23 SES 03 D, Trajectories in HE and Work
The idea of the preparation for the labour market as one of the main (if not the main) objectives of post-compulsory education is today widely accepted as self-evident and “natural”. In the context of European education policies, it has been constructed as a response to the multifaceted challenge of massification (especially of higher education), unemployment, and the economic crisis, and informs some of the major education initiatives today, including the Horizon 2020 and EU Modernisation agenda (EC, 2011a, 2011b). However, the concept itself is both historically and culturally contingent: some authors have traced its genesis in the European context (e.g. Clarke and Patrickson, 2008; Jacobson, 2004), while others have focused on the social implications of the transition from “employment” to “employability” (e.g. Kupfer, 2011; Fejes, 2010).
This proposal aims to contribute to the critical examination of the origins of the discourses on employability as a goal of education policies. It does this by juxtaposing the current discourses on employability and education-labour market linkages, as presented, for instance, in the policies of the European Commission, with a historical case of the construction of these links: that of education policy in the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). In the 1970s, SFRY introduced a broad education reform known as “vocation-oriented education”, as part of the overall political transformation designed to accommodate the country’s particular “brand” of socialism that entailed the opening to the West and embracing some principles of market economy (e.g. Burg, 1983). Although the political systems and ideological orientations of former Yugoslavia and present-day European Union are very different, the discourses and practices aiming to link education and employment exhibit a remarkable degree of similarity (cf. Bacevic, [in print]). Where do these similarities come from?
This contribution analyzes these similarities by relying on Foucault’s conceptualization of education as the practice of governmentality (Peters and Besley, eds., 2008; Foucault, 1972). In this context, education policies are understood not as solutions to objectively existing social problems, but as instruments of political power whose task is to define political subjectivities (cf. Britton, 2007). Thus, the contribution interprets the similarities in the configuration of specific education policies as consequences of the conceptualization of education as a practice of state power (cf. Peters and Besley, eds., 2008; Fejes, 2010:6). Although the meaning of “state” varies significantly in the case of the EU and the SFRY, both can be understood as supranational entities facing the massification of education coupled with rising unemployment and the economic crisis. The conceptual affinities between the construction of links between education and work, thus, are not seen as evidence of “borrowing” or policy transfer, but as manifestations of the political function of education in modern states. In this sense, the “turn” to employability in education policies of both the EU and former Yugoslavia is interpreted as an attempt to maintain the balance of political powers in supranational entities in the time of crisis, and thus as a response to specific political circumstances.
Bacevic, J. [in print]. From class to identity: politics of education reforms in former Yugoslavia. Budapest: CEU press. Britton, J. 2007. Categorising and policy making. In Hodgson, S. and Z. Irving (eds). Policy Reconsidered: Meanings, policy and practices. Bristol: Policy Press, 61-76. Burg, S.L. 1983. Conflict and Cohesion in Socialist Yugoslavia: Political Decision Making Since 1966. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Clarke, M. and M. Patrickson. 2008. The new covenant of employability. Employee Relations 30, No. 2, 121-141. European Commission (EC). 2011a. COM(2011) 808 final (Horizon 2020 - The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation). Brussels: EC. European Commission (EC). 2011b. COM(2011) 567 final (Supporting growth and jobs – an agenda for the modernisation of Europe's higher education systems). Brussels: EC. Fejes, A. 2010. Discourse on Employability: Constituting the Responsible Citizen. Studies in Continuing Education, Vol. 32 No. 2, 89-102. Foucault, M. 1972. The archaeology of knowledge. London: Routledge. Jacobson, G. 2004. A European politics for employability:The political discourse of employability of the EU and the OECD. In: Garsten, C. and K. Jacobsson, eds: Learning to be employable: New agendas on work, responsibility and learning in a globalized world. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 42-62. Krzyzanowski, M. 2010. Discourses and Concepts: Interfaces and Synergies between Begriffsgeschichte and the Discourse Historical Approach in CDA. In R. de Cellia et al. (eds), Discourse-Politics-Identity, 125–135. Stauffenburg Publishers. Kupfer, A. 2011. Towards the theoretical framework for the comparative understanding of globalization, higher education, the labour market and inequality. Journal of Education and Work, Vol. 24. Nos. 102, 185-208. Peters, M. and T. Besley (eds). 2008. Why Foucault? New directions in educational research. New York: Peter Lang. Wodak, R. 2008. Introduction: Discourse Studies – Important Concepts and Terms. In R. Wodak and M. Krzyzanowski (eds), Qualitative Discourse Analysis in the Social Sciences. Palgrave Macmillan, 1–29.
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