Human Capital, Education, and Sustainability


  • Donald Gillies University of the West of Scotland, Scotland



Ecology, Economics, Schooling


Human capital theory remains a powerful influence in modern economics and withineducational discourse. In this paper, the theory and its prevalence across Europeanstate education policy is explored and critiqued in a number of ways includingits implication in an ethos which aims at maximising returns from resources. Assuch, the theory and its practical manifestations are inimical to the concerns ofsustainability. The paper suggests that while the concept of “natural capital”, in itsfocus on the need to preserve profitable natural resources for future benefit, doescoalesce with sustainability discourse at points, more fruitful potential for thegoals of sustainability lies in redirecting the aims of state education, away from ahuman capital theory orientation, towards a renewal of the social aims inherent inthe original democratic ideals of liberal education.


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Author Biography

Donald Gillies, University of the West of Scotland, Scotland

Donald Gillies has been Dean of the School of Education at the University of the West of Scotland since 2014. Prior to that he was Professor of Education Policy at York St John University, England. His book, Michel Foucault and Educational Leadership was published by Routledge in 2013, and he is also the compiler of A Brief Critical Dictionary of Education, a free online resource available at