The ideological underpinnings of World Bank TVET policy: Implications of the influence of Human Capital Theory on South African TVET policy

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From taking a long-standing position against TVET, the World Bank's most recent education policy has seen a shift to its promotion and then a seeming retraction. The World Bank argues that the occupational route to skills training is the better way to go. The Bank argues that the occupational route rather than general education provides better opportunities for employment in the labour market. The change in opinion – ironically for a bank devoted to market functionality – is a market failure in matching skills to employment opportunities. The World Bank defines the growth of the demand of TVET in many regions as resulting in a need for quality promotion, stronger regulation and allocation of more financial resources towards TVET. Recent academic critiques (Klees, Samoff & Stromquist 2012) of the World Bank's 2020 (hereafter referred WBES 2020; World Bank 2011) strategy have looked at the broad educational focus of the WBES 2020. This article focuses on the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) aspects of WBES 2020. The World Bank has sought to go beyond financial lending and structural adjustment, which defined its policies in the 1970s and 1980s to ‘policy lending’ in which it uses intellectual capital to recommend policies for developing countries. These policies are premised Ngcwangu The ideological underpinnings of World Bank TVET policy largely on human capital theory assumptions about skills and education with a strong emphasis on ‘work relevant’ skills for development. A change in World Bank education policies since the 1980s is important to observe. It is apparent that the Bank's lending portfolio for Vocational Education has declined significantly in the early 1980s until the mid-1990s against the backdrop of the Bank encouraging developing countries to invest more in basic education. This article analyses the convergence between national TVET policy of South Africa and the World Bank's commitment to a market-driven approach to TVET. It argues that such an approach overlooks the possibility of alternative conceptualisations of TVET, which prioritise social justice and sustainable development. Given the deepening capitalist crisis as seen by the 2008 global financial crisis and the failure of market forces to create conditions for inclusive economic development, it is critical for TVET policy to be philosophically orientated towards promoting democratic citizenship towards a truly substantive democracy. What I show in this article is that the recent World Bank policy on TVET has internal contradictions and its recommendations are not likely to assist poor countries in dealing with socio-economic problems as they prioritise supply-side restructuring rather than broader economic structural reforms. One of the fundamental internal contradictions in the World Bank's approach to education is that it maintains that ‘skills mismatches’ can be explained by market failure, yet it implies that the ‘skills mismatches’ will be solved by the market.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-45
Number of pages22
JournalEducation as Change
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • employment
  • human capital theory
  • ideology
  • labour market
  • neoliberalism
  • policy development
  • skills
  • World Bank

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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