23 SES 03 D, Privatisation and the Private Sector
Compulsory education in Scandinavia is known for its strong emphasis on a unitary, publicly funded and regulated school system, designed to promote social mobility and equal access to high quality education. While these welfare goals remain more or less unchanged, there are currently increasing divergences among the Scandinavian countries in the regulation of how compulsory education can get public approval and funding with implications for education as a comprehensive project.
The Scandinavian model of education after World War II was built on the assumption that equal opportunities would put all human resources at full use and develop a sense of belonging and mutual understanding, with a special emphasis on supporting people in remote regions (Telhaug et al., 2004: 143). These goals implied strong political coordination with a public trust within a professional-bureaucratic state (Maroy, 2012). In contrast, in a user choice model with simplified rules for establishment of private service units, and funding per user along with a quasi-market model, more weight was put on individual responsibility for choosing services with the suitable profile and quality.
Sweden is a latecomer among the Scandinavian countries when it comes to private alternatives in education. In Denmark, almost 20 percent of students attend private schools in a user-choice system that has existed for 150 years (Wiborg, 2013). The free schools are nonprofit organizations that receive financial support from the government but have few legal restrictions on the educational content. Norway has a similar but less liberal system for nonprofit private schools, in which only 3 percent of the student population attends (Volckmar, 2008). In order to obtain public funding, these schools must offer established alternatives to the public school system in terms of pedagogies, religion, or an international dimension. At the same time, the core curriculum must be equivalent to that of public schools. Also in Sweden, teaching in private and public schools is subject to the same laws, which does not encourage diversity in educational profiles as in Denmark, which indicates a highly regulated system despite implementing a quasi-market model.
Being a country in lead, during the nineties, Sweden adopted quasi-market principles (Maroy, 2012) and introduced a voucher system that allowed for-profit schools to compete with the public system. A goal was to create the best school system in Europe, but a drop in PISA results indicated that this has not yet been accomplished (Blossing & Söderström 2014). The reform did succeed in raising the share of students in private schools from 1 to 15 percent. This was a radical break with a social democratic policy of using public service provision to combat poverty and social inequality.
This paper argues that different implementations of school choice have important consequences for the private schools,’ not merely in terms of educational programs, but by the relations with parents, civil society organizations, public authorities, and owners. Therefore, the Scandinavian countries may be seen as a ‘natural experiment’; the school systems are regulated by the same overall goal to provide equal opportunities for all, but use different organizational structures and governance modes to accomplish this overall goal, which begs the question: Which of the three implementation models of school choice in Sweden, Norway and Denmark has the best potential for achieving the promise of equal opportunity for all?
This paper reports from a large-scale comparative research project on the role of markets and choice in Scandinavian welfare systems (Sivesind & Saglie, 2017). By summarizing findings and interpretations based on both qualitative and quantitative data collected within three countries, the paper identifies how the different education systems located in the northern part of Europe, accomplish the goal they have in common: to provide equal opportunities for all. The paper provides an empirical overview of the provision and governance of compulsory education in three countries which share a common history: Sweden, Denmark and Norway. The study uses official national statistics to document changes in enrollment in public, for-profit and non-profit education in the three countries (Sivesind & Saglie, 2017). Description of changes in institutional and legal frameworks is based on content-analysis of policy-documents, laws and directives (Bratberg, 2011). The research design takes similarities between the countries as a starting point, i.e. the shared history of a unitary school system and a common goal for creating equal opportunities, which has been institutionalized by compulsory education as a comprehensive project since the late 1960s, but has for the moment, lost its power to regulate the school system in similar ways (Jean-Louis, Eric, & Luciano, 2015). Thus, there are empirically country-specific differences, which are subject for a cross-national comparison.
This mix of governance approaches in the education sector in the Scandinavian countries today, create a conflict whereby liberal ideas about the rights of parents to choose schools with different content or better quality and to opt out of bad schools, are challenging adherence to the ‘unitary school system’, in which equality and social integration are given emphasis (Arnesen and Lundahl 2006). As this paper demonstrates, the countries governments react differently to this conflict by developing a mix of governance modes and welfare services. The paper analyses if user choice makes it more difficult to achieve the goal of equal access to high quality education for all in Scandinavian education. A key-argument relates to the allocation of money and the use of vouchers. With increased implementation of the user choice model, and the money following the users, the public authorities have less ability to decide in which parts of the cities and the country that private schools are established, which has been important for reducing social inequality between sosio-economic classes. The comparative study demonstrates that parents with high levels of social capital are more concerned about choosing schools with the best results, while others may be more concerned to associate with social networks (peer effects). This is in particular a trait of the Swedish education system which has introduced vouchers within compulsory education. This pattern of user choice makes it more difficult to accomplish the goal of equal access to high quality education for all since stratification occur at the cost of equal access to higher education.
Blossing, U., & Söderström , Å. (2014). A School for Every Child in Sweden. In U. Blossing, G. Imsen, & L. Moos (Eds.), The Nordic Education Model. (Vol. 1). Dodrecht: Springer. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-7125-3_2. Bratberg, Ø. (2011). A Long Path to Divergence: English and Scottish Policies on Tuition Fees. Higher Education Policy, 24(3), 285-306. doi:10.1057/hep.2011.5 Jean-Louis, D., Eric, M., & Luciano, B. (2015). Introduction to the EERJ dossier. European Educational Research Journal, 14(3-4), 195-205. doi:10.1177/1474904115595495 Maroy, C. (2012). Towards Post-Bureaucratic Modes of Governance. In G. Steiner-Khamsi (Ed.), Policy Borrowing and Lending in Education (pp. 62-94). Oxon: Routledge. Sivesind, K. H., & Saglie, J. (Eds.). (2017). Promoting Active Citizenship. Markets and Choice in Scandinavian Welfare. Cham: Palgrave macmillan . Volckmar, N. (2008). Knowledge and solidarity: The Norwegian social‐democratic school project in a period of change, 1945–2000. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 52(1), 1-15. Wiborg, S. (2013). Neo-liberalism and universal state education: the cases of Denmark, Norway and Sweden 1980–2011. Comparative Education, 49(4), 407-423. doi:10.1080/03050068.2012.700436
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