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«LIBERALIZATION AND THE PUBLIC SECTOR: THE PRE-EMINENT ROLE OF GOVERNMENTS IN THE ‘SALE’ OF HIGHER EDUCATION ABROAD _ ABSTRACT Much recent ...»

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LIBERALIZATION AND THE PUBLIC SECTOR: THE PRE-EMINENT

ROLE OF GOVERNMENTS IN THE ‘SALE’ OF HIGHER EDUCATION

ABROAD

___________________________________________________________________

ABSTRACT

Much recent scholarship concerning liberalization has emphasized the role of regulatees,

rather than governments, in promoting liberalization. This article examines such scholarship in the light of an important development in the British and French public sectors- the creation of new agencies to ‘sell’ British and French higher education to potential international students. The new agencies, EduFrance and the Education Counselling Service, attempted to induce both competition amongst higher education institutions (HEIs) for the recruitment of international students from developed and emerging economy countries, and the commodification of these students. This article shows that, contrary to existing theories of liberalization, governments were pre-eminent in pushing forward this liberalization, whilst regulatees (HEIs) attempted to hold it back.

INTRODUCTION: EXISTING THEORIES OF LIBERALIZATION

Wolfgang Streeck and Kathleen Thelen’s recent work on liberalization can be seen as the ‘state of the art’ on the subject, offering a good example of contemporary accounts of liberalization. Streeck and Thelen have defined liberalization as ‘an expansion of market relations… significantly beyond the limits (of) the organized capitalism of the post-war “mixed economy”’ (Streeck and Thelen 2005, p.2). Why might such an ‘expansion of market relations’ occur?

1 Streeck and Thelen explain the different ways in which liberalization occurs by invoking five different mechanisms of ‘gradual yet transformative change’ (ibid., p.33);

displacement, layering, drifting, conversion and exhaustion. None of these five mechanisms of change are purely exogenous; even displacement from foreign institutions requires a degree of support from actors involved in existing institutions. All processes of liberalizing change thus require economic actors to defect from existing, collective institutions towards new, liberalizing ones. Hence, all ‘that may be needed for liberalization to progress’ is for economic actors to be given ‘a market alternative to an existing system based on collective solidarity, and then give free rein to the private insurance companies and their sales forces’. As Saunders rightly comments, Streeck and Thelen’s work constitutes a significant challenge to existing analyses of institutional change, which he describes as ‘state-centric’ (Saunders 2007, p.10).

Streeck and Thelen’s analysis is echoed by other works which have sought to identify the mechanisms by which liberalization is pushed forward. Djelic and Quack, for example, similarly maintain that changes can be ‘pushed along’ only by ‘foreign actors carrying challenger rules or by domestic actors acquiring new experiences and habits abroad’ (Djelic and Quack 2003a, p.9). For Djelic and Quack, as for Streeck and Thelen, national governments are not seen as potential creators of new rules (Djelic and Quack 2003b, p.306).

–  –  –

the German banking industry, which as Deeg has documented, was pushed forward by a number of indigeneous firms (Deeg 1998, p.87; see also Kleiner 2003, p.63). However, the recognition that economic actors can play an important role in promoting liberalization should not obscure the importance of governments in this area. The failure to consider governments as potential ‘liberalizers’ reflects the common view in comparative political economy that liberalization requires a lesser extent of institutionalisation and thus government intervention than does the creation of collective institutions (Goodin 2003).

According to this view, the market can be viewed as a ‘kind of natural, or normal, order’ (Hodgson 1988, pp.177-8). Yet, rather than constituting a naturally occurring phenomenon, markets must be ‘politically and culturally constructed’ (Zysman 1994, p.245). As Weiss has explained, governments ‘do not simply support accumulation in an undifferentiated way’, but ‘actively channel and mould economic activity into particular forms’ (Weiss 1988, p.3).

It was just such a creation of new institutional patterns by government that characterized the liberalization of international students’ policy in both Britain and France.

Governments can play a key role in conceiving of and institutionalizing change, which is often in the face of widespread resistance, rather than quiescent acceptance. This is because governments possess the unique ability, as the makers of legitimate rules, to design new institutions, which provide the incentives and constraints within which

–  –  –

regulatees’ behaviour, either in favour of or against liberalization (where regulatees are given incentives towards or constraints against competing with each other, and commodifying particular factors). As this article will demonstrate, it was the activity of governments, rather than of the regulates (HEIs), which led to the creation of new agencies which promoted liberalization: the Education Counselling Service (ECS) and EduFrance.





The article is based on an analysis of documentary sources (government documents, legislation, sectoral associations’ documents, press releases and press sources), and interviews with over twenty representatives from the British and French higher education sectors, promotional agencies and government departments, conducted between May 2003 and November 2006.

THE NEW AGENCIES AND THE LIBERALIZATION OF

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’ POLICY

The higher education context Virtually since their inception, each sector has been characterized by a struggle between HEIs and governing authority (first ecclesiastic and then secular) over both resources and control over standards (Rashdall 1936). More recently, both sectors have been affected by

–  –  –

(Scott 1998).

Funding Compared with French HEIs, British HEIs are required to derive a much larger proportion of their funding from private sources. However, very few universities and higher education colleges do not receive any public funding, with around two thirds of funding for British universities and colleges still derived from central government (OECD 2006, Table B3.1).

