The chapter reflects on research that rethinks classic concerns of comparative and international education – the relationships between education and work and the role of education in development. The promises of knowledge-led economic growth have instead yielded increased inequality, poverty, environmental degradation and a decline in the quality of life for the majority, whether in advanced economies of the North, or least developed economies of the South. For education and training systems, the ability to understand these complex social, economic and technological challenges, interpret implications and integrate new practices in response, becomes critical. We reflect on the use of an innovation systems approach in the South, over time, to investigate the ways in which higher education responds to and interacts with, demand for skills from the economy. By highlighting the role of university actors and their interaction in networks, comparative and international researchers can move beyond dominant human capital accounts that focus only on the responsibility of higher education to become more responsive to firms, or on individuals to prepare themselves to be more employable, in a mechanistic reactive manner. This is a promising new emphasis for comparative research.
Raewyn Connell’s introduction to the People’s Tribunal.
What is neoliberalism?
Neoliberalism is the name widely used for the corporate market ideology that in the last generation has gained a dominant position across most of the world. Originating as a business-led development strategy in the global South, and a business-led attack on the welfare state in the global North, neoliberalism has crystallized as a policy package for re-shaping economic and social life.
The package varies from country to country but has much in common. Typical policies are: selling off public assets to owners of capital (‘privatisation’); abolishing rules restraining what businesses can do (‘deregulation’); reducing public services, or charging fees for them (‘user pays’); weakening unions, removing legal protections for workers, and removing protections for local industries; and lowering taxes on high-earning individuals and companies.
At a deeper level, neoliberalism promotes broad cultural changes. The agenda seeks to expand the reach of markets and profit/loss calculation across social life (‘commodification’). It makes local economies depend on world markets and flows of capital (‘globalization’). It re-shapes public institutions and voluntary organizations on the model of competitive firms (‘public sector reform’). It expands the power of managers, displacing local decision-making and occupational expertise. It tries to re-shape culture to promote selfishness (‘individualism’), ruthlessness (‘entrepreneurship’) and dominance (‘leadership’).
Neoliberal policies have rarely been brought in by popular demand. They usually make the rich richer and the poor more insecure – which is usually unpopular. The agenda has, therefore, mainly been introduced top-down: sometimes by force or legal coercion; sometimes by economic coercion (e.g. the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programs); sometimes as a surprise package after governments won power for other reasons (classic case being Peru); and sometimes in response to economic panic (e.g. the 1980s in Australia).
For organizations, neoliberal restructuring is typically decided at the top by senior management. It is then imposed through many small but non-negotiable changes in organizational life. This process is often planned with the assistance of management consultants, corporations that make a profitable business of re-organizing other peoples’ workplaces on neoliberal lines. Sudden re-shaping of organizations has occurred (e.g. the 1986 “Big Bang” deregulation of the London Stock Exchange), but this is now rare.
Universities: organizational change
Universities have been caught in neoliberal restructuring in multiple ways. In some countries (e.g. Chile, Brasil) there has been a mushroom growth of private for-profit colleges. In Australia the story centres on the internal transformation of a system of public universities and colleges. A dramatic shift, begun in 1987-88 under Labor Party education minister John Dawkins, has turned a broadly cooperative system into a divisive collection of competing firms. Simultaneously, university administrations began to mutate into corporate-style managerial elites, imbued with business ideology and paid like corporate managers. The top echelon of Australian university managers now get salary packages around a million dollars per year.
Rather than outright privatisation, there has been a steep decline in the proportion of public funding, replaced by fees charged to students. Australia now has one of the lowest levels of public investment in higher education among affluent countries. Fees were re-introduced in the Dawkins era at a low level but have risen ever since. The new corporate managers have latched on to this, and the most powerful of them have recently been supporting complete deregulation of fees, as a way of expanding their income.
In Australian universities, a key part of this strategy was charging higher fees to overseas students, most of whom come from Asia. In the 1990s and 2000s the university sector became, in economic terms, an export industry. To put it more plainly, a higher education system that formerly educated overseas students for free as a form of international aid, has now become a device for sucking money out of developing economies.
