Although it might not appear to be the most obvious topic for an economist to work on, the analysis of determinants of educational success has become one of the fastest growing subfields of economics. The IZA program area on the Economics of Education connects many of the leading researchers in this area and its 4th annual workshop, held in Bonn recently, has again proven to be a major success story.
Organized by Ian Walker and Ingo Isphording, this years’ workshop brought together 25 international researchers to present state-of-the art advances that reflected the broad range of policy-relevant topics economists care about in understanding the production of human capital, starting from what makes parents choose the right school for their offspring, to incentivizing teachers to bring out the best in their students, to how exposure to violence can affect student performance.
The keynote speech was given by John N. Friedman, who demonstrated the potential behind using big data approaches on tax data to dig into spatial variations of intergenerational mobility, and the role of higher education in shaping opportunities to leave poverty.
Why schools are segregated
Sándor Sóvágó presented evidence on school segregation in the Netherlands. Based on administrative data from Amsterdam secondary schools, he identified the assignment of students to schools based on their ability, and differences in the preferences of households as the main sources of segregation. His results imply that while quotas for minority students would reduce segregation, this effect would come at a large expense of student welfare by assigning students to schools against their preferences.
How student fees affect study behavior
Jan Marcus analyzed how the introduction of student fees in Germany affected the study behavior of current students. His results showed that even modest fees have important incentive effects on students and shorten their duration of studies. Students who have to pay fees increase their study effort and time investment. For students not yet enrolled though, student fees very well have negative effects by discouraging them from undertaking tertiary education.
Taken together, the presentations (see the workshop program for a full list) led to lively discussions and exchange among the mix of junior and senior researchers, highlighted the importance of education as the main driver for labor market success later in life, and pointed to important but often under-utilized policy levers.