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The economization of education and the implications of the quasi-commodification of knowledge on higher education for sustainable development

Petra Biberhofer

SRE-Discussion Papers from WU Vienna University of Economics and Business

Abstract: This paper analyses an ongoing economization trend in the sphere of higher education (HE) and discusses its implications on higher education for sustainable development (HESD). The sources of this trend are connected with neoliberalism understood as a political project that seeks to extend competitive market forces, consolidate a market-friendly constitution, and promote individual freedom. In global HE neoliberalism, decision-makers, be it educational, scientific, or other, are pressured to assess how their activities impact financially on the individual, organizational, and institutional levels and/or the imperatives of an internationally competitive economy. The paper provides a contemporary analysis of the rise of neoliberalism in HE, understood as the specific trend of an academic capitalist knowledge/learning regime explained by Jessop's six analytic distinct and potentially overlapping stages of economization. This analysis is based on a review of European policies from 2006 until 2017 and explains characteristics of current economization strategies. Their core principles relating to higher education are about improving economic performance based on knowledge and innovation. Smart growth is defined politically as the main purpose of HE and positioning students as future workers, with the right higher skills, as the means. The relevance of students' skills higher education institutions (HEI) are urged to develop highly depend on business demands. European policies are driven by a comprehensive entrepreneurial agenda restructuring the organizational mechanisms in HE. Accountability towards the labour market and skills performance of students set this agenda. Funding strategies rest on strong industry ties and diversification of revenue streams depend on HEI capability to establish tech-driven knowledge alliances between research, education and business. These new intermediary and powerful alliances drive economization strategies, influence curriculum development and decide on relevant higher level skills. Respective learning practices are oriented strongly towards developing entrepreneurial and digital skills based on personalized learning environments. Currently HESD adapts towards a neoliberal education agenda rather than preventing further shifts from a capitalist towards a competitive financialized economy. A profound critique would have to question the dominant economization trends in higher education i.e. the very purpose of education and the current raison d¿etre of HEI. The core of the critique might build on new institutionalized learning environments allowing deep, social learning and, hence, the potential of HEI to act as social catalysts empowering collective and disruptive agency.

Keywords: economization; higher education; sustainable development; neoliberalism; knowledge-based economy (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-hme and nep-knm
Date: 2019
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