The neoliberal takeover produces a different approach to the workforce. A university as a public institution had an interest in keeping and educating its workforce, gaining the long-term benefits of organizational memory and shared know-how. A university as a corporation has an interest in cheap and flexible labour, bought on a market.
One device is to remove chunks of the workforce from the university payroll altogether, by outsourcing their work to other corporations. This is now done for university work ranging from computing, to printing, to security. Academic tenure is a serious constraint on flexibility; so tenure has gradually been eroded. All parts of the university workforce are now vulnerable to sudden restructurings, cuts and purges. These may impact a library at one time, a faculty at another, a professional service at yet another. Across the whole sector, around half of the undergraduate classes are now taken by teachers on fixed-term, casual or other insecure employment conditions.
Promoting selfishness, ruthlessness and dominance tends to break down social trust. It is clear that neoliberal managers in universities now have little trust in their workforce. An important consequence is a growing spiderweb of top-down controls over university staff. Many of these controls are now embedded in management-controlled Intranets.
Staff have therefore been spending increasing amounts of their time complying with online reporting requirements (for finance, marks, research output, etc. etc.), fitting courses into online templates, undergoing performance management, getting managerial permissions (for spending funds, starting a research project, travelling to a conference, etc. etc.). The space for professional judgment, for anyone in universities except managers, has been shrinking.
Equally important, though not so visible, are cultural changes in universities. Managerial prerogative has substantially displaced organizational democracy. ‘Consultations’ are frequently announced but are rarely more than window-dressing.
An ideology of competition – taking a toxic form in restructures where staff have to compete against each other to get back their own jobs – undermines the cooperation that actually makes a university work. Widening anxiety and distrust undermines the commitments that brought many people to work in universities in the first place: the hope of doing work in the public interest, love of teaching, the excitement of intellectual discovery.
The shift to market logic and the search for advantage over other university-firms underlie another important cultural shift: managers now rely on corporate techniques of publicity. Austtralian universities have all acquired public-relations units, and now put resources into corporate image, ‘branding’ and boasting. Mindless slogans proliferate: one university adopted the slogan “Never Stand Still”, another dubbed itself “Australia’s Innovative University”, a third has taken to plastering gems of corporate philosophy like “Leadership is a Culture” across the campus.
The irony here runs deep. An institution whose rationale, both in teaching and research, is the difficult search for truth, increasingly presents itself through dumbed-down advertising that is manipulative, selective, and sometimes outright deceptive.
Australian neoliberalism has produced a culture focussed on short-term profit, and an economy dependent on the short-term benefit of mining minerals. In services such as education, neoliberalism works by mining existing institutions. Organizations that were set up to serve a public interest are restructured to find potential profits. Google calls it “monetising”.
The neoliberal takeover of Australian higher education is well advanced. But the process is uneven and definitely not complete. Indeed it is hard to see how it could become complete without destroying the distinctive cultural authority of universities – exactly the resource that the neoliberal agenda is mining. Already there is a disturbing whiff of favouritism and corruption around parts of the Australian university system, and few things could be more damaging.
University managers have taken to calling themselves “The University”, and the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, in a characteristic move, re-named themselves “Universities Australia”. But it is actually the staff and students who make a university work. Enough remains of commitment to public education, cooperation among the workforce, and concern with truth, to make the universities still function as a public service. That is an important fact.
There is explicit resistance to the neoliberal agenda. Opposition from students and staff to the deregulation of fees (which would mean steep fee rises in the more privileged universities and increasing inequality in the system) found support in Parliament in 2014-15. Industrial action by university staff has become more widespread – which is unusual in the Australian industrial system where unions have been weakened under neoliberalism.
What we still need is a way of changing the institutions in a democratic direction – a long-term vision for public universities, and a practical agenda for the near future.
I think the discussion has to deal with three sets of problems. First, what will a more democratic university look like as an organization? – as a good place to work for all types of workers, as a place of shared rather than top-down decision-making. What are the teaching and learning practices we need for a more satisfying and relevant higher education?
Second, considering the university as a knowledge institution, what kinds of knowledge will be created and taught? What are the research agendas that universities need to pursue, as Australia moves from a colonial past into a turbulent and dangerous future? What will curricula of the future be, if our universities are to be more than retail offices for globalized MOOC vendors?
