Rajani Naidoo

The Competition Fetish as an Imperative of Change: Animators, Mediators and Consequence

Wednesday, 23 August, 11:00 - 12:00
Location: W1.04 Idræt

Contemporary education reform worldwide appears to be locked in a competition fetish. Hegemonic knowledge economy discourses which focus on the intensification of economic struggle for positional advantage and the scramble for highly skilled knowledge workers have contributed to a fierce competition within and between national systems of education. In addition, powerful trans-national configurations have entered the fray. Competition in education is related to but sits in parallel with global economic competition. It also comes with its own set of rules, established by those institutions and systems already judged to be ‘the best’ on an international scale.

This presentation explores the animators, mediators and consequences of the phenomena of competition as a driver of education reform and as an underlying motive for the imperative of constant change in higher education. It explores the varieties of competition including traditional forms of academic competition, contests sponsored by governments and international organisations, market competition and status wars intensified by rankings.  Resisting interpretations of competition as naturally occurring, it presents various ‘animators’ which breathe life into the phenomenon and which are responsible for its generation, constitution and reproduction. These include structural drivers associated with political and regulatory regimes; and symbolic drivers constituted by normative and affective pressures. The presentation focusses on the extent to which the varieties of competition reinforce, displace, mediate or counteract one another and reveals how powerful policy and symbolic drivers interact not only to power competition; but to weld competition inextricably to choice and democracy to foreclose alternative means of educational reform.

Important potential benefits of certain forms of competition are outlined. In addition by analyzing the correspondence between the ambivalent roles of policy with its effects, the unintended consequences of competition on social equity, on the diversity of education systems, on educational quality and on research are highlighted. The presentation concludes by investigating how positive effects of competition can be garnered and how the most corrosive effects of competition can be mediated by more visionary and joined-up policy reform, by rigorous and courageous (rather than safe and ambivalent) research , by professional integrity and collective action and by inspirational examples of trailblazer initiatives which respond collaboratively to the  global challenges of our time.

About Rajani Naidoo

Rajani Naidoo is Professor and Director of the International Centre for Higher Education Management, University of Bath and a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Natal. She researches transformations in global political economy and higher education change with a focus on competition and markets, new forms of imperialism and the contribution of universities to global wellbeing. She has delivered keynotes in a wide range of countries  and presented the 2016 Annual Worldviews lecture in Canada. She has acted as expert advisor to  international bodies and has been involved in research programmes relating to social justice, public good and the academic profession. She was previously Honorary Secretary of the Society for Research in Higher Education and sits on the research and development steering  committee of the European Foundation for Management Development. Editorial Board Membership includes  the British Journal of Sociology of Education and the International Journal of Sociology of Education and she  co-edits a book series  on Global Higher Education (Palgrave)

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