23 SES 13 C, ‘The Ironies and Illusions of Gosplan Thinking ’: An Analysis of Neoliberal Influences on Higher Education in Diverse International Contexts
In 2012, the influences of neoliberal ideology on the relationships between states and their public institutions have now achieved truly global reach. Higher education, in numerous regions, has been reconfigured to reflect the neoliberal tenets of marketisation with its concomitants of consumerism, competition, the degrading of ‘non-useful’ subjects and the primacy of the university’s economic mission to provide research bases and skilled workers for the ‘global knowledge economy’ (Canaan and Shumar 2008, Harvey 2006, Hill and Kumar 2009, Leitner et al 2007, Sławek 2002). We recognise that the precise manifestations of neoliberal policies in different countries are not contemporaneous nor follow identical trajectories. This might partly be explained by the necessity for neoliberal education reformers to incrementally dismantle existing political settlements based on embedded, alternative value systems and defended by ideological adversaries. However, one of the recurring and paradoxical characteristics of neoliberal approaches to the governance of higher education is the leveraging of state power to create, shape and control new education markets. This phenomenon appears paradoxical, because neoliberalism regards the state management of public institutions as both inefficient and an immoral use of taxpayers’ money (Plant 2010).
The focus here is on how neoliberal higher education policies have impacted on aspects of professional practice in universities located in three diverse international contexts (Poland, USA and UK). Common to all three countries, though to varying degrees, higher education is being shaped and controlled through the development of a ‘culture of performativity’ (Apple 2005, Ball 2003) or ‘new managerialism’ (Deem and Brehony 2005) or ‘deliverology’ (Seddon 2008) involving the systematic auditing of performance targets often linked to funding and investment. Although the analogy of Gosplan has a more obvious historical connection to Poland, we would contend that ‘Gosplan thinking’ is to be found in all three higher education systems. Gosplan (1921-1991) was a large central government planning agency based in Moscow that formulated economic performance targets which were then issued as directives to the industrial plants and collective farms across the Soviet Union. The key point here is that the targets were abstractions that often ignored local conditions. Worse still, they resulted in widespread inefficiency, falsification of data and a lowering of morale (Service 1997).
Ironically, the neoliberal ‘cultures of performativity’ revive many of the features of the Gosplan phenomenon. This is because, like Gosplan, performance targets imposed by neoliberal governments on local institutions appear as surveillance measures more concerned with control than quality (Power 1997). Rather than promoting efficiency or ‘value for taxpayers’ money’, they are, conversely, reducing the diversity and quality of the university learning and teaching experience for students and academics.
This symposium seeks to analyse the impact on professional practice of ‘Gosplan thinking’ in three universities from different international contexts. These papers examine phenomena arising from the impact of neoliberal ideology on education policy and professional practice from several perspectives including the Gadamerian concept of ‘conversation’, discourse analysis drawing from e.g. Bernstein (2010) and the approach to non-hegemonic and creative thinking developed by Deleuze (Wallin 2011).
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