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Something Borrowed, Something Blue?
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Oxford Studies in Comparative Education

Something Borrowed, Something Blue?

A Study of the Thatcher Government's Appropriation of American Education and Training Policy


1993 paperback 288 pages, £42.00, ISBN 978-1-873927-06-9

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About the book

This book was published in two parts, not available separately

Part 1: 160 pages ISBN 978-1-873927-06-9
Part 2: 128 pages ISBN 978-1-873927-05-2

A distinct pattern emerged in the British education and training reform process in the latter half of the 1980s. A government minister or a team of policy experts paid a brief study visit to the United States; a short time later a new initiative was announced which bore a close resemblance to a US programme. More recently, the flow of policy ideas across the Atlantic appears to have reversed direction.

This book develops a three-tiered approach to the analysis of policy borrowing. The first section draws on a number of different literatures relevant to this area to create an analytical framework for the study of policy borrowing. Section Two examines the specific context in which these borrowing episodes occurred, asking: ‘Why did Britain look to America for policy inspiration in the latter half of the 1980s?’ The final section examines individual cases of policy borrowing at the local and national levels, attempting to distill lessons about the borrowing process.


Section One

David Finegold, Laurel McFarland & William Richardson. Introduction

David Brian Robertson & Jerold L. Waltman. The Politics of Policy Borrowing

David Phillips. Borrowing Education Policy

Section Two

David Finegold. The Changing International Economy and Its Impact on Education and Training

Hong W. Tan & Christine Peterson. Post-School Training of British and American Youth

Sarah H. Cleveland. US and UK Government Policy in Youth Training for the New International Economy: lessons from abroad

David Raffe & Russell Rumberger. Education and Training for 16-18 Year Olds in the UK and the US

Section Three

Thomas Bailey. The Missions of the TECs and Private Sector Involvement in Training: lessons from Private Industry Councils

William Richardson. Employers as an Instrument of School Reform: compacts in Britain and America

Laurel McFarland. Top-up Student Loans: American models of student aid and British public policy

Jenny Shackleton. US Community Colleges and Further Education in Britain

Anthony Green. Magnet Schools, Choice and the Politics of Policy Borrowing

William Boyd. Choice and Market Forces in American Education: a revolution or a non-event?


A distinct pattern emerged in the British education and training reform process in the latter half of the 1980s. A government minister or a team of policy experts paid a brief study visit to the United States; a short time later a new initiative was announced which bore a close resemblance to a US programme. Among the UK reforms which appear to have been at least partially inspired by US experience are magnet schools/city technology colleges, Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs), education-business compacts, community colleges, student loans for higher education, licensed teachers, and Employment Training. In some cases, the borrowing process took a more tangible form than a flow of ideas across the Atlantic. The Department of Employment, for example, seconded an aide from Michael Dukakis’s office in Massachusetts to help in the development of TECs and, later, compacts, based on her experience working with US Private Industry Councils (PICs).

More recently, the flow of policy ideas across the Atlantic appears to have reversed directions. American commentators are beginning to show keen interest in reforms introduced by the Thatcher Government in two policy areas. This is evident first in relation to schools, where the combined elements of the Education Reform Act (national curriculum and assessment, local management of schools, opting out) constitute a far more comprehensive move toward an educational marketplace than scattered US experiments (Chira, 1992). American interest is also noticeable in the area of industrial training, where British initiatives in the last decade to create clearly defined occupational standards (National Vocational Qualifications) and a national foundation skills programme for school leavers (the Youth Training Scheme and its replacements) may provide valuable lessons for the US in the decade to come.

Education reforms have also developed in the two countries along similar lines during the 1980s and early 1990s without direct policy transfer occurring. These reforms include the movement to increase parental ‘choice’ and hence consumer power in education, greater pressures for accountability among education professionals, debates over ‘workfare’, and attempts to equip young people better for the world of work and motivate under- achievers by bridging the academic/vocational divide.

Although the volume of recent education and training policy traffic between the US and UK is new and unusual, the more general phenomenon of copying other nations’ policies is not. As David Phillips (this volume) observes, there is a long history both of policy makers importing foreign solutions to domestic problems and of academics pointing to the difficulties of transferring policies into different national contexts.

In spite of the problems associated with transplanting one nation’s policies into another country’s historical and institutional setting, the process of transnational borrowing is likely to become more common in the years ahead. This is not a comment on convergence between the political economies of the US and UK, but rather on the general internationalization which has taken place among the world’s academic and policy communities. As the cost and time associated with sending people and information between countries has fallen it has become more practical to include other nations’ experiences in the domestic policy equation. And with the growing interdependence between the industrialized economies the pressure is likely to increase on those nations trailing in the competitive race to emulate their more successful rivals.