Until 1972-77, British universities were funded through a stable, ‘unselective’ flow of unpredicated quinquennial funding grants, disbursed through the University Grants Committee (the UGC, later renamed the UFC, Universities Funding Council) (Merrison 1980, p.287, Cave et al. 1995, p.93; Trow 1996, p.3). In the mid-1970s, however, the UGC’s provision of capital funding diminished (Kogan and Hanney 2000, p.148; Moore 1987), and a triennial funding system was established. From the end of the 1970s onwards the unit of resource per student was progressively reduced (Kogan and Hanney 2000, p.85; Kogan and Kogan 1983, p.25; Cuthbert 1987, p.53).

The proportion of French public funding for HEIs is greater than in Britain, both for public universities and public (and even some private) grandes écoles. Universities are almost entirely publicly funded and teaching posts are directly distributed by the state, with many university teachers being classified as civil servants (Musselin 2001). Funding

–  –  –

formula-based (Decker 1998, pp.220-2). Since 1981, as Neave described it, ‘French higher education has embarked on [an] ambitious’ programme ‘of reform’ (Neave 1991, p. 65). From this point onwards, government has appeared to promote the autonomy of universities, particularly through a new, ‘contractual’ funding system, which required HEIs to negotiate with government for resources (Friedberg and Musselin 1993).

Control over standards In both countries, university status can only be obtained following governmental approval. In the British case, this occurs through Royal Charter. In the French case, the loi Faure of 1968 introduced, for the first time, a legislative framework for universities, as opposed to faculties, which was compounded in 1984 by the loi Savary’s emphasis on the creation of coherent universities rather than collections of faculties.

Turning to assessment of the quality of degrees, in Britain this is assessed ex post, by the Quality Assurance Agency; and research quality is also assessed ex post, through the ‘Research Assessment Exercise’ (Brown 2004, p.11). The only cases where ex ante control of quality has occurred, is where professional associations have accredited courses (Neave 1994). In contrast, French governments directly assess the quality of university degrees before they are presented to students, during the process of ‘habilitation des diplômes’ (Bertrand 1994, p.58). Government lacks such powers concerning the degrees offered by grandes écoles. Grandes écoles were set up during the

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and, ultimately, social elite” (Deer 2005, p.37). Latterly so-called ‘consulaire’ grandes écoles have been created by local Chambers of Commerce, concentrating on technical skills required by local industries. As a result the grandes écoles sector is very diverse, with government control greatest over the most prestigious grandes écoles, particularly over those which come under the aegis of the Minister of Education. For these grandes écoles, government ex ante control over degree content also applies (Neave 1994, p.118).

In both countries, the attribution of degree-awarding powers, the control of quality and the funding of higher education are all dominated by central government. In particular, governments’ abilities to set rules governing standards and the allocation of resources have been particularly important in both higher education sectors.

International students in Britain and France France and Britain have traditionally been two of the most important ‘importers’ of Non-European international students worldwide, with 165, 437 international students attending French HEIs in 2002 and 227,273 in Britain that year (OECD 2004, Table C3.7) (henceforth, ‘international students’ should be taken to refer to non-European international students). Both countries have historically educated large numbers of international students as a means of maintaining diplomatic influence and promoting international development (Robbins 1963; Poujol 1965; Braithwaite 2001).

–  –  –

they were “accepted” (Humfrey 1999, p.8; Kinnell 1990, p.13). Most international students in both countries were concentrated in a small number of HEIs; in Britain, in London University, Oxford and Cambridge; and in France, in the universities of the Paris area (Braithwaite 2001, p.70; Humfrey 1999, p.8; Klineberg and Ben Brika 1972).

The type of students recruited, and governments’ approaches to them, have changed radically away from this model over the last thirty years. Currently, in both countries, governments view higher education as an important industry, with international students categorized as an ‘invisible export’, and international education ‘represented as an export industry’ (Blair 1999; Raffarin 2003; see also O’Leary 1990; Overseas Student Trust 1992, p.66; Warner and Palfreyman 1999, p.x).

There is a burgeoning literature concerning the benefits of internationalization to the student, to individual HEIs and to students’ home and recipient countries (see CVCP 1998, Ryan 2000 and Allen and Higgins 1994). Rather than engaging with this material, this article will instead concentrate on policies towards international students, and question the extent to which liberalization has occurred following the introduction of new promotional agencies in each country.

Policies towards international students and liberalization

–  –  –

‘market relations’ amongst HEIs, a policy which could be described accurately as ‘liberalization’. Following Streeck and Thelen’s definition, two new types of ‘market relations’ developed in the British and French higher education sectors following the creation of EduFrance and the Education Counselling Service. The first new ‘market relation’ was an increasingly competitive one between HEIs for the recruitment of international students from developed and emerging economy countries.

‘Competition’ intimates the conflictual relationships resultant from different organisations attempting to reach a goal that they cannot all achieve in equal measure (Bok 2003, p.159): in this case, different HEIs attempting to recruit as many international students from developed and emerging economy countries as was possible, consistent with other institutional imperatives. Although the ECS was able to promote competition between British HEIs, EduFrance was less successful in this area, perhaps due to the coordination of resistance to liberalization amongst French HEIs.

The second new ‘market relation’ was between HEIs and international students, and involved the ‘commodification’ of such students. ‘Commodification’ occurred where international students’ value for HEIs was restricted to its monetary worth. The students became ‘a commodity to be valued mainly for the income they generate’, as Williams described the international student body in Britain (Williams 1987, p.10). Both British and French HEIs were led to commodify international students following the activities of the ECS and EduFrance.

–  –  –

promote such liberalization through the creation of the ECS and EduFrance respectively.

It indicates that commodification was promoted in both countries, but that competition for international student recruitment was more prevalent in Britain than in France.



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