This is a longer version of the paper presented in Beijing and Dublin in 2005
The two main ideas of this paper are, firstly, that the material, economic circumstances push the education systems in advanced capitalist countries towards marketisation; and secondly that we should understand this concept of marketisation in a broad sense: marketisation means not only privatisation, transforming education into a new market; it means also adapting narrowly education to the present, very specific, demands of labour markets; and it means using education systems as an instrument to stimulate some markets, especially the ICT-markets. The paper is essentially based on the study of national reform programs in European countries and on reports published by international organizations like OECD, World Bank and the European Commission.
“Schools are important to everyone, and it has recently become a high-stakes game for that very reason. How much is that business worth ? I doubt we’ll ever be able to answer that question fully. But we’re going to continue to be very aggressive and proactive in getting our share of the school business” (Molnar, p 71). Ten years have passed since David Van Houten, vice-president of Coca-Cola Enterprises, made this frank declaration. And when you read Alex Molnar’s last book, School Commercialism, it seems that he delivered the goods.
If you allow me, before speaking actually about GATS and privatization of education, I would like to begin with giving some historical and economic background of the problem. In my opinion this is essential to measure the specificity and the dangerousness of the present offensive of markets on education.
Education in the UK is being driven by a neo-liberal agenda which ensures its subordination to the demand for profitable human capital for economic competitiveness in the globalised corporate economy. This indirect commodification of education is achieved through a combination of an authoritarian managerialist regime and direct forms of commodification through the marketisation and partial privatisation of provision. This education agenda is international, promoted in nationally specific forms by governments around the world and mediated by key international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation. In Europe the European Commission is supervising the gradual convergence of education policies around the neo-liberal agenda.
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