What's in a name?

March 18, 2010

It is ironical that a report from the Adam Smith Institute should advocate the abolition of public funding for higher education ("Taxpayer beware: the hidden costs of public funding's helping hand", 4 March).

Smith himself, while in favour of fees being paid "by those who receive the immediate benefit of such education and instruction", was also clear about what we would now call the externalities of education and its contribution to the development of human capital, arguing that "the expence of the institutions for education and religious instruction, is ... beneficial to the whole society, and may, therefore, without injustice, be defrayed by the general contribution of the whole society" (Wealth of Nations, Book V). But it would be asking a lot to expect Smith's careful and subtle analysis to be matched by that of the eponymous institute.

Paul Temple, Centre for Higher Education Studies, Institute of Education, University of London.

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