|Educational Cost-benefit Analysis - Education Research Paper No. 02 (DFID, 1993, 27 p.)|
The Comparative Education literature, also, will only be referred to here in so far as is necessary for the purposes of the present work on cost-benefit analysis. Within the comparative literature, there has in recent years been increased emphasis on the problems of drawing meaningful comparisons between countries which are often in very different situations. A major trend in recent years has been that comparative studies have:
"moved in practice increasingly away from a descriptive, historical, even philosophical function to one that is interpretative, aetiological and lays claim even to be predictive" (Halls, 1990).
The various approaches to comparative education differ widely but they have increasingly come to recognise the validity of the differing local cultures and social and economic circumstances within which education systems have to subsist; thus, the search for one convergent educational mould into which education systems everywhere had to fit has had to be abandoned as futile.
Specific to developing countries, comparativists have drawn heavily on modernization theory and dependency theory and, more recently, on human capital theory, to all of which they have tried to relate many local ethnographic studies. A variety of different approaches are in use by scholars in different parts of the world, including, increasingly, many that are essentially practical and policy orientated (Thomas, 1990)
At the same time, the comparative literature has had to recognise that financial constraint and retrenchment are now universal and thus financial and economic criteria have come to play an increasing role in questions relating to the allocation of scarce educational resources. Thus it is that cross-references to cost-benefit analysis and cost-effectiveness analysis have come to feature ever more prominently in the comparative literature.
Bishop (1989) quotes a comment from an authority in Uganda as pinpointing what he sees as perhaps the most glaring defect of education in developing countries:
"The most serious limitation of school in developing countries is that it can only reach a small proportion of the school population...and the result is often a small, powerful elite on the one hand and an uneducated impotent majority on the other...two nations, with one rich, educated, African in appearance but mentally foreign, and the other, the majority of the population, poor and illiterate".
If so, difficult resource allocation decisions will need to be taken on the basis of analysis which should be as scientific and rigorous as possible. Hence there would seem to be little doubt that cost-benefit analysis, in its present or in some future refined form, will increasingly play a major role in the educational decision-making process.
The cross-country reviews of cost-benefit analysis by Psacharopoulos (1973, 1981, 1982, 1985) and by Jain (1991) were evidently comparative in nature but few if any cost-benefit studies have been carried out on a comparative country basis.