22 SES 11 E, Popularism and Privatization
In 2014, and after three years of student protests against an educational system that conceives of education as a consumer commodity (Guzmán-Valenzuela 2016a; Simbürger and Neary 2015), the Chilean government led by the then president, Ms Bachelet, announced a policy of universal free higher education. However, in 2015 and at a time of financial pressures, it was indicated that only the 50% of the poorest university students would receive this benefit. It was also promised that this percentage would increase year-on-year until reaching all students across the entire university sector (including both public and private universities) plus students at professional institutes and centres for technical education. In year 2018, the government announced that 60% of students would study for free.
Chile has attracted international attention regarding free higher education since it has been one of the most privatised higher education systems in the world (Guzmán-Valenzuela, 2016b) along with countries such as South-Korea, the UK and the USA (OECD, 2017). Also, it operates one of the highest tuition fee levels based on purchase power parity (Torres and Schugurensky 2002). In Chile, free higher education has been a controversial policy and so has attracted passionate debates about access in higher education and widening participation. These debates have been captured by both national and international mass media.
In this paper, the role that newspapers in Chile have played in the construction of discourses around free higher education is examined. In particular, we focus on mass media as a powerful means of creating and promoting certain discourses in society (Happer and Philo, 2013; Bennett, Lawrence and Livingston, 2008; van Dijk, 1995) and, particularly, in framing educational policies (Cabalin, 2013). Although this paper is focused on the Chilean case, it seeks to develop multi-disciplinary and global frameworks and a variety of methodologies in investigating free higher education. The paper concludes by recommending a debate about access to higher education that goes beyond financial aspects and that might contribute to both a national and international comparative analysis.
Some of the research questions addressed in this paper are:
- Which is the role of the mass media in framing educational policies and particularly, free higher education?
- Which are the ideologies underpinning certain discourses around free higher education promoted by mass media?
- Is it feasible to offer free higher education in a highly privatized higher education system such as the Chilean system?
- Is it ‘fair’ to offer free higher education to everybody? Why?
- Hot to address free higher education in Chile, and more globally?
The study presented here is part of a broader research project on higher education reforms in Chile (Fondecyt 1170374).
Drawing on a critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1993), discourses about free higher education in Chile are examined, paying attention to underlying power relationships and ideologies. In particular, attention is paid to the ways in which newspapers that are politically opposed to each other construct and sustain discourses either in supporting or rejecting free higher education. The data were drawn from opinion columns published in two well-known newspapers in Chile: El Mercurio and El Dínamo. El Mercurio is the oldest newspaper in the country and has been published in Santiago since 1900 on a daily basis. Numerous studies document the ideologically conservative orientation and the economic and political power of El Mercurio (Duran 2009; Soto 1995). Conversely, El Dínamo is a relatively new digital newspaper (founded in 2010). El Dínamo’s goal has been that of reflecting liberal and pluralist visions about national and international matters. A total of 116 opinion columns (El Mercurio: 62 items and El Dínamo: 54 items) were identified between January 2014 and December 2016. The analysis involved a careful reading of these items by the research team. A total of 32 codes were established containing 285 quotations in the case of El Dínamo and 337 quotations in the case of El Mercurio. Later on, 11 broader categories of analysis were agreed by the research team and, currently, we are identifying relationships among them.
Preliminary results show that the most salient themes are: - El Mercurio referred to the implementation of free higher education as a step back in the Chilean system compared with other higher education systems around the world (especially in the North) which tend to charge students’ fees; the impossibility of offering universal free higher education in financial terms; the importance of keeping a private system that extends choices for students in an open educational market; a criticism of free higher education as a policy that reduces private universities’ freedom; and an argument pointing out that free higher education would affect quality. Most of the items were written by authorities and well-known academics from private universities, in a highly technical language to support their arguments. - El Dínamo underscored importance of the Chilean student movement in challenging the higher education system and claiming universal free higher education. Most of the criticisms pointed education having become a market good, a for-profit education, an abandonment of the idea of a public education and the assignment of public money to private universities. The commentators represented a range of perspectives although most of them tended to be in favour of free higher education. Most of the writers were students and members of think-tanks representing liberal positions who wrote in a rather colloquial way with a continuous use of adjectives and imperative tenses. This paper’s discussion will focus on free higher education as a global social right; from a comparative and international perspective, threats to free higher education; the importance of promoting research on the feasibility of universal free higher education beyond financial aspects; and the weight that both private institutions and for-profit institutions are gaining in a progressively marketized higher education system. The paper will finish with reflections about challenges for the future.
Bennett, W. L., Lawrence, R. G., & Livingston, S. (2008). When the press fails: Political power and the news media from Iraq to Katrina. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Cabalin, C. (2013). ‘Framing’ y políticas educacionales: Los medios como actores políticos en educación. Estudios sobre el Mensaje Periodístico, 19(2), 635-647. Duran, C. (1995). El Mercurio, ideología y propaganda, 1956-1994 Ensayos de interpretación bi-logica y psico-historia. Santiago: LOM. Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. London: Routledge. Guzmán-Valenzuela, C. (2016). Unfolding the meaning of public (s) in universities: toward the transformative university. Higher Education, 71(5), 667-679. Guzmán-Valenzuela (2016). Neoliberal discourses and the emergence of an agentic field: The Chilean student movement. In R. Brooks (editor) Student Politics and Protest. London: Routledge & SRHE. Happer, C., & Philo, G. (2013). The role of the media in the construction of public belief and social change. Journal of social and political psychology, 1(1), 321-336. OECD (2017), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2017-en Simbürger, E. & Neary, M. (2015). Free Education! A ‘Live’ Report on the Chilean Student Movement 2011-2014 - reform or revolution? [A Political Sociology for Action]. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 13(2), 150-196. Soto, Á. (1995). El Mercurio y la difusión del pensamiento político económico liberal 1955-1970. Santiago: Centro de Estudios Bicentenario. Torres, C. A. & Schugurensky, D. (2002). The Political Economy of Higher Education in the Era of Neoliberal Globalization: Latin America in Comparative Perspective. Higher Education, 43(4), 429-455. van Dijk, T. A. (1995). Discourse semantics and ideology. Discourse & Society, 6(2), 243-289.
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