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.
The Epistemologies of the South symposium was held at Sydney University on 14 April. It received an extraordinary response. Some of the sessions were standing room only.
The event was convened by Raewyn Connell and Fran Collyerto bring together of scholars in the social sciences interested in the status of knowledge production in the South. The morning included brief presentations from Maggie Walter, Vera Mackie, Helen Gardner, Devleena Ghosh and myself. We also heard from those involved in the Arenas of Knowledge project (João Maia, Robert Morrell, Vanessa Watson, Patrick Brownlee and Beck Pearse), a collaboration between Brazil, South Africa and Australia to map social science publishing in the South.
The rest of the day involved group sessions and plenaries where experiences of working in the South were shared. “Speaking bitter thoughts” was encouraged as a way of understanding the experience of working in the university environment, particularly for indigenous peoples (this reflected the People’s Tribunal in Melbourne).
There were many interesting discussions about the knowledge terrain of the South. The universal nature of English in scholarly publishing was seen by many as inevitable, but it was felt that there should be more allowance for the difficulty faced by second-language speakers and for concepts that were not easily translated. The economic challenge for poorer Southern countries of subscribing to scholarly journals was also mentioned. While there are Open Source alternatives for publication, the unpaid labour in maintaining these needs recognition as part of academic work.
More generally, there was broad discussion about the overall framework of knowledge production. The accepted capitalist model of knowledge accumulation through data extraction and publication output was questioned. This seemed to leave little time to reflect on what is learnt. It also does not accommodate indigenous practices, which focus more on the reproduction of knowledge as a form of stewardship. Reflecting the work of Unaisi Nabobo Baba on silence, there was discussion about the importance of listening as a scholarly modality. Overall, there was a feeling that knowledge in a southern context should involve a quality of slowness that engages with the social relations at play.
Raewyn Connell felt the event had fulfilled its aims:
I was very pleased at the way the national symposium brought together different generations of scholars, and people working in different traditions of knowledge and thought. Good discussions went on right through the day, and I’m hopeful that many links have been made that will energise this major re-thinking of social knowledge.
Critically, the symposium resolved to establish a mailing list so that the participants can organise future events that will continue these conversations. It will be interesting to see how these conversations develop. The academic machine offers a ready-made system for accumulating knowledge in professional journals. How might an archive of southern knowledge be designed?
What ‘Innovation’, ‘Business Improvement’ and Corporatisation mean for the future of Higher Education
April 14 @ 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm
Philip Morrissey, Lauren Bliss, Giles Fielke, Leo Seward and Simon Cooper
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.
The Southern African indigenous concept of Ubuntu is the theme of the 59th CIES annual meeting in Washington, DC. Featuring this notion that reflects the region’s particular intellectual histories and anticolonial and postcolonial struggles, the conference organizers ask us not only to consider ways to revitalize humanistic potentials of education in the current neoliberal time but more importantly to take seriously the intellectual work and theoretical insights generated in peripheral regions around decolonial struggles over knowledge.
The Micronesian Educator publishes scholarly articles that come from a wide range of areas of educational research and related disciplines. The journal serves as a forum to share empirical research findings, literature reviews, theoretical perspectives, and practical applications in such areas and may include as well book reviews, poetry and artistic expressions as well as work done in indigenous/local Micronesian languages.
Note that the next deadline is November 15th, 2014.
Micronesian Educator also invites competent scholars and academicians to voluntarily join its review/editorial board. For more information, please download the call for papers.
Unaisi Nabobo-Baba, editor
On 29-30 August 2012, the University of Melbourne hosted a two day event Melbourne-Latin America Dialogue which was designed as a ‘space for high-level exchange of ideas and experiences that brings together Latin American and Australian experts from scientific, technological, artistic, business and educational fields.’ It was indeed an intense series of events, with up to two hundred people, including the full contingent of Latin American ambassadors and many caped volunteers.
After welcome and opening remarks, the dialogue began with a focus on resources, including professors of mining and representatives of business. This marked the main theme of the dialogue – economic opportunities provided by the growth of Latin American countries. Of particular interest was the $65 billion privatisation process recently announced by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, offering a significant opening for foreign investment.
By the final session, ‘Opportunities and challenges for the Australia-Latin America relationship’, participants were very upbeat about future partnerships. But there were issues to overcome. Ronaldo Veirano, Honorary Consul of Australia to Rio de Janeiro and Executive Director of the Macquarie Funds Group, pointed out the obstacles in the way of realising these opportunities. For many Australian businesses, they still see Latin America as a politically unstable continent, while for Latin Americans Australia is barely visible.
Given that cultural stereotypes were raised as a major issue in development partnerships, it was odd that there was no session devoted to culture, arts or ideas in this dialogue. The more or less exclusive focus was on economic opportunity. While this is clearly a limited range of engagement in terms of broader international relations, it is also fraught within its own terms. If the aim is to expand business activity into Latin America, it seems critical to change these stereotypes through broader cultural exchange between Australia and Latin America.
In the final session, Jose Blanco, the Chairman of the Australia-Latin America Business Council, spoke about team Australia-Latin America in competition with team Australia-Asia. If this is indeed the scenario, then it is worth looking at how the competition have been building up their capacities. Ever since the Asian focus was elevated when Paul Keating was Prime Minister, it has been seen as important to develop our regional identity through cultural programs – sending a diverse range of Australian exhibitions and performances to Asia and hosting Asian artists here. Both the Asia Pacific Triennial and Asialink were established as necessary platforms to pave the way for future economic ties.
Much of the exchange currently is being handled by the Council of Australia Latin American Relations. This is largely a back-room body, supporting individual projects. Those businesses that are keen on Latin America could do worse than the Myer Foundation, who largely funded Asialink, and help establish a public body to foster cultural ties. Like Asialink, this could be done through a hosting of exchanges and visitors, publishing thought pieces, and nurturing a broader narrative about cultural partnership.
There are some obvious common interests across the Pacific:
- the place of Indigenous cultures in a contemporary context
- impact of globalisation, particularly on cultural diversity
- intellectual property in the information age
- impact of mining and development on communities
- relationship to nature
- gender in society
There are immediate opportunities for business across the Pacific. But if these are to grow into long term partnerships, then an understanding of common interest would need to be developed.
It may take two to tango. But both have to learn how to dance first.
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
Since colonisation in the Pacific, there has been much talk about cultural differences. Those from European cultures profess a more individualist world view, where one should stand independently of family and social ties. By contrast, Pacific peoples are seen to place much emphasis on genealogy as determinate of selfhood. But behind all this talk, lies a more fundamental difference – silence.
As Unaisi Nabobo-Baba argues in her book Knowing and Learning: An indigenous Fijian approach (Suva: IPS Publications, 2006), the silent child in a Western classroom is seen as a problem. By contrast in many traditional Pacific communities, silence is seen as a culturally appropriate mode of behaviour. Nabobo-Baba goes further and develops a taxonomy of silence, which includes 18 different ways of being quiet, including ‘silence and the elements’ and ‘silence when in awe of custom’ (see here for an extract of her book).
The cultural meaning of silence poses some challenging questions:
- How can silence be reconciled with modern democracy?
- What is the role of silence in modern Western countries like Australia?
- How can silence speak?
- What is the positive role of silence in the classroom?
Would you be interested in being part of a further discussion about this issue? If you would like to be involved in the development of a colloquium on silence, you are invited to send in your details. This includes:
- Area of interest
- What you would like to contribute to this development
Contributions can include research, a specific perspective, a performance, a venue or a program context.
Please send an email to [email protected]. Responses are due 21 January 2012.
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.