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EF Schumacher: A 21st Century legacy

by Charlie McConnell, Director of Schumacher College

Recently I spoke at the Hay Literary Festival as part of a range of events taking place here at Schumacher College and across the UK, celebrating the centenary of E.F. Schumacher. Along with Caroline Lucas MP and Andrew Simms, Fellow of the New Economics Foundation, I spoke on the relevance of Schumacher’s seminal book Small is Beautiful.

Schumacher’s critique of Western economics could not be more relevant than in today’s economic climate of instability and inequality. His essays on education and international development work highlighted his strong passion for learning by doing and for whole person learning. This approach has been adopted widely by organisations such as the international development agency Practical Action, which was founded by Schumacher, by Schumacher College and by thousands of development workers operating at the grassroots level across the world. Schumacher’s ideas surrounding public ownership and rational planning are of particular relevance to Schumacher College’s forthcoming programme in economics. His approach was one where the best of top down planning meets the best of bottom up within companies and communities, with a preference for smaller forms of social ownership and co-operative enterprise.

His essays on resources and land use also reveal him to be an ecologist and powerful critic of western approaches to mono-agriculture, its dependency upon high input costs such as oil and fertilisers and the destruction to biodiversity. This attitude towards nature and natural resources is at the core of industrial agriculture and the still dominant view in economics, that there are no limits to growth. As Schumacher argued then, and as many more have done since, this is an unsustainable model of development, which sees nature and indeed people as assets to be exploited at the least cost, irrespective of the environmental and social consequences. As Schumacher argued so powerfully, what is needed is an economics where people and planet matter.

E.F. Schumacher’s huge contribution to economic thinking with Small is Beautiful, was to lay out an approach that acknowledged the need for a new economics that places values and compassion, people and planet at the centre. Schumacher College’s two new Masters degrees, in Economics for Transition (starting this September) and in Sustainable Horticulture and Food Production (Starting next year), as well as many of our short courses, draw deeply from his ‘world view’.

Our Masters in Economics programme is the first of its kind and is the product of a collaboration between Schumacher College, the New Economics Foundation, the Transition Network and the Business School at the University of Plymouth. This programme will provide a unique opportunity to study with leading international thinkers, activists and practitioners in the new economy from a range of different perspectives. This will be followed by another Masters degree next year, focussing upon sustainable land use and zero carbon farming and food production. Here we are collaborating with the Eden Project, the Centre for Alternative Technology and the University of Plymouth. This programme will also see the college greatly expanding its field based training and research trialling at the 1,200 acre Dartington estate.

To read more about E.F. Schumacher in the centenary year visit




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