Education on the market

Source: Education International
What is emerging from this report and other studies conducted by the World Bank recently, is the importance attached to competition, testing, and performance-related pay for teachers and school principals. Therefore, teachers' unions have an enormous challenge to respond appropriately and collectively to these developments. September 2008. [see more]
"McDonaldization of education" is the term used by some observers to describe the slow but relentless process of integration of higher education into the market. And it is precisely that association -crystal clear and "fitting" when it comes to illustrating a process of change involving both globalization and huge technological developments that enable the dissemination of knowledge- which gives rise to great controversies.

Using this comparison, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Education, John Daniel, underlines three aspects that can help us ponder education's current evolution: firstly, according to Daniel, in spite of its ubiquity, this food chain offers only a small portion of what people eat; secondly, it sells because people like what it serves; and lastly, the key to its success is its limited menu which is replicated with exactly the same flavour, aspect and quality and sold in identical stores throughout the world.

This evidences the homogenization that befalls any activity thus commercialized, but the controversy around education also hinges on whether this evolution -or incorporation into the market- is good for education and society or not.

What is not debatable is the fact that education is turning into a commodity.

Not by chance has higher education become a subject of study for corporations specialized in banking investments, such as Merrill Lynch. Nor is it fortuitous that the two leading companies promoting the commercialization of higher education in the United States (Apollo and Sylvan Learning) are listed on the stock market, and that the General Agreement on Trade in Services has included education among the services to be liberalized.

And this is where the key issues seem to lie. If education is profitable -which it is-, who will determine the contents of the "Combo Menus" served by these "classroom McDonalds"? And further, continuing with John Daniel's line of reasoning that the offering of these fast food establishments represents a minimum portion of the food that people eat, shouldn't we be concerned by the fact that there are also increasingly less "people who are able to consume it". Moreover, is it true that what they serve is what "consumers" really want? Or is it what the market demands? One side of the controversy argues that massification of higher education benefits potential students because it reduces production costs, thereby placing the "product" within reach of a larger number of people.

Thus, the advantages seem to lie exclusively in a greater dissemination of knowledge. Knowledge which on the surface seems to be increasingly closer to the "common people", brought to them by the new information technologies or by the opening of markets to foreign education providers. These providers are specifically targeting the least developed countries who turn to this option as a way of compensating the shortfalls of state-funded education.

The other side points to the undeniable and steady standardization that the market forces on the menu, turning out "combos" designed for consumers in the developed world, for whom educational ingredients -the disciplines- must satisfy the appetite of a cost-benefit education, to the detriment of the more "unsavoury" -or less lucrative- fields of knowledge, such as the humanities. Not only is the range of subjects limited to market demands; it is shaped by the dominant Western model. Not to mention the costs involved in accessing these educational menus, since commercialization of higher education brings greater privatization to educational services. Services which most people will be looking at increasingly from the outside, as they are forced out of the picture by the impossibility of paying for them, with the ensuing aggravation of social inequality.

Lastly, the controversy today also revolves around acknowledging that leaving education entirely in the hands of market forces entails ignoring that it is a right recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The debate then focuses on accepting education as a common good and the importance that it has and must have for the development of any society. In this sense -and to judge from how things are evolving- this McDonaldization of education may result in research being driven not by what serves the public interest, but rather by what is profitable for large corporations.
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Tuesday, September 09 2008
Analysis of the World Bank's study on education quality and economic growth
(Source: Education International)
Thursday, January 24 2008
Enough of this educational apartheid
(Source: The Independent)
Friday, April 20 2007
The case against the IMF on education
(Source: Action Aid)

How specialized agencies see the issue

Internationalization of Higher Education (UNESCO)

Commoditization of education (Education Today - UNESCO Newsletter)

Higher education for sale (Education Today - UNESCO Newsletter)

A controversial debate (Education Today - UNESCO Newsletter)

UNESCO education site

Education: who pays? (UNESCO)

World Conference on Higher Education, October 1998 (UNESCO)

IIPE -International Institute for Education Planning

Decentralizing education: trends and issues (IIEP Newsletter)

Financing education - Investment and returns (OECD)

Private investments in education

Public/private partnerships handbook: part I (IFC)

Public/private partnerships handbook: part I (IFC)

Public/private partnerships handbook: part III (IFC)

Facilitating investment in the global education market (IFC)

Investing in private education in developing countries (World Bank)

Enough of this educational apartheid (The Independent)

Civil society and education networks

CorpWatch - Focus on education

From social contract to private contracts: The privatisation of health, education and basic infrastructure (Social Watch)

Civil Society Network for Public Education in the Americas

Education International


The International Association of Universities (IAU)

Related in-depth reports

Social security reform

Health and health services, goods for sale

The gender gap in education

World Trade Organization

GATS - General Agreement on Trade in Services

The World Bank and the WTO

Constructing knowledge societies: new challenges for tertiary education (World Bank)

Higher education: the lessons of experience - 1994 World Bank report (World Bank)

Education for the Knowledge Economy (EKE) (World Bank)

World Trade Organization - Trade in Services Council (WTO)

Higher Education and Developing Countries: Peril and Promise

Analysis of the World Bank's study on education quality and economic growth (Education International)

The case against the IMF on education (Action Aid)

World Bank Report lets down 58 million public service workers (Education International)

Education and GATS

Gatswatch Organization - The debate on education (GATSwatch)

Trade, education and the GATS: what's in, what's out, what's all the fuss about? (Evian Group)

Trade and liberalization and higher education: the implication of GATS (Observatory of Borderless Higher Education)

Keep public education out of trade agreements (CSNPEA)

GATS: Education is a right, not a commodity (Education International)

Education International on WTO- GATS (EI)

Take education out of GATS (GATS Watch)


From social contract to private contracts: The privatisation of health, education and basic infrastructure (Social Watch)

The 'Millennium Round' and the liberalisation of the education market

Marketizing higher education: Neoliberal strategies and counter-strategies (Appel pour une école démocratique)

Will education go to market? (UNESCO)

Report from the OECD/US Forum on Trade in Educational Services - May 2002 (NCITE Update)

Two positions in the international debate about higher education: The World Bank and UNESCO (People & Planet.)

The brutal rationale of privatisation - Chile's case ( Social Watch)

School fees barrier to education of millions (Health-e)

Access to and privatisation of education (International Youth Parliament)

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