Paper presented at the European Conference on Education Research, University of Crete, 22-25 September 2004 network 23 policy studies and politics of education: globalisation and nationalism in education workshop

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Paper presented at the European Conference on Education Research, University of Crete, 22-25 September 2004
David Coulby
This paper is a brief overview of many of the themes that emerge in considering the impact of globalisation on schools and universities and the (much less significant) impact of educational institutions on globalisation. The paper considers economic, political and cultural impacts and concludes by outlining some of the policy implications.

The Economic Impacts of Globalisation on Schools and Universities
The major patterns of world trade are not currently characterised by increased movement across all states of the globe but rather by enhanced trade between the triadic economic powers of Japan, the USA and the European Union (EU). Indeed those opposed to globalisation emphasise that its benefits have largely accrued to the triad states. Although a few states have managed to leap, in the post-World War 2 period, to the status of more economically developed countries (MEDCs), Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and, to a lesser extent Malaysia and Thailand, the actual gap between the richest and poorest people in the world has increased steadily during this period. If globalisation is happening it is resulting in an enhancement of global economic inequality. Many states have seen their relative and absolute economic status decline in the period of globalisation, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Brazil, Romania, Bulgaria. At the same time the numbers of people living in absolute poverty have reduced in the last quarter of a century due primarily to the growing prosperity of India and China with their vast populations.
Three features of the impact of globalisation on education are described here: Structural Adjustment Policies(SAPs), the emergence of the knowledge economy and the internationalisation of some (especially higher) education provision.
Structural Adjustment Policies Impoverishment and debt have led many less economically developed countries (LEDCs) to seek assistance from the World Bank. This has often been conditional upon the adoption of structural adjustment policies which have entailed the reduction of public spending on areas such as health and education and the privatisation of nationally owned facilities such as power, telephones or water distribution. Whilst this has given countries such as Kenya or the Philippines an appearance of enhanced capitalism, it has actually served to increase both inequality and actual impoverishment in these states. The effects of globalisation in such states has been radically to transform both local economic conditions and also the nature of domestic politics.
In terms of education what had previously been a free service, at least at primary level, as a result of SAP conditions for World Bank loans, now incurs a charge. The obvious result is that poor families cannot afford even primary education for some or all of their children. Girls in particular are more likely to be kept within the family for their labour than provided with elementary education. For the poorest families in Latin American and Asia as well as sub-Saharan Africa, then, the impact of globalisation has resulted in widespread restrictions in their access to basic education.
The Emergence of the Knowledge Economy As certain complex products become crucial to economic success, developments in technology mean that knowledge is becoming an increasingly important element both in world trade and in economic power. A country’s position in the global competitive economic environment is largely dependent on its capacity to develop those highly specialised products that increasingly dominate the value-added aspects of world trade. Certain states, such as Singapore or Finland, have managed to change their place in the global economy and become more competitive through investment in the knowledge base of their manufacturing and the production of highly specialised new technology. It is important to stress that knowledge itself is the trading commodity here. In this technology, automation system design and global marketing, for instance, are emerging as more significant elements within the knowledge economy than the simple bulk manufacture of products such as cars. The first list of important knowledge areas for trade is relatively obvious: ICT technology and programmes, pharmaceuticals, military technology, aerospace, materials technology and nanotechnology, genetic engineering. A second list of at least equally important knowledge processes and creations may be less evident: international legal services (almost exclusively based on the eastern seaboard of the USA), fashion and design (one of the UK’s most economically significant exports to Japan), music, television film and computer games, marketing and advertising, university level education. The capacity for knowledge generation and utilisation may be as economically significant to a state or region (Silicon Valley, Cambridge University and Science Park) as a major manufacturing capacity or extractive capacity.
The new knowledge which underpins this economic change is developed both within private corporations (pharmaceutical, software, armament producers) but also within education institutions, particularly research universities. Universities are consumers, producers and distributors within the knowledge economy. For some universities in some states this is resulting in a vastly enhanced capacity and importance for their research function. Schools by contrast appear to be trapped in their role of reproducers of social control and nationalism. They are increasingly marginal institutions to the processes of globalisation.
The Internationalisation of Educational Provision The emergence of globally recognised, even branded, educational institutions, especially at higher education level, has led to the development of a global market for education itself. This is related to both young people’s awareness of the importance of the knowledge economy and to the current prevalence of the English language which allows for a significant amount of student mobility at, especially but not exclusively, university level. Classic examples of the globalisation of production, distribution and consumption are training shoes or cars. But the process may be seen also in the generation of less tangible assets such as films, non governmental organisation (NGOs) or university Masters programmes. A car may be designed in the UK, its machine tools and assembly production units designed and built in Germany; while its actual assembly may take place in Sao Paulo or Shenzhen. An advertising and marketing strategy is then put together in New York featuring a Russian model or Brazilian footballer to support the car’s ultimate distribution in the EU and North America. A specialist Masters programme in the application of ICT to geophysics may be developed jointly by two universities in the UK and the USA. In fact the target student group for this programme is mainly outwith both these states. It sets up an international pattern of recruitment especially from South Asian countries. A few years down the track it has introductory (pre-Masters) courses in place in institutions in Thailand, China and Indonesia. One of these actually then becomes a centre for the main programme, sending its lecturers to the UK and USA universities on PhD programmes. At this point the degree course has become both a global venture and a significant element in world trade.
For universities in the Anglophone states the recruitment of international students now has a significant impact on their entire development strategy: most importantly it results in considerable income as many of the courses offered to international students operate at a significant profit; secondly, it influences their course portfolio especially at Masters level as special products are designed to appeal to the international market; thirdly, it provides a vast international pool of talent from which they can trawl the next generation of researchers to carry forwards their role in the knowledge economy. Japan is emerging as another state able to recruit university students internationally. Many EU states are developing and financing policies to participate in this area. Singapore and India have similar aspirations.