The concentration of numerous cases of British appropriation of US education and training (ET) policies in a brief time period – the final years (1986-90) of the Thatcher Government – provides a unique opportunity to improve our understanding of the growing phenomenon of international policy borrowing.

This set of papers develops a three-tiered approach to the analysis of policy borrowing. The first section, consisting of the main body of this chapter and the subsequent two chapters, draws on a number of different literatures relevant to this area to create an analytical framework for the study of policy borrowing. Section Two will examine the specific context in which these borrowing episodes occurred, asking: Why did Britain look to America for ET policy inspiration in the latter half of the 1980s? These articles explore the similarities in the two countries’ political ideologies, economic systems and ET problems that made borrowing attractive and the differences in culture and institutional structures that may produce unintended policy consequences. The final section (Part 2, to appear in Oxford Studies in Comparative Education, 3(1), 1993) examines individual cases of policy borrowing at the local and national levels, attempting to distill lessons about the borrowing process. The case studies also provide description and evaluation of US developments that may serve as a useful guide to how the borrowed policies will evolve in Britain and the problems they may encounter.

Policy Borrowing: An Analytical Framework

I know it when I see it’, and other Definitions The authors in this volume each discuss the process of international policy ‘borrowing’, variously referring to it as policy ‘appropriability’, ‘copying’, ‘diffusion’, and ‘transfer’. Several explicitly reject the notion that nations should borrow policy and identify overseas ‘learning opportunities’ or ‘lessons’ instead. While the authors differ in their definitions and their interest in analysing policy borrowing per se, the chapters contribute both theoretical and empirical insights into the transmission of education and training policies between Great Britain and the United States.

The first step in constructing a more formal analysis of ‘policy borrowing’ is to define the concept and then demonstrate that the process has occurred. In one of the few books directly focused on this topic, Jerold Waltman (1980, p.6) argues that copying has taken place when:

... accurate information on another nation’s, or several nations’, polices has been transferred into the system, and ... this information actually affected the policy-making process in a positive way (emphasis added).

Waltman uses the term ‘positive’ to distinguish policy borrowing from cases where countries use lessons from abroad as warnings against taking certain actions (see David Raffe & Russell Rumberger, this volume). The major modification to Waltman’s definition implicit in this set of papers concerns doubts as to the extent to which information needs to be ‘accurate’ for some form of borrowing to have taken place. As many of the case studies demonstrate, the information which provides the basis for borrowing policy may be correct in a narrow, descriptive sense, but fail to capture the specific context from which the original policy developed or to isolate the factors critical to that policy’s success in the original context.

Having identified that some transfer of information between countries has influenced the policy process, it is possible to further categorize the extent and type of policy borrowing which has occurred. In his work on policy replication within the US, De Lone (1990) has suggested two useful criteria: the integrity or ‘closeness’ of a replication to the original policy and the differences between product-oriented and process-oriented policy

copying, where the latter consists of borrowing a reform mechanism (e.g. a new funding formula or administrative arrangement) rather than attempting to replicate a whole programme.

A Framework for Policy Borrowing Analysis

The increasing frequency of international policy borrowing has pushed analysts beyond the normal academic exercise of comparing countries’ policies, to the less familiar task of studying the influence of one country’s policies on another. We are now interested in knowing both why countries borrow and what the domestic effects of such borrowing might be.

This joint concern with the politics and empirics of borrowing requires an analytical framework that encompasses both concerns and enables us to explore the influence of one on the other. With some caution, it is possible to use key insights from the authors in this and the subsequent volume to construct a more general framework for analysing the borrowing process. In so doing, we are attempting to move beyond both the confines of traditional political science models of politicians’ motivations on the one hand, and economists’ studies of (borrowed) programme impact on the other. The framework uses both political and economic terms to model the forces that operate in the political arena and the research community. It also suggests a way of identifying the forces that connect the policy ‘market’ to the research ‘market’.

The analytic framework first presents a method for analysing the political process of international borrowing to show why borrowing occurs. It then looks at the borrowing process and the role of research within it. Empirical evidence concerning what was actually borrowed, how it was borrowed and whether it should have been borrowed provides feedback from the research community to policy makers interested in the potential of policy borrowing.

The analytic framework can be expressed as a simple economic model which contains the market for public policy decisions – essentially the political arena – and the market for social science research, a key element in the borrowing process. When research about one country’s policies is carried across borders, or when research is conducted that studies the process and efficacy of international policy transplanting, we consider this ‘policy borrowing’ research and label it as a subset of social science research. The people or organizations that carry the research overseas, in our model called ‘borrowers’ are analytically similar to the entrepreneurs who connect labour markets to new product and service markets in more traditional economic models of the firm. Depending on their position and role, though, they may be motivated by power rather than profit.

