chapter  5
The changing nature of higher education
Pages 26

This chapter presents an analysis of the changing nature of higher education at the global level and at the national and institutional levels in England. It is set against a context of three main types of changes. Private markets are being created in education (Brown and Carasso, 2013; DfES, 2003), higher education is being redefined as a commodity for sale, and prescriptive directives and monitoring regimes are impinging on human agency at all levels, drawing people into activities around marketised discourses and performativity (Ball, 2012; Clegg, 2008). Higher Education is emerging as a transnational entity through the crossborder provision of university services. According to Verger (2010), universities are being expected to play an increasing role in nations’ economic competitiveness. To do this, many English universities are redefining their nature and aims, expanding their branch campuses across the world and exporting activities to other countries. International communication and the flow of ideas across continents are not new. In the 1300s, both Marco Polo and Ibn-e-Battutah (Mackintosh-Smith, 2003), described educational exchanges between different nations. Today, a number of overarching structures have emerged, operating across countries, especially since the Bretton Woods conference in July 1944. The World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the European Union (EU), the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), amongst others, are cited by Ball (2008, pp. 1, 32-7) as having had an influence on current policy thinking. Such supra-national structures aimed to prevent a repeat of the unbridled competition that brought two world wars, while aiming to preserve capitalism at the same time. Further legislative structures have since emerged in the form of international laws, the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the stipulations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF ) and the World Bank and to a lesser extent the other bodies of the United Nations, although the latter are less committed to making the free market, and the maximisation of profits, drivers of the world’s economies (Ball and Youdell, 2007; Bassett, 2006). Rules and regulations are discursive structures, but the stipulations of such structures can be enforced by additional social and material means. Other,

different but connected, discursive and social structures are international meetings, conferences and discussions within the various trade treaty organisations such as the G20,1 NAFTA, APEC2 or the EU. These organisations develop joint agreements which then draw members into action, through joint conferences where neo-liberal policies (Harvey, 2005) are promoted, and consensus is sought. Such discussions are underpinned by the economic interests of the powerful, and the threat of economic penalties for non-compliance (Henry et al., 2001). The influence of bodies such as the OECD are felt through processes of normalisation and peer pressure amongst groups of nations whose governments share a commitment to a particular neo-liberal promotion of ‘market forces, good governance and democratic values’ (Henry et al., 2001, p. 2), where the second two of these entities are assumed to be predicated on the first. In this way education policy is being shaped on a global scale. Policies across nations are converging to produce a unilateral view of ‘best practice’ based on the methods and doctrines of what Ball calls the ‘neo-liberal imaginary’ by which he means the promotion of market forces above state regulation and above the advancement and well-being of citizens. Ball (2012, p. 2) claims that networks of philanthropy, business and governments are coming together in sites of policy outside of the framework of the nation state. This is carried out by a range of governmental and non-governmental organisations operating on the international or global level and setting up processes that nations need to contend with (Henry et al., 2001). Countries respond in different ways according to their particular historical, economic and socio-political situations. In such discussions, education is often used as a bargaining tool to enhance economic competitiveness in international trade deals. Verger (2009, p. 240) points out that some countries have opened up their education sector for privatisation in exchange for favourable terms in other trade deals, such as the right to export agriculture, cotton and textiles to European markets. In these conditions those aspects of education which facilitate its use as a commodity are increasingly seized upon in the global arena. Education and education policy are themselves being exported as profitable commodities (Ball, 2012). In this way, Verger (2010) claims, international and multinational organisations with a primarily profiteering agenda are playing an increasing role in higher education affairs and influencing national policies pertaining to it. Some nations like England have opened up public higher education to private competition (Brown and Carasso, 2013). Restructuring programmes by the IMF, which tend to demand privatisation of public assets, are redefining education itself (Carnoy, 1995) as a tradable commodity for sale on an international scale.