22 SES 09 B, Governance Reforms and Education Markets
The idea that universities have an obligation to the public good dates back to the advent of the earliest European universities, such as Bologna, Paris and Oxford. Universities have long promoted themselves and justified public funding on the grounds that they serve the public good (Collini 2012). However, this is currently subject to debate in forums across the world at a time when universities and higher education institutes are under increasing pressure to clearly demonstrate their societal benefits. Today, there are many observers who find and characterize the current development in education, from elementary to higher education, as an expression of a shift from education as a public good to education as a private good and at the same time proposing and elaborating the meaning of higher education as a public good (Barnett 1997, 2011, Hebel 2004).
Through an analysis of previous studies with focus on Sweden and the USA, this paper aims to contribute further knowledge to the discussion of higher education for the public good and/or for the private good.
With a point of departure from the two national examples, the discussion is supported by work done by influential scholars in the field. For example, Bill Sullivan has argued that in higher education as a public good, certain democratic values are stressed, values that underpin each student’s political awareness and an education that promotes a civic and professional responsibility (Sullivan 2005). Moreover, already in 1987 Amy Gutmann proposed in her Democratic Education, that“learning how to think carefully about political problems, to articulate one’s views and defend them before people with whom one disagree is a form of moral education to which young adults are more receptive and for which universities are well suited” (p. 173). Later, Martha Nussbaum in her Cultivating Humanity (1997) asserted that the noble kind of liberal education as a base for the cultural dimension had not been fully realized in colleges and universities, but rather subordinated to instrumentalism, to technical and vocational education. The perspective of Nussbaum leads to see higher education institutions as public spaces of advanced mutual communication, reflection and deliberation and not primarily as predestined routes of curriculum preparing people for different vocations.
While dominant tendencies of the role of the universities are underlining ‘the idea of excellence’ and a kind of ‘academic capitalism’, in contrast to Nussbaum, one can also notice attempts to deepen higher education as a place for dissensus where “the point is to institutionalize dissensus and to make university a site of public debate ….. that the central task of the university is to become a key actor in the public sphere and thereby enhance the democratization of knowledge (Delanty 2001 p. 7 and 9). This also leads us to how Nixon (2011) elaborates what he call collective reasoning to be central in higher education: There is no other way of being reasonable in a plural world, no other way of doing reason. We reason other-wise – or not at all. To define reason in this way – as a collective resource – is to claim it as a public good; and to claim it as a public good is to acknowledge that it is a part of ‘what we owe to each other’ (Nixon p. 84).
But are these elaborations of education for the public good supported by the education policy trends of today? In the paper we elaborate on this question, and where the main conclusions are presented below in the section “Expected and preliminary outcomes/results”.
As already mentioned, the paper analyses previous studies with a view to contribute further knowledge to the discussion of higher education for the public good and/or for the private good. To do this, we use two examples, one from Sweden and the development of its educational system and one from US to show how education for public and private good can be understood. These examples are then discussed through an abductive process of inquiry inspired by Peirce of forming explanatory hypotheses and empirically investigating those with support of previous research (cf. Fann 1970, Apel 1981). The research referred to has been chosen due to their influential position in their research field. The Swedish example builds on analyses made by Englund (1994, 2009, 2010) and shows how the Swedish school system has undergone a successive change. From serving the public based on a public education system during three decades (1960s to 1989/1990) aiming at democracy and equality the school system has adjusted more and more to private good through privatization of schools, free choice and a parental right to educational authority during the last three decades. The example from US builds on three texts by David Labaree (1998, 2000, 2016). In the article from 2016 he shows how the Cold War expanded federal investments in higher education exponentially. The good times continued, according to Labaree, for about 30 years after the Second World War and those years were the golden age for the American universities. During the last three decades American universities is understood, once again, to be a distinctly private good. The hypotheses will be tested empirically by making use of interviews of persons with leading positions and academic developers in the universities studied within the project shortly presented: The paper presented is produced within the project “Formation and competence building of university academic developers” owned and headed by the Department of Education, University of Oslo, Norway, but managed in close collaboration with the partners from University College of Dublin, Ireland, The Arctic University of Tromsø, Norway, Uppsala University and Örebro University, Sweden and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA. The project is funded by The Research Council of Norway (01.09.2015-31.08.2019) within the FINNUT program (Research and Innovation in the Educational Sector) and the university partners.
A first answer to our question on the current educational policy trends is that it rather seems as elementary, secondary and higher education adjust for the private good, where elementary and secondary education are seen as commodities positioning parents and their children as consumers transforming education through privatization. This also means that higher education seems to lower its ambition to be a cornerstone of democracy, equality and instead becoming more and more of an institution for individual careers. That said, the general trend during the last decades can be described in terms of a successive move from higher education as a public good to higher education as a private good, with universities characterized by commercialization, commodification, competition and classification (Nixon 2011) producing a good that is more and more privately financed and adjusted to private / individual benefits and marketing. Further, it also means that the authority to decide the content and forms of education moves from being settled by professionals working within universities (public good) to administrative units. Education becomes privatized (more of a private good) and the university in itself often becomes less interested in goals oriented to the public good. Its characteristics like democracy, equality are becoming weaker and higher education is in a less degree giving room for humanistic studies and social sciences. At the same time we can see universities becoming more directed to prepare the majority for being employable (which can be seen as situated in a field of force between public and private good) rather than preparing politically engaged, participatory citizens as in a more explicit public good perspective. Altogether, our analysis calls for the need of further studies on higher education and its complex relation situated in a field of force between public and private good.
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