The Political Arena as a Market

The political arena is where public policy issues are raised and addressed. Within this arena there are numerous organizations (e.g. interest groups, government departments, Royal Commissions, think tanks, etc.) competing to have their ideas adopted. The main consumers in this policy marketplace are those individuals, typically elected officials and their staff, who have the power to decide which programmes of the many on offer will be implemented. Like buyers in any market, the power of these politicians or officials increases the more exclusive their hold is over decision-making. One indication of their buying power is the capacity to commission the design of new policies if those on offer are deemed unsatisfactory. To understand how and why policies from foreign countries may attract this powerful consumer it is necessary to examine the motivations of politicians.

The political science literature is rich with models of politicians’ motivations when seeking solutions to domestic policy problems. Among the factors that have been cited as influencing politicians’ preferences are: a concern with satisfying their constituents or a particular segment of the electorate in order to remain in office, a desire to further their own careers and expand their influence and, for some of them, a belief in serving the public interest as they define it.

Commentators on the politics of borrowing concentrate on the motivations of political actors and the incentives they face to look abroad for policy innovations. Polsby (1984) proposes that policy innovation is most likely when three forces intersect: the interest of societal groups; the intellectual convictions of policy makers; and comparative knowledge of policies elsewhere. Even when these conditions are present, however, inertia must be overcome, because politicians’ fear of the disruption of political balances and routines makes them resistant to change. He identifies two types of innovation, ‘acute’ and ‘incubated’, and notes that the latter is characterized by long lags and significant influence from research findings.

David Robertson & Jerold Waltman (this volume) draw from the political science literature to focus specifically on the politics and politicians involved in international borrowing. They argue that the likelihood of borrowing increases when possible solutions from recent domestic history have been tried and failed. Furthermore, the international dimension of borrowing often represents a strategic advantage to the politician: it can mobilize support for one side in a domestic conflict, and make it difficult for the opposition to dispute his or her claims.

Robertson and Waltman observe that timing can be a critical determinant in politicians’ decisions to borrow. Ready-made overseas policies have an added attraction when politicians are under great time pressure to solve an urgent problem. Furthermore, politicians are typically preoccupied with short-term appearances, so international borrowing is useful to them because it can be initiated quickly (although as Walker, 1990, suggests the accomplishment of replication is time consuming and costly) and any mismatch between cultures may not be immediately apparent. Borrowing becomes even more likely where the political structure creates short-term incentives for policy makers, such as a decision-making process that is forced to respond to immediate electoral pressures and individual career paths that entail frequent shifts between government departments. In such circumstances the desire to have a new policy up and running may take precedence over the likelihood that the policy will be effective.

In this light policy borrowing can be far more than simply a last resort. For the ambitious politician, copying another nation’s policy has some uniquely appealing characteristics as the borrowing process appears to combine two seemingly irreconcilable objectives – providing a policy that is simultaneously both new and tested. It is novel in the sense that the policy has not been tried before in the appropriating country and tested in that it has, at the very least, been operating in the country of origin. In the rare cases where the original policy has been subject to careful evaluation and been shown to have positive results then the case for borrowing becomes even stronger, since large-scale field testing may overcome some of the difficulties associated with pilot programme evaluation (Vickers, 1990, p. 11).

Even if formal evaluation results are missing or suspect, the potential cost savings of borrowing a policy from abroad may give it an advantage over the creation of a new domestic policy. Policy development, like the search for a new product or wonder drug, is a costly and time-consuming process. It follows that policy makers, like firms who produce “clones” of competitors’ products, have a clear incentive to shortcut to the normal policy design process by emulating rival countries’ programmes. Moreover, in the political context, the borrower is unhampered by patent restrictions (Richardson, Part 2).

The Borrowing Process and the Market for Research

The same factors which make policy borrowing attractive to politicians, however, may lead them to import policies in ways which do not create effective solutions to their domestic problems. As Rich (1981) and others have pointed out, the bureaucratic and political conditions facing public officials vitally affect their use of information and research. While politicians are well-informed about the power structure and patterns of political conflict in society, they don’t know all the possible policy alternatives, the success of given policies overseas nor their likely effects in a transplanted location (Inkeles, 1987). It is because of these limitations that politicians’ aims may be best satisfied by using social science research and cross-national analysis.

Policy makers can use research findings in a variety of ways: to add credibility to their proposals in some groups’ eyes; to buttress threatened programmes; or as ammunition to discredit opponents’ interests. In short, as Rose & Page (1990) argue policy makers select social science information for their own larger purposes in dealing with policy problems.

When dissatisfaction is high and policymakers are under pressure to act, the definition of a good programme is very different from that used by a researcher, e.g. maximising or optimising net benefits to the economy. One criterion is administrative feasibility; can a programme be implemented? Speed is a second criterion, for only a programme that comes into effect quickly can promise prompt relief from a dissatisfied electorate. Political acceptability is also important; a measure is good only if it is inconsistent with the political values of the governing party and its supporters.