The Political Impacts of Globalisation on Schools and Universities
A major impact of globalisation has been in the weakening of the state itself. Many transnational corporations (TNCs) now have a larger annual income than many states. The list of the world’s largest economies shows, not unexpectedly, the USA, Japan, Germany, the UK and France as the first five. China is already sixth and rising. At number 21, though, the organisation is not a state but a company, ExxonMobil, just ahead of Turkey at 22. Then follows Wal-Mart, then Austria. Portugal comes in at number 48, well behind Ford, BP and Toyota (Gabel & Bruner, 2003). The power of the TNCs originates from their existence in the marketplace rather than in geographical space. The boundaries and jurisdiction of the state are no longer determinants of the practices of these massive corporations. With their ability to mobilise vast resources, and their wide technological and knowledge capacity, they are able to be innovative and act at a speed and scale far beyond most states.
The role of the state, in the context of globalisation, is contested. While there is strong evidence that international organisations such as the OECD, the World Trade Organisation and the IMF have the power directly to intervene and control the growth strategies of some states, at the same time the state remains the mediating institution of political control. Nevertheless the power of states could be perceived as being hollowed out in significant ways. Global governance is considered as multilayered because it is constituted by and through a complexity of several agents and distinct governing mechanisms which operate at different levels:

  • the suprastate (such as the UN system, the OECD, the World Bank or the IMF),

  • the regional, such as the EU, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Southern Common Market in Latin America (MERCOSUR), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN);

  • the transnational (such as the TNCs, some non-governmental organisations or the anti-globalisation movement);

  • the sub-state (such as local government or corporate interests); in some contexts the sub-state is of high visibility as the power of nationalism provokes division in Spain, Belgium, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Russia (Chechnya), Iraq, Indonesia (East Timor) and the United Kingdom.

The parallel function and interconnection of these different layers of governance act as major constraints which are sandwiching the state. Global governance, however, develops a variable geometry in which the regulatory capacities of certain agencies or the relative power of certain states vary significantly. Whilst Kenya or Latvia are highly vulnerable to the impacts of global institutions, China is highly resistant and the USA, as the single hyperpower, virtually invulnerable. The role of the latter, in particular, is of vital importance in the shaping of the international economic and political order.

