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Globalisation: n. 1 in the list of evils for contemporary education

Salvatore Fiore | 07.02.2008 17:03 | Education | Globalisation | Repression | Birmingham | World

I continue with another piece to expose corporate control of academia in response to the article by Angela Jancius on "Battling the Neoliberalization of University Life". In this short article I highlight how globalisation attracts dangers associated with a lack of genuine educational values, quality control and regulation. I also expose some of the recent moves that new corporations have made in order to gain further control on Academia.

It has been widely argued that globalisation is first and foremost an economic and technological phenomenon. However, while the detached rationality of economics does not appeal to social, cultural, political or humanitarian values for ratification or condonation, globalisation is not an amoral concept. It is more accurately understood as a utopian rhetoric and device for the reconversion of dependency. It functions to disguise serious social problems created by economic policies and drive the persistent machinery of capitalism sustained by structures of economic and political power and influence and by rational choice as a principle of legitimacy.

Accordingly, the roots of modern globalization within historic events of settlement, colonisation and cultural mimesis of western cultures over others, have been widely emphasised, with many critics referring to globalisation in education and other sectors as a form of neo-colonialism. It is accordingly associated with the creation of inequalities through continual flows of capital, people, information and culture.

Underpinned by neoliberalism, globalisation emphasises free enterprise and unfettered markets, whereby individuals are valued for their records of consumption and their success at dominating the less powerful and profit-seeking firms embrace the destruction of social welfare as a fundamental objective. However, as Fitzsimons suggests,

“the problem for liberalism is that rationality is its central tenet, and hence for relations of domination to be rationally defensible, they must be argued for”.

As such, globalisation, as an essentially market-induced, rather than policy-led phenomenon, driven by market expansion through processes spearheaded by the vested interests of multinational financial and industrial conglomerates, implies contradictory ideals and indefensible social consequences. It disguises sinister oppressive ramifications in a rhetorical postmodern language of freedom and economic liberalisation.

In pushing towards the world as a single economic space, the processes of globalisation rely on the internationalisation of trade, financial markets, network communications systems and a commodity culture, to bring about fundamental changes at social, political and cultural, as well as economic levels. Insipid homogenisation of societies and increased awareness of diversity are mutually irreconcilable consequences, as people become increasingly aware of receding geographical constraints on social and cultural arrangements.

Globalisation implies a doctrine of economic salvation, wherein the market is revered as a positive force and state intervention as a negative, upholding a bias towards the privatisation of public enterprises. While globalisation has not brought about the end of the state altogether, it has forced a reconstitution and restructuring in response to the growing complexity of processes of governance in a more interconnected world. This is particularly true for Higher Education sectors where no powerful interest groups exist to oppose state spending cuts, although the political influence of Vice-Chancellors, should surely not be underestimated.

It is primarily due to changes in the political economy in Britain since the 1980s, that a radical restructuring of Higher Education towards privatisation, contract government, output-based funding and marketisation has taken place, underpinned by economics as opposed to sociology. It has further been argued that all such contemporary pressures on HE from massification to the growth of the private sector are the result of globalisation. Certainly the recent trend towards the transformation of universities into centres for mass education has been accompanied by a rise in managerial organisational cultures which are themselves a by-product of underlying neo-liberal ideals.

Such centres for mass education exist not only to provide training in support of changing occupational needs, but also to produce epistemological research and contribute to cultural production. However, various researchers conceptualise contemporary, and therefore mass HE as a resource for competitive knowledge societies, implying the relevance of the economy in driving educational developments and painting a picture of a commoditised enterprise system of education in which apparently social ideals of widening participation are in truth linked to government targets and satisfying intense employer demand for useful labour. The latest example being the opening of McDonald indoctrination centres in the UK.

However, despite aligning ever more closely with the private sector, universities are still expected to provide both efficiency and quality in returning on society’s investment in them; arguably required to be all things to all people. This sets up a dichotomous relationship between the function of the university as a place to promote learning and encourage knowledge construction and its postmodern realisation, as a place to acquire transferable and valuable skills relevant to the prevailing economic and social culture. The superficially laudable goal of making higher education available to a larger section of the population must in this sense be viewed alongside the economic and political realities accompanying it; universities can no longer maintain competitiveness by relying on state funding alone and must now compete within both state-managed and private sector markets for funds.

In the UK, such significant changes towards a mass market for HE, largely followed the 1992 further and higher education act, which introduced a focus on quality audit and notions of a client-led system, wherein public funds are allocated against student numbers and performance measures. With the government publication of charters in 1993, students were already being encouraged to conceive of themselves as consumers and employers as stakeholders, reflecting the influence of market ideologies in HE. As a result, market mechanisms could already be seen to be emerging as a way of differentiating institutions based on quality, primarily through acceptance of the notion of education as private commodity. In doing so, academics contentiously obtained a new role as resources to be effectively and efficiently employed in pursuit of organisational aims; to tailor courses to meet the needs of ‘clientele’ as opposed to defining or guiding educational experiences.

The language of performativity thus crept into the discourse of mass HE by way of the introduction of a national system, based upon a belief in external market forces of both the state and private sectors, linked to an expansion of global HE markets and the discourse of global competition underpinned by commercial interests. With regard to the global market, though, the UK government had taken steps much earlier than this to exploit channels of income, allowing universities to charge full fees to non-EU overseas students from 1980 and thus opening up HE to a marketised approach to funding.

Subsequently, as a result of further legislation, including the relatively recent deregulation of ‘home’ student fees, various forms of competition have become evident within state managed (e.g. competition for funded student places and research funding through RAE) and private (e.g. fees from overseas students, commercial spin-offs and exploitation of facilities) markets of HE.

Resources are accordingly now, primarily in the form of funding to obtain and retain staff, services and physical goods. Outside of the state managed market, universities have freedom to obtain resources and compete for the most lucrative and stable stakeholders, treating state and non-state funding within a single forecasting and resource allocation process. The birth of the neo-liberal corporation for the control of research and access to funding, as in the example of the Russell Group in the UK, is a sign that universities and their elite caste of managers, have intentions and agendas other than freedom of thoughts and speech and freedom to research.

Despite the lucrative financial opportunities, such motivations within the market-driven fundamentals of globalisation, actually present more challenges than opportunities. In particular, quality control, information management, fitness for local services and costs and benefits, attract dangers associated with a lack of genuine educational values, quality control and regulation.

Salvatore Fiore
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