In individual countries research information flows constantly between the academic community and the government. In smaller amounts, it flows around the world. It may be generated by academics as part of their scholarly work, or arise from other independent research sources. In some cases, social science researchers may even have direct influence on the framing of policy issues, particularly in the adoption of certain methodologies and forms of analysis of policy problems. Generally, however, academic researchers have strong incentives to react to politicians’ setting of the research agenda. In recent decades, policy makers have demanded more large-scale research on programme implementation, effectiveness, and outcomes – research that requires sizeable staffs and budgets. So, while there are exceptions, money generally flows to those scholars and institutions willing to answer the set of questions closest to the interest of policy makers.

In this way, the demand for much of the research on other countries’ policies can be seen as a ‘derived demand’, determined by the mixture of research and other inputs used by politicians in the decision-making process, and by the relative prominence of that kind of policy (in our case, education and training policy) on the overall political agenda.

Furthermore, our understanding of the role of research in the borrowing process can be enhanced by reference to literature on the uses of information, specifically social science research information, in the policy-making process. Walker, for example, notes that ‘the lack of a strong connection between evidence gathering and field practice [of policy borrowing] would be a niggling detail if our major social initiatives were working. But they are not’ (Walker, 1990).

Weiss’s work on the political uses of information provides a bridge from the social science community’s view of the uses of research information to the politician’s needs in making policy. She has argued that information is used by the political process in four main ways: warning, enlightenment, mobilization, and guidance (Weiss, 1987). Politicians distort the way that social science information is used in policy, and its influence is at best indirect. Other factors in the political process may overwhelm the policy prescriptions offered by the research community. Knorr (1977) has suggested that decision-makers are viewed by many observers as merely seeking research results that back up positions they have already taken, while Rich (1981) has argued that there is inherent conflict between social science researchers and policy makers:

Social scientists have long believed that they can contribute to the pursuit of human welfare, but they also believe that empirically grounded knowledge is seriously under-utilised in important policy decisions. Policy makers, on the other hand, feel that the reports they receive are unintelligible, do not deal with the immediate problems on their agenda, and are not sensitive to the unique pressures for action under which they must perform (Rich, 1981, p. xvi).

Research on international policy borrowing can be seen as a subset of the uses to which information is put in policy-making. Vickers (1991) suggests that such international information serves a special function in each of Weiss’s four categories. Signals of impending problems may emerge first in the originating country and serve as a special ‘warning’. Similarly, international information broadens the conceptual framework used by a policy community, thereby adding to the ‘enlightenment’ function of social science information. Cross-national policy borrowing may illustrate rapid policy ‘mobilisation’ by providing examples of policies that have had only piecemeal or contrived evaluations at home, and the appropriation of policies from abroad which have already generated research data may allow politicians to obscure negative aspects of a desired new policy because the programme and its outcomes are unfamiliar to the domestic constituency.

In addition to these functions, research can play another key role in the borrowing process by highlighting the difficulties associated with replicating policies from another country. Phillips (this volume) uses examples from the comparative education literature, in particular the work of Michael Sadler, to argue that, while valuable lessons can be learned from studying other nations’ ET systems, attempts to copy particular policies have historically ended in failure.

Lane (1989), and many of the case studies in Part 2 of this publication, discuss some of the dangers involved in the borrowing process. Lane notes that it is difficult to ‘break into the circle’ of one country’s institutions and culture and identify which elements are more ‘decisive than others’ in shaping the whole pattern. She predicts failure if ‘borrowing becomes too piecemeal and occurs without recognition of the wider context from which elements have been severed or in which they will have to be implanted’. She suggests that national governments will encounter two particularly intractable problems in attempting to transfer another country’s programmes to their own: the long historical roots that give rise to unique national ‘consciousness and practice’ and the ‘tightly interwoven pattern of institutional structures and cultural values’ that make up the environment in the originating country (Lane, 1989, p. 295).

Research can also provide insights into which forms of policy transfer are most likely to succeed. De Lone (1990, p. 22) argues that with a product-type policy, governments are more likely to keep the integrity of the programme, but that there will be less room to adapt it to local requirements. This increases the chance of outright failure relative to process-oriented transfers, where modes of operation are altered. In addition, how a government sets about the borrowing process can have a crucial effect on the policy outcome. Goodman (1991) shows how the Japanese have, at different points in their history, overcome many of the difficulties associated with policy borrowing through investing large financial and human resources in the study of other nations’ systems and then carefully adapting the conclusions of their research to Japan’s distinctive requirements.

