'Study effectiveness of education and labour market policies’

23 May 2014

“It’s my belief that scientists also have a social mission,” says Henriëtte Maassen van den Brink, Professor Labour Market and Education Economics at UvA’s Amsterdam School of Economics.

That conviction made her join the Amsterdam Economic Board, a collaborative initiative of the business sector, educational and research institutions and governmental agencies and authorities to stimulate economic growth in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (MRA). Maassen van den Brink is responsible for human capital, which consists of education and employment. "I would never state that my mission is the easiest. Bridging the gap between scientific knowledge and policy costs a great deal of time, energy and perseverance. But it’s my opinion that every professor should do this. A former strategic plan of the University of Amsterdam mentioned that scientists should communicate with the arts and with society. That’s exactly what I’m doing in my teaching and research."

Sense of urgency 

Maassen van den Brink is the only independent member in the Board. “I was invited to join because of my criticism of the Innovation Platform (from 2003 to 2010 the national think tank to promote the knowledge economy, ed.). I found that to be a club of mostly 'talking, talking, and more talking’. During the past two years we analysed the current situation and determined future opportunities and bottlenecks. I am working on the implementation plan right now and we are starting up a number of projects. Unfortunately we have been working for three years already, but the crisis has now raised a sense of urgency with all the parties." 

The Werk maken van Talent programme, which translates to ‘Working on Talent’, focuses on the period 2013-2016. The aim is optimal development for everyone to not only find a job, but also to stay employed in the long run. Maassen van den Brink: "There is a need for regional control over the educational and labour markets to ensure well-educated staff at the right time. We need to combine all the knowledge to get a better match between education and the labour market. Because businesses keep repeating that there is a gap here while at the same time educational institutions ask: how can we find out future needs? We don’t want to educate people for unemployment."

Education and labour market monitor 

First Maassen van den Brink wants to set up an education and labour market monitor. "That is a necessity to get control over the regional situation. There is lack of a good overview: how many people are living in the MRA, what training and education levels are available, the unemployment numbers, and the number of vacancies.  All this data is out there, but it’s scattered." 

"The development of such a monitor is scientific work; retrieving and linking databases of for example the Central Bureau of Statistics, the social benefits agency UWV, the Chambers of Commerce, municipalities and many more sources. It would be great if we could also link those databases to corporate databases, enabling us to track people even better. That will give us even more measures to ensure employment for everyone and facilitate career changes when necessary, by teaching people new trades. That labour market monitor will also provide a lot of material for scientific research programmes, with opportunities for many PHD students. But it is not easy to track people on an individual level. There are privacy-sensitive issues that still have to be solved.” 

Social cost-benefit analysis 

According to Maassen van den Brink, science should also play an important role in conducting social cost-benefit analyses. "Such an analysis happens, for example, for a large infrastructure project like the new metro line in Amsterdam. But when it comes to investing in human capital, it’s hardly ever done. Scientists can determine objectively if and to what degree measures are working. I would like to create league tables for labour market policies, which provide insight into results of investments, of effectiveness and cost-benefit considerations. It will enable comparison of different measures and it will show which labour market policies are most effective.”

Research in education economics 

Previously Maassen van den Brink founded research institute TIER, Top Institute for Evidence Based Education Research. Maassen van den Brink: "In education there is also far too little research on the effectiveness of policy measures. Decisions about social internships or free schoolbooks are based on opinions rather than on research. TIER, a collaboration between the University of Amsterdam and the universities of Maastricht and Groningen, conducts education-related economic research to improve the quality of education and to ensure that investments in education are well spent. We have done a lot of research already and some of it has been incorporated into education policy." 

Small but strong European region 

Maassen van den Brink aims at evidence based research for the labour market as well, starting with the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. "There are half a million people in the MRA, which is much larger than just Amsterdam. Almere also forms a part of it, along with the Haarlemmermeer; the Noord-Holland Noord region actually. It is a small but strong European region. And there are not many regions with such united collaborative efforts for labour market investments, with so many different parties on board, and with both economic and social objectives. My scientific challenge with the research group, therefore is to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures. Because that is the main issue: to prove that what was done was useful to achieve the objectives.”