23 SES 04 B, Networks, Privatisations and Governance
Education has become a ‘commodity’ that can be ‘exported’ and Sweden plays a role in this global competitive game. The first part of the title is a quote by Fraser Nelson (2013), editor of The Spectator and a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, pointing to the Swedish system of school choice that was used as a policy justification by the Conservatives prior the 2010 election and the subsequent English free schools policy (Walford, 2014). Indeed, it can be seen as quite a puzzle why ‘social democratic Sweden’ became a reference society (Sellar & Lingard, 2013) on marketization of public welfare to liberal England (Baggesen Klitgaard, 2008; Hicks, 2015; c.f. Erixon Arreman & Holm, 2011) and thus, in the words of Fraser, how come Swedes will be the ones selling British Education to China.
In Sweden, far-reaching choice reforms were initiated in the early 1990s, turning the Swedish school system into “one of the world’s most liberal public education systems” (Blomqvist, 2004, p. 148). Swedish parents are free to choose any school for their child free of charge, public as well as tax-funded free schools. The independent education providers are even allowed to withdraw profit. As a result, for-profit school chains have flourished and they have also gone abroad to sell and market their services and Swedish school chains now operate globally in for instance England, USA and India. Even if both the political left and centre-right contributed to making these reforms happen, the non socialist government in office 1991-1994 took considerable measures to break the state monopoly in Education (Lundahl, 2002). Since then, several actors that worked at or close to the Ministry of Education at that time have been quite active in setting up their own for-profit school companies and school chains: They have acted as ‘policy retailers’ for the Swedish model (and their companies) abroad (Rönnberg, 2014).
As pointed out by for instance Ball (2012), national and global flows of ideas, actors and organisations, including profit-making companies, all help sustain and reinforce the ever expanding global edu-business. New actors become engaged in creating and implementing policy, embedded within larger governance networks. They become carriers of different ideas, also across national borders. They act as policy brokers as they move in different policy spaces and their expertise is shared, promoted or even sold (c.f Grek et. al., 2009) – they are acting as ‘policy retailers’ - also on a global scale.
This paper is interested in the work and doings of actors of and in the borderless and international flow of policy, exploring how policy retailers carry agendas of educational marketisation and their attempts to ‘export’ such ideas. The aim is to describe and analyse the connections, movements and exchanges of education policy retailers, often with commercial interests, in the transnational flows of policy ideas and services. This is done by empirically studying how a number of Swedish policy retailers market policy ideas about free schools and related services.
The paper draws on theoretical resources from the education policy literature conceptualising the changing and borderless nature of the growing ‘edu-business’ (Ball, 2012; 2009; 2007; Ball & Junemann, 2012; Junemann & Ball, 2013; Lingard & Sellar, 2013), as well as work on policy borrowing and travelling policy (McCann & Ward, 2013; Waldow & Steiner-Khamsi, 2012; Grek et. al., 2009; Ozga & Jones, 2006).
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