The Borrower as Entrepreneur

Often, one person is given responsibility for translating information on another country’s activities into a viable policy. This ‘borrower’ is a vital player in the process of policy borrowing. He or she can be seen as the analogue of the entrepreneur in economic analyses of the firm. Classical economic theory depicts the entrepreneur as an exploiter of profit opportunities. She forms expectations about the profitability of an undertaking and weighs that against the cost of capital before undertaking it. The entrepreneur then designs the mix of inputs, and of fixed and movable capital, that will produce her good at the lowest price. As part of this process, she goes to the labour market to bid for a certain number of workers, depending on the demand for her final output and on her mixture of inputs. She is, therefore, also an important connector of markets: in starting up a new enterprise, she links financial markets to product/service markets and to labour markets.

In comparison to the entrepreneur, the borrower has an additional, intriguing characteristic: she may be motivated by power or profit, or both. The importance of the borrower is highlighted in a number of the case studies in Part 2 of this publication. Sometimes the borrower is a an elected or public official: she sees a potential solution to a domestic problem in a foreign example, tries to identify the salient characteristics, and then attempts to transplant it into domestic soil (Bailey; Richardson; Green: Part 2). In other cases, the borrower is in the private sector and is a more traditional entrepreneur: she sees an unexploited profit opportunity for her company in a potential or existing programme overseas, and carries her product, service, financing mechanism, or even management information system to policy makers overseas (McFarland, Part 2). In a third situation the borrower may be a mixture of politician and entrepreneur, seeking to learn from overseas programmes in order to benefit the home institutions (Shackleton, Part 2).

As the model suggests, policy borrowing can occur through several conduits; unquestionably, the agents who perform the transmission and the pipeline itself affect the nature and impact of what is borrowed.

The US-UK Case

Having laid out a general framework for the analysis of policy borrowing, we can now apply it to the main empirical focus of this set of papers: the Thatcher government’s choice of the US as a model for numerous ET policies in the period surrounding the Conservatives’ resounding victory in the 1987 general election. Which specific policies did Britain borrow? Why did they look to America for policy inspiration? How do the policies chosen for transplantation relate to Britain’s broader ET reform agenda?

The first step in this process is detailing which UK ET policies were wholly or partly borrowed from America.

Why the US and UK? The Economic and Political Context

Many American ET experts have been surprised and confused to learn that Mrs Thatcher looked to their country for policy ideas. They are surprised because they tend to view the British education and training system as relatively successful; they are confused because, in the US, the ET system is widely held to be in such a state of crisis that no nation would want to emulate any part of it. For observers of the British scene, these American problems will seem familiar: significantly lower levels of attainment in basic subjects such as reading, math and science compared to international competitors; high drop-out rates from secondary schooling, particularly in the inner cites; and growing skills shortages in specific industrial sectors. Ironically, it is the common institutional setting of these problems, rather than any record of success, that may explain the affinity between the two countries’ policy makers.

To understand the reasons for policy borrowing and the more general phenomenon of ET policy convergence, the second section of this volume examines the broader economic and political context in which ET policies emerged in America and Britain in the late 1980s. David Finegold (this volume) suggests that common economic forces have been driving ET reform in all the industrialised countries during the last decade. The rapid changes in technology and the internationalisation of capital place the efficiency of national ET systems and the adequacy of their skills base under the political microscope.

Within this general trend, he and Sarah Cleveland (this volume) point to the shared characteristics of the US and UK political economies to explain why policy borrowing has taken place. Not only do the US and UK display common symptoms, such as declining competitiveness in world markets and low-skill demands from many employers, but they also appear to be suffering from the same underlying ailments: the short-term bias imparted to managers by the stock market and a lack of co-operative mechanisms to share the cost and knowledge needed to pursue high-skill strategies. Hong Tan & Christine Peterson (this volume) emphasize the key role which the market plays in allocating training in employment in the two countries, while David Raffe & Russell Rumberger (this volume) examine the common problem of low participation levels in post-compulsory education and its dual manifestation: dropping out in the US and low staying-on rates in the UK. As Cleveland (this volume) points out, however, analyses of the skills deficiencies in both countries suggest that policy borrowing from each other may be the least appropriate source of inspiration.

Not only have the US and UK governments faced common problems, but they also shared a similar interpretation of the state’s proper role in solving these problems. The Anglo-American emphasis on voluntarism, or leaving training to the market, combined with the weakness of corporatist arrangements, served to separate the US and UK from Western Europe and Asia.

The historical linkages between the two nations’ languages, cultures, and state structures were strengthened in the 1980s by the similar political ideologies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Each stressed the need to release market forces, cut taxes and reduce the power of trade unions. Indeed, as the close personal relationship between Reagan and Thatcher developed, they became joint leaders in the world-wide spread of ‘new right’ ideas (Smith 1990). Such ideas, in countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Spain and in Eastern Europe have not been confined to right wing parties.