Third, what are better ways of linking Australian universities to the wider society? Who will be the new participants in university life, a generation down the track? Can we have social justice in higher education, and if so, how? How can universities develop a cultural identity more authentic and credible than the current boasting and brand-mongering?
That’s a large agenda. But the discussion is beginning.
Vanua, Indigenous Knowledge, Development and Professional Support for Teachers & Education
Nabobo-Baba, U. et.al. (2012).Fiji: University of the South Pacific-FALE & Native Academy Publishers. Four Parts, 412 pages. $40.00USD. (Paperback).ISBN: 978-982-01-0886-8.
[Unaisi Nabobo-Baba; Sereima Naisilisili; Samu Bogitini; Tupeni Lebaivalu Baba With Govinda Lingam]
The University of the South Pacific (USP), one of two regionally owned universities in the world-the other being the University of West Indies serves its 12 member Pacific Island countries where much of the population live in rural, remote and isolated islands. These “unseen” populace and their realities are necessary to our discourses and debates in education and development. The ideas and philosophies of their ways of life, their struggles, their responses to development needs of the school and of teaching as a profession, must be researched and should constitute an important agenda of research. The Academy in this case the USP must continue to find ways to attend to rural students, schools, teachers and communities in creative ways, The challenges of a regional institution like USP to do so and do so effectively will continue to pose challenges – challenges that are decades old as well as those that are as old as the countries themselves.
In the vanua (tribe) context, the regional university evidently like the government that pays the teachers and provides the school curriculum must work with and acknowledge vanua processes. Community processes like the vanua processes as in the case of Udu schools mediate how schools, teachers carry out their business. An understanding of the context of the community especially its decision making processes and economic power bases may enhance the academy in its attempt to “reach” rural teachers. This is also true of Government in its attempt to service rural schools and their communities given that local governance processes in Fiji’s 20 year history of military coups, as well as globalisation, pose new possibilities and challenges to teachers and schools in rural and remote places. Advances in ICT is proving to be a solution but can also create further digital divide if care is not taken to address not exacerbate existing disparities among the rich and poor within regions of a country like Fiji and other Pacific islands countries. Begs the question – Must a university heavily subsidise its services in order that its third world clientele get the development “goods” others elsewhere enjoy?. The role of national governments in ICT development and access for its rural communities also come into question here. Perhaps regional alternatives too of access and equity to education and training are needed and may be an agenda for regional leaders’ fora as education has historically been a force for good but it has also been a force that promotes inequity and differential delivery. The future must see us continually asking questions to redress past inequalities and address potential future developments of the same.
Guided closely by post-colonial critiques of knowledge and especially of the attempt worldwide to question the dominance of certain knowledge framings in research and writing, the study conscientiously framed its work given the methodological debates by Smith (1999) and the alternatives to methodologies (Grant and Giddings, 2002). This is to ensure the IK and processes of Fijians and specifically Udu peoples are embraced and acknowledged. The study utilized ethnographic techniques of in-depth interviews, participant observations and document study. The study was guided closely by Fijian Vanua Research Frameworks honouring local wisdoms and processes of knowledges, indigenous to context. This is why the book also highlights iluvatu as metaphor and derivative of Vanua framings to situate its findings and processes in the vanua Cuku (as home of the iluvatu mat) and Udu Point.
Decolonizing research allows us to refine institutional agendas to serve the under-privileged, the “unseen”. Rural and remote places also are places of positive struggles and sheer hard work and determination. Tribal Pacific indigenous responses to development, education and schooling as well as continuous research into our educational practices will provide us new insights into professional development ideas, models and strategies for such “far –away” places. Research such as this provide fresh and deep insights into of teachers, students and school communities we serve especially within the post colonial framings and notions of “voice” and access and equity. Suggestions for policy in educational ICT and teacher development are also highlighted. The book written by organic intellectuals provide as well an interesting perspective in the role women play in school and development of island peoples not often publicly acknowledged. The reflective pieces in the last part by the authors suggest the authors are not only engaging in theoretical masterfully scripted ideas but are effectively persons that live and have come through rural, remote island realities and have made it through schools and makes the book all the more interesting, deeply moving and interesting
Coloma, Roland Sintos (ed.) Postcolonial Challenges in Education New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2009. X, 382 pp.
