and the political economy of high skills. The issue of skill formation stands at the crossroads of sociology, economics, education, business studies, social policy and politics. Therefore, the approach taken in this book is interdisciplinary. It is the first book that offers a comparative examination of ‘high skill’ policies. A topic of major public debate that is destined to become of even greater importance in all the developed economies in the early decades of the twenty-first century. The book has had an impact on policy discussions in a number of countries including Australia, Britain, Singapore and South Africa. For a discussion of the high skills debate in South Africa see, Kraak, A, Lauder, H., Brown, P. and Ashton, D. (2006) Debating High Skills and Joined-Up Policy, Cape Town: HSRC Press. pp.65.


Aims of the High Skills Project:

  1. To conduct a study of different routes to a high skills economy in Germany, Japan, Singapore, South Korea the United Kingdom and United States.
  2. To contribute to the development of education, training and labour market policies through an evaluation of 'best' practice.
  3. To develop a comparative theory of skill formation in the context of rapid technological change and intense global economic competition.
  4. To contribute to our understanding of the role of transnational corporations in national strategies to achieving a high skills economy

High Skills: Globalisation, Competitiveness and Comparative Skill Formation, 320 pages, September (2001), ISBN -13: 978-0-19-924418-8

Additional Information

Additional Publications:

Debating High Skills and Joined-Up Policy, Kraak, A, Lauder, H., Brown, P. and Ashton, D. (2006), Cape Town: HSRC Press. pp.65.

Globalization, Knowledge and the Myth of the Magnet Economy, Globalisation, Societies and Education, Brown, P. and Lauder, H. (2006) 4,1, 25-57.

Towards a High-Skilled, Low-Waged Economy? A Review of Global Trends in Education, Employment and the Labour Market, in S.Porter and M.Campbell, (Eds.) Skills and Economic Performance, Brown, P., Lauder, H., Ashton, D. and Tholen, G. (2006) London: Caspian Publishing, pp.55-90.

Capitalism and Social Progress: The Future of Society in a Global Economy, Brown, P. and Lauder, H. (2001), Baskingstoke/New York: Palgrave (esp. Chapter 15).

‘A Strategy for Skill Formation in Britain’, in F.Coffield (Ed.) What Progress Are We Making With Lifelong Learning?, Brown, P. (2001), Copies available from the Department of Education, University of Newcastle.

‘The Future of Skill Formation in Singapore’, Asia Pacific Business Review, Brown, P. and Lauder, H.  (2001) Summer.

Converging Paths or Ships Passing in the Night? An ‘English’ Critique Japanese School Reform, Journal of Comparative Education, Green, A. (2000) 36 (4). 

‘Education, Nation States and the Globalisation of Information Networks’,  Journal of Education Policy, Selwyn, N. and Brown, P. (2000) 15, 661-82.

The Globalisation of Positional Competition?, Sociology, Brown, P.  (2000) 34, 633-53.

Globalisation and the Political Economy of High Skills, Journal of Education and Work, Brown, P. (1999) Vol.12 No3.

East Asian Skills Formation Systems and the Challenge of Globalization, Journal of Education and Work, Green, A. (1999) 21 (3),  pp.253-279.

Education and Globalization in Europe and Asia: Convergent and Divergent Trends, Journal of Education Policy, Green, A. (1999) 14 (1), pp.55-71.

Education, Globalization and the Nation State, Green, A. (1997) Macmillan.