A number of the papers in both volumes refer to broad political and institutional issues which arise from the release of market forces promoted by the ‘new right’. For example, problems of accountability of agencies removed from traditional forms of local government control are discussed in the context of TECs and compacts. Tan & Peterson analyse the self-regulation of the training markets in both countries, and the tension between the centralisation and decentralisation of policy is raised in the cases on community colleges, magnet schools and compacts.

In the more specific education and training policy context, ‘new right’ ideas in the U.S and UK have also closely resembled each other. Anthony Green (Part 2) and William Boyd (Part 2), for example, discuss the central concept of ‘choice’ and the stress on market mechanisms in school provision evident in recent US/UK school reform. Allied to this trend is an emphasis, in both countries, on further reducing the role of the state. Thomas Bailey (Part 2), William Richardson (Part 2) and Laurel McFarland (Part 2) assess private sector intervention in the context of employer-led training policy in school management, and financing of higher education.

Nevertheless, the similarities which may appear to make US-UK policy emulation irresistible should not be overemphasized. There are major differences between the two countries’ ET and economic systems. For instance, in the US higher education is treated as an investment for which individuals and their families are prepared to pay, while in the UK it has traditionally been seen as a right, or consumption good, where the state covers the full tuition costs for the much smaller group who qualify (McFarland). At the other end of the educational spectrum, the scale of the underclass, and the public policy problems this creates, are far greater in the US than in Britain (Green). In the school context, Cleveland and Green refer to the different American and British interpretations of and expectations for ‘comprehensive’ education, and Boyd comments on the strikingly polarised and politicised nature of education reform literature in the UK compared to that of the US before reviewing evidence of the divergent experiences in the two countries of the operation of open enrolment. With regard to post-compulsory ET, Raffe & Rumberger assess important differences in the two countries’ institutional structures, social demographics and labour markets, while Tan & Peterson examine the different experiences of young workers in training.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the two countries in the ET context is the much stronger role that central government can play in reforming the ET system in Britain than in the United States. Educational reform in the United States requires the active involvement of Federal, state, and local government. The examples of education-business partnerships and compacts show clearly the UK Department of Employment’s capacity to take an initiative that was begun locally in America and replicate it across Great Britain. In contrast, a wave of scepticism accompanied President Bush’s National Goals for Education with commentators pointing to the inability of the US Federal Government to ensure that its proposals are being adopted at the state level.

Such differences between the US and UK ET systems certainly complicate policy borrowing and may be the main cause of unintended consequences in the process. And, as Raffe and Rumberger point out, the greater the differences between features of national systems, the greater the level of abstraction required when borrowing.

The Borrowing Process: Lessons from the Case Studies

The final set of questions that arises from our consideration of British policy-borrowing of US ET initiatives surrounds the borrowing process itself. What is the effect of differing social, economic, and political contexts on policies transplanted between the two countries? Can a particular programme, like a donor organ, work in isolation from the ET system whence it originated? What problems have been encountered as transplanted policies are put into practice? How have the British policies, once borrowed and implemented, differed from their American counterparts?

Raffe & Rumberger (This volume) suggest that a comparison of the two countries’ ET systems for 16-18 year olds, points to the potential for policy borrowing to arise from greater self awareness of the domestic system generated by comparative analysis, the identification of both positive and negative features in the foreign example which are absent at home, and a recognition of the functional equivalence in contrasting systems (the need to differentiate the stages of a foreign system from the age groups in them).

Complimenting this perspective, the case studies in Part 2 of this publication provide new insights into the borrowing process, with perspectives on the likelihood of unintended consequences, the effects of borrowing at different levels within the political system, and the importance of borrowing agents.

Unintended consequences may yet have considerable impact on two US policies now operating in Britain. Bailey’s analysis (Part 2) of PICs and TECs shows both how the mechanism of employer-led training was borrowed from the US, in the face of evidence that employers have not made a significant contribution to PIC effectiveness, and how demands made on employers will be much greater in the British version. McFarland (Part 2) highlights a similar issue over student loans where it seems highly unlikely that the US model favoured by the British government can fulfil the government’s aim of reducing public funding of higher education. As TECs and student loans develop, it will be a test of effective borrowing to see if UK policy makers use comparative research evidence to anticipate unintended consequences of policy borrowing. Already in the student loans case, the British government has suffered the embarrassment of the collapse of the bank consortium set up to run the system.

The speed with which borrowing can take place is illustrated in Richardson’s analysis of compacts (Part 2). The Boston model was replicated in both countries ahead of either a clear understanding of the operation of incentives in the youth labour market or the determinants of the Boston Compact’s early ‘success’. Several British commentaries have criticised a US tendency to place social policy replication before understanding of its effect (Johnstone, 1988; Walker, 1990) while, in the British case, compact replication satisfied Mrs. Thatcher’s need to act speedily over inner-city policy after promises made on election night 1987. Richardson’s analysis also highlights the question of the costs of borrowing: the attractively low cost to the British government of compact replication and the high cost, in terms of effectiveness, when the economic environment into which the borrowed policy is introduced has altered significantly.