Postcolonial Challenges in Education traces the palimpsest histories of imperialism and colonialism, and puts to work the catachrestic interventions of anti-imperialist and decolonizing projects. This book functions as a set of theoretical, empirical, and pedagogical challenges to two fields of scholarship. It points out the inadequate attention to issues of education in studies of imperialism and colonialism as well as the relative absence of empire as a relevant category of analysis in studies of education. It brings together many of the world’s leading and emerging scholars who engage with the key debates and dilemmas in postcolonial and educational studies, and ushers in a collective of dissident voices that unabashedly aim to contest and reconfigure the current local-global order.
An important new initiative from the University of the South Pacific:The Pacific Regional Centre of Excellence for ESD, the University of the South Pacific through its School of Education has produced a 3-volume book series devoted to Education for Sustainable Development. The books are an outcome of a School of Education initiative under the USP Asia-Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO [ACCU] ESD Project. Contributors represent a number of Pacific island countries including Fiji, Kiribati, Rabi, Rotuma, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.
The book series is of particular interest to those seeking to find out more about how indigenous knowledge can and should influence development in the Pacific islands today and the role of the University in promoting and supporting these movements. Significantly, they offer insight into the role that education (formal, non-formal and informal) should play in preparing Peoples for life long learning and for survival in the changing turbulence of our contemporary times.
About the books
Volume 1 “Continuity and Survival in the Pacific” presents a selection of articles by Pacific scholars exploring the ways by which Pacific societies live the principles of Education for Sustainable Development. The articles also provide some insight into current thinking about ways by which Pacific peoples may take control in determining the future of the region.
Volume 2 “Pacific Stories of Sustainable Living” includes stories of Sustainable Living presented through the arts including visual arts, poetry, chants, stories, dance and life stories.
Volume 3 “An Annotated Bibliography” provides a collection of abstracts and bibliographical information on ESD in the Pacific – useful text for those interested in further study on ESD.
About The Editors – Vols 1 & 2
Cresantia F. Koya (Fiji) is the product of multiple diasporic journeys. Of Arab, Indian, Samoan, Irish and Solomon descent, she teaches courses in Curriculum, Educational Theory and Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific. An artist and writer, she is actively involved in the development of the arts in Fiji. Her research interests include Education for Social Change and Justice, Pacific Studies and the Arts, Teacher Education for the future and Education for Sustainable Development. She is currently the Acting-Director of the Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies at the University. She is also a member of the core-group tasked with developing the Regional Cultural Strategy for the Pacific and the Culture and Education Strategy. Combining her work in curriculum development and the arts, she is keen to see indigenous knowledge, culture and the arts provided a platform in mainstream and non-formal education.
Unaisi Nabobo-Baba (Fiji) is an indigenous Fijian. She has taught at a number of secondary schools in Fiji and at the Fiji College of Advanced Education before joining the University of the South Pacific in 1996. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in Education. Her areas of research and publications include: Teaching and Learning in specific contexts, Teacher Education in Pacific Islands contexts-pre service and in-service, Indigenous education and development related discourse, Pacific Islands and Small Island States education, Education and Global Change Agendas, School and Community Relations and Education, Women and development, women teachers and their stories, Remoteness and islandness, Indigenous Knowledge and Epistemology and, International Aid and Education.
Teweiariki Teaero (Kiribati) taught art and Kiribati Studies at secondary school before joining the University. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in Education and Head of the School of Education at USP. His interests are in the areas of educational leadership, indigenous epistemologies, indigenous and contemporary Pacific art and culture and Kiribati orature. He has presented many scholarly papers in regional and international conferences and published numerous articles in peer-refereed journals. He is an accomplished artist and poet, with several publications and exhibitions to his credit.
Vol 3 – Compiled by Paserio Furivai
Paserio Furivai has taught for over 20 years in various parts of Fiji at both primary and secondary levels. He also worked as a Teacher Educator at Corpus Christie College and at the University of the South Pacific. In 2008, he founded the IPA Learning Centre, an education related company with the vision of ‘Sustainable learning through the use of innovative resources”. He is also the Director of the Kip McGath Education Centre in Nasinu.