Loughborough University
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Essays on education economics and policy

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posted on 2023-01-19, 12:32 authored by Yihui Cao

Education plays an important role in knowledge acquisition and technological progress. For instance, higher educational attainment positively affects innovation and technology transfer in OECD countries (Griffith et al., 2004). Highly-educated workers are more likely to adapt new technologies to innovation, increasing a country’s long-run productivity growth (Howitt et al., 2004).

Among various factors affecting the quality of education, language plays an important role in communication and knowledge transfer. For instance, as English becomes the dominant language in scientific knowledge and academia globally, non-native English-speaking scholars might face greater challenges in publishing high-quality articles in English, due to lower English proficiency. Such language barriers might impede global talent mobility in academia. For instance, top researchers might prefer staying in their home universities, as they could communicate in native language.

To understand how language-related educational policies affect academic outputs, this dissertation focuses on causal impacts and the relevant mechanisms that drive such impacts. In particular, chapter (1) asks how language distance to English affects university research performance, chapter (2) asks how switching the language of instruction to English affects university academic ability of newly-hired international staff, and chapter (3) asks how an objective entry standard in educational selection brings unequal access to disadvantaged students.

The empirical results show that language distance to English negatively affects research performance of non-native English-speaking universities. It also indicates that switching the language of instruction to English positively affects academic ability of universities’ newly-hired international staff. It further implies that setting an objective entry standard in educational tracking brings unequal access to disadvantaged students. This dissertation implies that language distance to English generates barriers to scientific communication and academic outputs for non-native English-speaking scholars. Switching to English as the language of instruction allows universities to recruit international faculty with higher academic ability. This might remove language barriers and increase global talent mobility.

This dissertation contributes to the debate on the measurement of international rankings, and the factors that influence universities’ performance in rankings. For instance, De Witte and Hudrlikova (2013) show that in general, universities in English-speaking countries benefit from existing rankings. Non-native English-speaking universities might underperform in citationbased international rankings due to fewer citations in non-English journal articles (T. Van Raan et al., 2011). Hazelkorn (2007) indicates that international rankings play an important role in universities’ decision-making process. By showing language distance to English negatively affects universities’ research performance in rankings, this dissertation suggests policy makers take the role of language into account when applying international rankings.

This dissertation contributes to the literature on potential hurdles to talent mobility and knowledge diffusion. For instance, travel visa restrictions, border restrictions, and immigration policy barriers might negatively affect international talent mobility and knowledge diffusion (Appelt et al., 2015; Orazbayev, 2017). Malik (2013) indicates a negative relationship between language barriers and technology transfer. Similarly, MacGarvie (2005) implies that common language would increase the speed of technological knowledge diffusion. By showing that switching to English as the language of instruction positively affects universities’ academic ability of newly-hired international staff, this dissertation implies that switching to the lingua franca would remove language hurdle to global talent mobility and increase the speed of knowledge diffusion. It suggests educators and policy makers consider language as a strategic choice to attract global talents.

This dissertation also broadly relates to the endogenous growth theory. Aghion et al. (1998) argue that the long-run economic growth depends on human capital, knowledge spillover, and innovation. Policy makers should consider the role of education in a technological environment (Howitt et al., 2004). This dissertation implies that language-related policies significantly affects talent mobility, knowledge diffusion, and long-run research productivity in higher education. It also implies how selection standards might affect ability distribution and long-run productivity, and the importance of taking individual disadvantages into account when setting selection criteria in education.



  • Business and Economics


  • Economics


Loughborough University

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© Yihui Cao

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


  • en


Thomas P. Triebs ; Justin Tumlinson ; Robin Sickles

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  • PhD

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

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