quinta-feira, 9 de junho de 2011



Commodification and the corporate takeover of education

To begin it is helpful to distinguish between the rise of the market, 'with its insidious consumer-based appropriations of freedom and choice' (Giroux 2000: 6) and its impact on education, and globalization. As we have already seen, they are wrapped up - one with another - but it has been possible to talk of the marketization of education without having to refer to delocalization and the activities of multinationals (classic features of globalization). Now, that is increasingly difficult. As we know, commercial concerns look constantly for new markets and areas of activity. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, and particularly in those states where neo-liberal economic policies dominated, there was strong pressure to 'roll-back' state regulation, and to transform non-market and 'social' spheres such as public health and education services into arenas of commercial activity.

 According to Colin Leys, such a transformation - the making of a market - entailed the meeting of four requirements:

• The reconfiguration of the goods and services in question so that they can be priced and sold.

• The inducing of people to want to buy them.

• The transformation of the workforce from one working for collective aims with a service ethic to one working to produce profits for owners of capital and subject to market discipline.

• The underwriting of the risks to capital by the state. (2001: 4)

What we have here is a process of commodification - and the development of attempts to standardize 'products' and to find economies of scale. The expansion of higher education in Britain and Northern Ireland during this period, for instance, involved a the restructuring of courses and programmes so that they could be marketed. This included marketing new courses such as MBAs, modulization (to achieve economies of scale), and the increased use of part-time and distance learning programmes (to target those already in work). The introduction of student loans and course fees has raised, significantly, the direct cost placed upon students - and helped to change people's orientation to higher education away from that of participants towards being consumers. The massive increase in university enrolment was, however, less a consequence of government policy, than the impact of changing perceptions of the labour market. The surge in student numbers occurred because it became clear to large numbers of people that not having a degree disadvantaged them in the labour market.

At a certain point in what had been a steady, slow expansion, large numbers of people started to feel they really had better get a degree, because not doing so would be such a bad move. The first wave set off another and so on. (Wolf 2002: 178)

There has also been a transformation of the labour force in UK higher education - and a growing orientation to profit generation. Salary levels have decreased significant relative to other key groupings; increased bureaucratization and pressures on universities to reduce costs have reduced the time for 'scholarship and disinterested learning' and the doubling in the numbers of students per lecturer has led to a progressive decline in the quality of teaching and the satisfaction it gives to learners and teachers (see Wolf 2002: 200-43). Similar pressures can be found at work in other areas of education.

We have also seen some very significant movements towards corporatization in schooling and non-formal education. In the 1980s and early 1990s this was initially carried forward by the rise of managerialism in many 'western' education systems. Those in authority were encouraged and trained to see themselves as managers, and to reframe the problems of education as exercises in delivering the right outcomes. The language and disposition of management also quickly moved into the classroom via initiatives such as the UK national curriculum. There has also been the wholesale strengthening of the market in many education systems. Schools have to compete for students in order to sustain and extend their funding. This, in turn, has meant that they have had to market their activities and to develop their own 'brands'. They have had to sell 'the learning experience' and the particular qualities of their institution. To do this complex processes have to be reduced to easily identified packages; philosophies to sound bites; and students and their parents become 'consumers'. As Stewart demonstrated some time ago there is a fundamental problem with the way that such business models have been applied to educational and welfare agencies.

The real danger is that unthinking adoption of the private sector model prevents the development of an approach to management in the public services in general or to the social services in particular based on their distinctive purposes, conditions and tasks. (Stewart 1992: 27)

The result has been a drive towards to the achievement of specified outcomes and the adoption of standardized teaching models. The emphasis is less on community and equity, and rather more on individual advancement and the need to satisfy investors and influential consumers. Education has come to resemble a private, rather than public, good.

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