The Scottish Parliament has been urged to overturn one of the cherished nostrums of the past 20 years - the assumption that investment in education and training is essential for economic prosperity.
Lindsay Paterson of Edinburgh University said he was not arguing that education and training were irrelevant to economic development. But they had to be complemented by individuals and businesses.
Addressing a further education meeting in Dunfermline, Professor Paterson said: "Rich countries spend more on education and training than poor countries but that is largely for social reasons and doesn't prove anything."
The rewards of training are also variable, Professor Paterson said. The opportunities are greater in large companies, in sectors which are male dominated, in the public rather than private sphere, in industries covered by a single union and in companies undergoing major structural change.
Professor Paterson also challenged the repeated link made by ministers between improved training, qualifications and pay. "One reason why people with better qualifications are more likely to be highly paid is because they may be more highly motivated all round," he said. "So rather than one being the cause of the other, both are caused by a third factor."
Comparisons with other countries can also be misleading. "Invalid" references to the Pacific Rim economies rarely took account of the compulsion on employers to toe the line on government policies.
Professor Paterson suggested the parliament's lifelong learning committee should tackle the lack of basic skills using the much neglected community education service, beware of "vocational relevance" in schools, require employers to offer better on-the-job training, promote skills which encourage innovation and team-working, and provide incentives to workers to engage in training.
Fast track to success, page 40