23 SES 07 B, Policy Borrowing and Policy Learning in Education
Policy transfer is an umbrella term for all kinds of issues relating to how foreign examples are used by policy makers to initiate and implement educational change. Policy transfer mostly refers to governmental institutions and their representatives, but also to practitioners, researchers and learners.
The roots of policy borrowing go back to ancient ages when travellers reported that and how ‘the others’ they had been visiting were educating their children and taught their offspring how to integrate into society. In 1900, Michael Sadler stated that ‘The practical value of studying, in a right spirit and with scholarly accuracy, the working of foreign systems of education is that it will result in our being better fitted to study and to understand our own’. However, it took until the mid-19th century that the first systematic approaches to policy transfer emerged and documenting ideas of ‘learning from the neighbours’ had become common.
Today, cross-national studies of education systems stem less from curiosity and altruistic interest but rather from political motives and economic competition. In the light of large-scale assessments, the strive for global competitiveness and international organisations providing loans for so-called developing countries, the issues of policy borrowing has become a dominating aspect in the field of education policy, comparative education and in the economics of education. Shaping education policy and addressing reform needs is often perceived as a quest to achieve a ‘world class’ education system through a process of identifying and transferring the practices and structures of those systems that perform best in terms of a particular aspect. It is particularly for countries in transition that educational policy transfer is meant to cure all reform needs.
However, policy transfer demands for comparative studies across nations and regions, academic disciplines and fields of policy and is ‘one of the oldest and most controversial theory traditions in comparative education’ (Zymek & Zymek, 2004: 25). Mostly, such investigations are based upon quantitative studies and tend to neglect the system environment and history. This applies particularly to adult (and vocational) education where the notion of ‘system’ is either inadequate or covers only parts of the overall landscape of providers, programs and learning settings.
Euler, D. (2013). Germany’s dual vocational training system: a model for other countries? Bielefeld. Phillips, D. & Ochs, K. (2003). Processes of Policy Borrowing in Education: some explanatory and analytical devices. In: Comparative Education, 39(4), 451–461. Phillips, David; Schweisfurth, Michele (2014): Comparative and International Education. An Introduction to Theory, Method, and Practice. 2nd edition. New York/London. Sadler, M. (1900). How far can we learn anything of practical value from the study of foreign systems of education? In J.H. Higginson (ed.), Selections from Michael Sadler. Liverpool, 48–51. Steiner-Khamsi, Gita (2006): The Economics of Policy Borrowing and Lending: A Study of Late Adopters, Oxford Review of Education, 32(5), 665–678. Stockmann, R. & Kohlmann, U. (1998). Transferierbarkeit des Dualen Systems. Berlin. Zymek, B. & Zymek, R. (2004). Traditional – National – International. Explaining the Inconsistency of Educational Borrowers. In D. Phillips & K. Ochs (eds.), Educational Policy Borrowing: Historical Perspectives. Oxford, 25–35.
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