In terms of the impact of these processes on schools and universities three areas are examined in this section: corporate takeovers; changes in the level of regulation; dirigist control of “standards” at school level.
Corporate Takeovers In the USA and the UK private corporations and indeed individuals are now able to sponsor schools by providing additional funding alongside that of the state. Whilst this is currently a limited practice in both states, it has the potential to expand and some of its consequences manifest the nightmares of the anti-globalisation movement. In the USA corporations such as Coca Cola and MacDonald’s are able to advertise and market their products within school and indeed provide significant elements of curricular material. In the UK one rich individual by sponsoring a secondary school has changed the curriculum so that creationist Biology is now taught in the place of Darwinian evolution.
Changes in the Level of Regulation The four levels of governing mechanisms outlined above, especially the suprastate and the sub-state, each have an impact on the control of education. This multi-level of control and influence can be referred to as governance. An example of suprastate impact is that of the Bologna Process on the structure of university courses. Now subscribed to by states beyond the EU, and even beyond Europe, the process intends to harmonise university programmes particularly in terms of the length of the undergraduate and Masters degrees. The plan is for the signatories to shift to a three year Bachelors degree followed by a two year Masters. Of course there may be particularistic gains for individual states by moving towards this structure. Those states with lengthy first degrees may be able to make considerable financial savings by shifting to a three year programme. Such motivation may be discerned in reforms in Italy, the Netherlands and Germany. Nevertheless, it is the suprastate agreement which has provided the legitimation if not the motivation for reform. Of course some states will sign up to Bologna, initially at least, with the intention of belonging to the European club rather than of changing their university systems.
The UK provides an example of changes in regulation due to the increasing power of the sub-state level. Following the establishment of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament with devolved authority for education each of these two systems is apparently diverging increasingly from that of England. Wales has radically relaxed the testing regime associated with the National Curriculum and the stratification of schools by league tables which still accompanies it in England. Scotland, which never shared the enlightenment of the National Curriculum system, has abolished fees in its universities. With fees in England set to rise from one thousand to three thousand pounds per year there is a strong likelihood of an increased exodus of English undergraduates anxious to share the benefits of the Scottish system.

Standards” at school level The sub-state may impact on the content of the school curriculum: national language policies, for instance in the regions of France, Belgium or Spain. Nevertheless there is an element of control over the school curriculum which the central state is reluctant to sacrifice. Indeed, even in the totally federal system of the USA there have been attempts to assert central control. This concern to retain control is often manifested through the discourse on “standards”. This discourse has many strands but they usually include at least: a concern that literacy and numeracy remain central to the school curriculum; a desire that school level education have some relevance to the workplace (or idealised, imaginary workplace); an anxiety that the national and masculine culture is being undermined by internationalist and feminist teachers; a stress on the role of discipline both within the school and in the wider urban area. These concerns have frequently led to the retention or establishment of tight control of many elements of the school curriculum by the central state. The maintenance of nationalist knowledge and culture and the reproduction of social control have so far proved stronger forces on the formation of school curricula than globalisation.

