The making of human capital is increasingly seen as a principal function of higher education. A keyword in neoliberal ideology, human capital represents a subtle masking of social conflict and expresses metaphorically the commodification of human abilities and an alienating notion of human potential, both of which sit ill with the goals of education. The recent National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 (the Hunt Report) which appeared in Ireland in January 2010, is a representative example of official articulation, on the part of government and corporations, of the human capital/skills agenda in post-crash Ireland. Human capital, now commonplace across official discourse in Ireland, is a complex ideological construct which, in the educational arena, gives voice to two specific interests of capital: the provision of a workforce ever more narrowly suited to the current needs of employers and the intensification of competition between individuals in the labour market. The construct subtly reinvents socio-economic processes as acts driven solely by individuals and reconstitutes higher education as an adjunct of the economy. However, this paper argues, a skills-driven higher education can neither deliver large numbers of high value jobs nor overcome the deeper causes of the present crisis. This raising of false expectations, alongside a crudely reductionist view of education, sets limits on the unchallenged hegemony of this particular strand of neoliberal ideology. In the current recession, during which the state is attempting to shift the burden of educational funding from public to corporate and individual contributions, those involved in higher education need to provide a robust political economy critique of human capital ideology in order to strengthen practical resistance to it.
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