ERG SES G 12, Research in Higher Education
The massification of higher education has transformed professional qualifications, from the status of distinction to enter the middle classes, to a common characteristic in the workforce (Altbach, Reisberg, & Rumbley, 2009, Trow, 2010). The increase of professionals is associated with the advent of the post-industrial era (Bell, 2006, Castells, 2000, Touraine, 1971) with its automation of industry and services (Postone, 1978).
In addition, since the neoliberal turn this massification of higher education has coincided with its commercialization (Ball & Youdell, 2007, MacPherson, Robertson, & Walford, 2014, Robertson, Verger, Mundy, & Menashy, 2014). Educational privatization -as is well known- is an edge on the advance of neoliberal policies promoted in the eighties and nineties and beyond.
The new situation implies not only an economic transformation, but the crisis of the welfare society and the political and cultural certainties of the postwar world. The old social and political subjects are weakened, strengthening individualization tendencies that have been thematised as liquidity of social bonds (Bauman, 2004) or increased risk and uncertainty (Beck, 2002). Higher education in these contexts, massive and increasingly commercialized, is the object of social and individual pressures for greater certainties, in a complex environment and with an occupational structure in which quality jobs decrease and are credentialized.
In this panorama, the Chilean experience stands out, since both the massification of tertiary education and its privatization are juxtaposed, giving rise to a massive and consolidated educational market unique in the world (Bellei, Cabalin, & Orellana, 2014; Espinoza & González, 2015). Chile passes higher education from a gross coverage of 15% in 1990 to an 87% coverage in 2017. 80% of those enrolled study in private institutions recently created. A huge educational market is based on private spending, high student indebtedness, and state vouchers (Mönckeberg, 2007, Orellana et al., 2018). Globally, Chilean society is already forty years of uninterrupted neoliberalism (Ruiz Encina, 2015).
In this context, I have studied the career and university choices of young Chileans as a gateway to the more global study of their subjectivity and the link between it and higher education. In a conceptual sense, I have worked from critical theories that discuss the alienating effects of the commodification of social reproduction in subjectivity (De Angelis & Harvie, 2009; Heller, 1977; Postone, 1978), debating with the theory of rational action as with the theory of cultural reproduction (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1996, Breen & Goldthorpe, 1997, Rawls, 1979).
The methodological framework is of a qualitative nature, since the understanding of elective processes anchored in certain subjectivities and visions of the world and of education was attempted. The information production technique used was the focused interview, since it was better suited to the objective of the study. This is because it allows access to the concrete forms of the content of the discourse, integrating the entire existential context of the speaker and also all his personal or autobiographical text (Kvale, 2011). The evidence provided is associated with my doctoral thesis in development, entitled "Subjectivity, individuation and commercial massification of higher education in Chile (2006-2018)", work linked with two research projects on related topics: a) Regular Fondecyt project 1171776 "Trajectories, opportunities and post-secondary educational expectations of young Chileans. Towards an understanding of the socio-cultural support of the higher education market" of which I am co-investigator; and b) to the project "Sense and usefulness attributed by the students of higher education of 1st year (2016) of the Metropolitan Region and their families to the accreditation of career and institution for their choice of tertiary studies", financed by the National Insurance Commission of the Quality of Higher Education (CNA), which I led in 2016. In total, the empirical record analyzed reaches 72 interviews of young graduates of secondary education and first year of University, representative of the different social classes, regional and educational realities of the country.
Evidence is presented that shows that the subjectivity of young Chileans internalizes the instrumental logic of neoliberalism, organizing their career and university choices under pragmatic criteria of occupational insertion. The credentials, in this dynamic, are not depositaries of hope of social ascent or of personal vocational fulfillment, but rather conform a minimum certainty to be able to exist economically and socially. Reaching this certainty becomes the most relevant responsibility of their lives, and therefore, the credentialing reaches the formation of the Self, specifically determining the individual development as valid and self-sufficient people. The choice of career and university becomes, finally, a process by which the neoliberal subjectivity reaches the conquest of the own labor force, which a priori does not belong to him without crossing the educational paths and the corresponding credentials. In a scenario of risk, uncertainty and strong individualization of social processes, subjects conquer themselves through commercially distributed credentials, reaching a radical level of subjective subsumption in the market.
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