An Imaginary Board Meeting at Pearson

According to a new study, Britain - far from being a basket case at education - is in fact ranked 6 in the world. But who was the ranking produced by? Does it stand up? And who is it really good for? Michael Bullen plays fly-on-the-wall at an imagined Pearson board meeting.

CEO: chaps, I'm really brassed off that the UK is way down in the OECD international education league table. It makes it awfully hard to sell our education products internationally.

Sales Director: yes, it's really galling. Only last month I was in Toronto on a sales trip to the Education Dept there and the Minister said to me, look, why on earth would we buy education tools from a country that is so rubbish at education? According to the latest report Canada is 4th at reading and 7th at maths and you guys are 17th and 24th respectively. We want to get better, not worse!

COO: that's right. I was speaking recently to a senior Azerbaijanian official about selling some of our stuff there he said, don't make me laugh, and that he's looking very carefully at some marketing literature from a South Korean firm, and we all know that those South Koreans are awfully clever.

CEO: yes, it's a beggar selling our goods internationally when the OECD says UK education is so mediocre. If only our education system could be perceived to be a little better then our lives would be so much easier and we might all look forward to mahoosive bonuses this Christmas.

Marketing Director: hang on, I've had a thought. What if we produce our own league table, but instead of concentrating on cold hard facts, such as international statistics for reading, writing, numeracy and so on, we'll take into account a whole range of woolly concepts that flatter the UK's position, such as the number of UK graduates relative to population size. Since Blair's reforms we've had squillions of students graduating with pointless degrees, none of whom can now get a job, but that isn't the issue! It's volume that counts.

CEO: wizard idea, Marketing Director! Yes, where other countries get it wrong is in focusing on producing graduates of engineering, medicine and sciences. They simply can't compete with our output of leisure centre studies and golf club management graduates....does anyone else have any ideas of factors we can incorporate into our analysis to massage the UK further up the table?

SD: what about teachers' salaries? I'll bet our teachers' pay is loads higher than in other countries. Surely what's important is how much we pay our teachers, not the results their students achieve?

CEO: excellent, Sales Director. Anyone got anything else?

COO: how about the size of our prison population? Since the recession started it's fallen quite a lot because of budget cuts and is now really low on an international basis.

CEO: I like it, COO. Fewer prisoners must equal a better quality of education. Anyone can see that. Tell you what, why don't we get the Economist Intelligence Unit to produce the league table? That way we can say it was produced independently. I'll bet hardly ANYONE knows that Pearson has a Very Significant Interest in the EIU.

And what about getting Twigg to endorse the results? He's bound not to see what we're up to and the poor fellow is desperate for a bit of attention at the moment.

Any further business?

***

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World...

Pearson published The Learning Curve study on 27th November 2012: 

http://www.pearson.com/news/2012/november/pearson-launches-the-learning-curve.html

Pearson describes itself as the world's leading education company. The group also owns The Financial Times: 

http://www.pearson.com/about-us/pearson-at-a-glance.html

The Economist Intelligence Unit is part of the Economist Group:

http://www.eiu.com/public/who-we-are.aspx

According to the Economist Group website, The Financial Times Ltd
holds 50% of the total capital excluding trust shares. Pearson plc
treats its investment in the Economist Group as an associate in its
group accounts:

http://www.economistgroup.com/results_and_governance/ownership.html

About the author

 

Michael Bullen was trained as an economist and is a qualified Chartered Accountant. He has had a profession in the City as a proprietary trader and investment manager at banks and hedge funds, including JPMorgan, Scotia Capital, Sanwa International and Itau Europa.