That borrowing occurs at various political and institutional levels is shown in several of the case studies. In her review of Wirral Metropolitan College’s interest in American community college practices, Jenny Shackleton (Part 2) makes it clear that the Wirral College managers considered its institutional size and education priorities to be closer to US college practice than any policy model available in the UK ET system. Meanwhile, Richardson shows how the Thatcher government took credit for compact policy-borrowing when this had been pioneered by local education-business leaders in London, and Green shows how different were the incentives of British local and national policy-makers in emulating US magnet schools: local Conservative councils saw them as a way of alleviating falling rolls, whilst the Conservative government stressed the ‘new right’ idea of consumer choice in schooling. Even at the local level, however, the attraction of borrowing differed. Head teachers and the chief education officer of Wandsworth returned from the US divided over the merits of magnet schools.

Each of the case studies points to the importance of the borrowing agent. Government ministers, seconded advisers, local government politicians, private sector companies, travelling fellowship programmes and the managers of education institutions all play their part (see Figure 1). In the controversy over the local/central control of compacts, the British education press specifically criticised the role of US adviser Catherine Stratton, seconded from Massachusetts to advise the Secretary of State, while praising the ‘brilliant initiative’ in Boston (TES, 1988).

The cases also throw light on other borrowing processes. Shackleton, for example, notes how the Wirral study team identified US policies they wished to avoid by adopting a borrowing method specifically designed to test US policy intentions and outcomes against their prior analysis of UK needs. McFarland points to elements in the UK political environment after 1987 likely to encourage borrowing: a weak opposition party, strong prior beliefs among Conservative ministers coupled with the closed, secretive nature of British government.

On the question of transplanting policies from one system to another, the case evidence is varied. Wirral College appears well satisfied that its borrowing methodology will yield strongly beneficial results. Similarly, compact replication has satisfied the need to act swiftly, although Richardson suggests that specific social, educational and economic benefits are likely to be increasingly difficult to demonstrate. Green’s magnet school case is one where the original policy context (US desegregation and ethnic quotas) has been transformed in Britain into a ‘new right’, ‘choice’ policy. In the student loans case McFarland suggests that British economic and political variables – government cost reduction goals, national income distribution, the tax system, and private sector risk assessment – will make policy transplantation very difficult.

On perhaps the biggest policy gamble of all, the devolution of more than two billion pounds in training programmes to the TECs, there is still insufficient evidence to make a judgement (Bailey, Part 2). While the British government has made a conscious attempt to learn lessons from the PICs, rather than simply duplicating the programme, there are signs that TECs are encountering some of the same difficulties – e.g. design of performance indicators, lack of employer interest in the main client groups – which bedevilled the PIC’s training efforts in the United States.


John Major's replacement of Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative Party in November 1990 appeared to mark an end to this particular episode of concentrated British borrowing of US ET policy. While the new Prime Minister has continued to foster the “special relationship” across the Atlantic, he has been more open than his predecessor to policy interchange with European countries. The influence of the European Community over British education and training is also likely to increase in the years ahead because this policy area became subject to majority voting following the Maastricht summit of December 1991. Ultimately, Britain’s closer integration with Europe will place the questions addressed in this volume in an even broader context: do the US policies that have been emulated in the past decade offer a more successful or appropriate model for the UK to draw on than that of other industrial countries such as Germany, Sweden or Japan?

While the sources of policy borrowing are likely to be broader in the 1990s, the close linguistic, cultural, and institutional ties between the US and UK suggest that the two countries will continue to look to each other for policy ideas. British Conservatives remain covetous of the US labor market’s capacity to create jobs and convince individuals to invest in their own education and training. At the same time, in the early 1990s, the United States has become increasingly interested in Britain’s experience with national assessment, school-to-work transition programmes, and experiments to expand parents’ choice over their children’s schooling. Though America’s weaker central government limits its ability to introduce any of these programmes broadly or quickly, the prospect of borrowing from British experience has become front page national news (Chira 1992).

International policy borrowing shows no signs of abating in the future. With the pressures to improve educational performance and the declining cost of global communications, an education or training strategy that appears to be effective on the other side of the world can now be rapidly and relatively cheaply replicated. The recent case of a New Zealand reading programme being borrowed by the American state of Ohio, an English local authority and then adopted by both the British government and the main opposition party is a clear reminder of this global trend (Strickland, 1992). As governments become more internationally strategic in their educational policy-making, borrowing may soon become the norm rather than the exception.