The Cultural Impacts of Globalisation on Schools and Universities
A case can be made that there is a developing trend towards the global homogenisation of culture. Films and television products are increasingly important as aspects of culture. They are watched for longer periods by more people in more countries. Although there are many centres for this cultural industry, increasingly the production and distribution is centring on the USA and particularly Southern California. Because of the interconnected references between television and film programming and their links to fast food, book, toy, computer games, music and other merchanting, the popularity of one programme or product can be used to enhance that of another. Cultural and economic activity are not readily separable. Fast food and fizzy drink franchises, television programmes and films, pop music, books and magazines, design and other cultural products form important and increasing components of the international export trade. These products themselves lend glamour to other more durable exports from fashion goods to armaments. MacDonald’s features a Hollywood movie as part of its international marketing campaign. The movie features particular youth fashions as well as music. Branding of products can be mutually reinforcing through a range of cultural activities and associated advertising tie-ins.
The homogenisation of school and university knowledge is far from complete. Western science has progressed into the curricula of many states yet a diversity of cultural activities and products still remains a characteristic of most. A pre-eminent issue here is the increasing prevalence of English in school and university curricula both as a first foreign language and as a language of instruction. English has become a compulsory subject in almost all education systems. Given the dominance of the English language in the internet, media, journals and books, global trade and business it is quite possible that people will tend not to learn any foreign language other than English. Accordingly they tend to use even their own language less in highly specialised or academic contexts, a condition which might result in substantial linguistic and cultural impoverishment, especially with regard to the less spoken languages of the world. English linguistic dominance is sometimes presented as endangering the global cultural heritage or the tradition of certain cultures. On the other hand some of the less widely spoken languages, for example Greek, which has no direct connection with any other language, present an impressive resistance, as its recent creativity in poetry and literature indicates.

The English language, like capitalism itself, is both a vehicle and a manifestation of globalisation. However, its spread across educational institutions worldwide has not been unresisted. Each time a school system or individual school elects to have a different or even a second foreign language they are resisting the hegemony of English. This resistance has clear political significance in France as well as in the Arab world. Each time a young person on the West Bank refuses to function in English the political power of the United States is resisted.

The spread of the English language generates a preferential market for commercial and cultural products which operate in English. An obvious and prevalent example is popular music but English is also widely used in advertising and marketing to give an international cachet to a range of banal products. This process is mutually reinforcing. As well as marketing the product the language itself is given another leverage of power and influence. Furthermore, the English language embodies a set of political and cultural assumptions about, for instance, madness and sanity, black and white, sickness and health, male and female, the uniqueness of the individual identity, the superiority of the historical role, political systems and cultural products of the UK and the USA. The inculcation of individualism and identity, itself a widely exported western cultural preoccupation, for many children and young people takes place within a context where English is a compulsory and high status school subject and where the language’s links to political power, economic success and cultural hegemony are manifest in an increasing number of contexts. Educational institutions are among the most important sites where the hegemony of the English language is spread, reproduced but also contested.

The ubiquity of English and the homogenisation of international culture are one side of the coin. A postmodern plurality of cultures can lead to wider internationalisation and tolerance. Where populations experience a diversity of culture in terms of art, music and writing as well as food and films this can result in cosmopolitan tolerance and inclusion as well as in the less positive reinforcement of small nationalisms and racism. This polarisation between nationalism and cosmopolitanism is perhaps the extreme choice with which globalisation confronts societies, not least their education systems.

Policy implications
Schools and universities and those who work in them may struggle to resist globalisation or to ignore it in favour of nationalist commitment. It is difficult for these institutions in the long term to separate themselves from the economy. At this stage the question may be posed as whether to endorse or reject the knowledge economy.
Decisions about second and third languages remain highly sensitive particularly in Europe. The spread of English language-taught modules in universities and some private schools has implications for the future development of particular cultures. The spread of English has particular implications for those national languages which do not have a state to protect them.
Schools developed as nineteenth century institutions of nation building and social control. They seem to retain these functions without developing new ones. Do they still have a role?

This paper is in part developed from the first chapter of Education, Globalisation and Nationalism (reference below) jointly written by myself and Evie Zambeta. I am grateful to Evie for her part in formulating these ideas.

Burbules, N. C. and Torres, C. A. (eds) (2000) Globalisation and Education: Critical Perspectives. Series. New York & London: Routledge.
Coulby, D. and Zambeta, E. (eds) (2005) World Yearbook of Education 2005: Education, Globalisation and Nationalism. Series edited by Coulby, D. and Jones, C. London: Routledge.
Gabel, M. and Bruner, H. (2003) Global Inc: An Atlas of the Multinational Corporation. New York: The New Press.
Stromquist, N. P. and Monkman, K. (eds) (2000) Globalisation and Education: Integration and Contestation accross Cultures. Series. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

David Coulby

Bath Spa University College, UK

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