These two volume are a comprehensive examination of the politics, process, and consequences of policy borrowing in the specific context of Britain and the United States in the late 1980s. The years ahead may bring changed alliances for both countries and different sources of influence on policy-making. From this collection, however, a general lesson about borrowing emerges: the political analysis on why borrowing happens is complimentary to the social science research of how and whether it should happen. These two phenomena are linked by the market forces of derived demand for research from the political arena, and by the entrepreneurial agents who carry information and expertise across borders. Becoming more self-conscious about why and how policy is borrowed from abroad may have limited influence on actual policy-making, but at the very least it injects some caution into the proceedings, and at best it offers significant enlightenment to enacting better education and training policy.

These volumes seek to enhance our understanding of the politics and process of borrowing by synthesizing and interpreting the literature relevant to the international transfer of policy, and then expanding on that through a set of studies focused on the UK-US experience in the 1980s. There are other avenues for policy borrowing analysis, however, which we have not yet been able to explore. Future research could treat cases of policy borrowing as a subset of the broader area of comparative public policy. Political scientists could shed light on how different state structures function by examining how and why one country’s programme alters as it passes through another country’s political process. Scholars in comparative education or other areas of public policy could use the introduction of similar policies in different countries to compare the reform process or policy effectiveness in a variety of cultural and institutional settings. It is hoped that this volume will provoke further research on the policy borrowing that takes place around the world. Theoretical questions raised by this volume’s work, including why and how nations borrow from overseas, are truly global concerns. There are also abundant empirical issues for further research: where international borrowing can and will be used in future policy-making, and what the consequences will be.


This volume is based on the proceedings of a June 1990 Conference organised by the University of Warwick’s Vocational Education and Training Forum in conjunction with the Brookings Institution, Washington, DC. We would like to thank the UK Department of Employment, the Nuffield Foundation and IBM UK Ltd for their generous support for the Conference on which this volume is based. We are also grateful to the Centre for Education and Industry and the Brookings Institution for providing the time needed to prepare this volume, and to Bobbie Easterlow without whom we would never have completed the many revisions.


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Sarah Cleveland is a 1992 Yale Law School graduate and is currently clerking for a Federal district judge in Washington, DC. She has worked as a consultant for the US Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce and contributed to the 1990 National Commission on Education and the Economy report, America's Choice: high skills or low wages.

David Finegold is a policy analyst at RAND, specialising in international comparisons of countries' education and training and industrial systems. He is the author of Education, Training and Economic Competitiveness (Oxford University Press, forthcoming) as well as a contributor to proposals for reforming British post-compulsory and higher education.

Laurel McFarland is an economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. She has authored several articles on the economics of post-secondary education and has contributed to comparative education projects at the National Academy of Sciences and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. She is currently writing a book on the relationship between community colleges and labour markets.

Christine Peterson is a senior research analyst at RAND. Her research interests include the economics of household behaviour, labour markets, health, and military manpower issues. She has co-authored numerous publications in the areas using large micro datasets.

David Phillips is a Fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and Lecturer in Educational Studies, and Director of the Centre for Comparative Studies in Education, based at the Department of Educational Studies, University of Oxford. The author of many books and articles on comparative education, educational policy, and modern language teaching, he is also Editor of Oxford Review of Education and serves on the Editorial Board of Comparative Education.

David Raffe is Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of Edinburgh, and co-Director of the Centre for Educational Sociology. His research interests include education and the youth labour market, with a particular interest in vocational and post-compulsory education and comparative studies. His publications include Fourteen to Eighteen (1984) and Education and the Youth Labour Market (1988).

William Richardson is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Education and Industry, University of Warwick. His research interests are divided between sixteenth century political studies and education and labour policy in twentieth century national economies. His most recent book, co-edited with David Finegold and John Woolhouse, is on the reform of post-16 education and training in England and Wales.

David Brian Robertson is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri, St Louis. He is the Associate Editor of The Journal of Policy History and the co-author (with Dennis R. Judd) of The Development of American Public Policy: the structure of policy restraint (1989). He is currently writing a book on the role of federalism and business in the development of American labor market policy.

Russell Rumberger is Associate Professor of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara. His research interests include education and work, school dropouts, and education policy.

Hong Tan is Senior Economist in the Private Sector Development Department at the World Bank in Washington, DC. His recent publications include ‘Private Sector Training in the US, and ‘Youth Training in the US, Great Britain, and Australia’, in Research in Labor Economics, Volume 13, 1992 (Ronald Ehrenberg, editor). His current research interest is the cross-national study of determinants and outcomes of enterprise-based training in seven countries.

Jerold Waltman obtained his PhD at Indiana University and is professor of political science at the University of Southern Mississippi. His works include Copying Others Nation’s Policies (1980) and The Political Origins of the US Income Tax (1985); he has also co-edited three other volumes, Dilemmas of Change in British Politics (1984), Political Economy: public policies in the United States and Britain (1987), and The Political Role of Law Courts in Modern Democracies (1988). At the moment, he is completing a text in American politics which will be published in 1993.

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