Marketisation of Education: Discussion

Subject: Education
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Study level: PhD


There has been a realization in education systems worldwide on the need for reforms in the current education sectors and how knowledge is being passed on to children, especially in line with globalization taking place hence the world is becoming a global village at a fast rate. The education sector saw the emergence of marketisation in the nineties where its intention was to improve the quality and standards of education and do away with the educational inequality where the rich were the ones getting the best education from the best schools (Alexander 2009). Marketisation is meant to create a level playing field and a school’s ability to package itself and attract both funding and parents to enroll their children, stands a better chance at survival. This paper looks into what marketisation is and its impact in the education sector. Marketisation can be said to go hand in hand with privatization. This paper is going to look at this and determine whether they are correlated, intertwined or interrelated. Can one function without the other? Or can one exist without the other, and what is the implication of marketisation on privatization and vice versa. Another aspect brought about by marketisation is that of innovation. Innovation can no longer be sidelined, the need for it is now more prevalent and thus the big question here is, how much does marketisation of education influence innovation and what is its role in innovation? Another question that needs to be answered (Husemann & Heikkinen 2004), is whether innovation is dependent on marketisation. The discussion on marketisation cannot be complete without a look at the quality and competition. The intention of the government for coming up with the policy on marketisation was to increase quality and standards in the education sector by creating an environment where competition is enhanced. Competition versus quality: which brings about the other? And can one work without the other? This paper looks into the impact of marketisation the forces and dynamics driving the marketplace and whether education quality and standards have gone up, stagnated or gone down. Analyzing education and all the dynamics involved in it is a very complex matter since they are in constant fluctuation due to the unpredictable economic, social, cultural and geo-political state of affairs influencing the market. These dynamics are made more complex from impending opposition, resistance and criticism of the policy of marketisation. The foreseen cuts in grants to public schools and increase of the same in private schools which are not under local authorities or government regulations is a disaster in the making within the education sector. Also unions that fight for teachers and worker’s rights at the workplace are in jeopardy of being blown aside by private managers coming into the market place with the sole intention of making huge profits. Critics of marketisation are against this as it tends to broaden expansion of private schools and ‘free schools’. Their argument is that schools should be answerable to local authorities and regulatory bodies (Grace 2002; Kirby 2000).

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What is Marketisation?

Marketisation can be simply defined as competition brought about by a practice enabling government owned ventures to act as market-oriented commercial organizations selling goods and services. This can be said to be brought about by government cutting out subsidies (grants or gifts of money from a government to a private company, organization, or charity to help it to function); a restructure of the organizational structure; freeing organizations or industries from regulation; restructuring political units so that power is shifted from a central or upper location to another less central place; and the transfer to private ownership of an economic enterprise or public utility that has been under state ownership (Fitzclarence & Kenway 1997).

Highly developed industrialist countries are being pushed towards marketisation of their education systems by material and economic state of affairs within them. Understanding the dynamics behind it enables one to deduce the impact and importance of marketisation to education and the economy as a whole both locally and globally. Also there is a need to understand that marketisation encompasses a diverse number of aspects which include privatization; transformation of the marketplace to make room for the education sector; adaptation of present and specific labor market preferences

Marketisation of Education

Marketisation in education refers to the competition between schools where they have been pitted against each other with the conviction that education standards will improve. This practice or trend has benefited a lot of middle class parents who are able to obtain the opportunity or right to experience or make use of admired and prosperous schools. Marketisation goes hand in hand with privatization of state owned organizations (transfer to private ownership an economic enterprise or public utility that has been under state ownership). In the U.K the government has undertaken this process and implementation takes the form of two methods: 1) all schools will be required to be turned to academies- thus will be able to enjoy freedom on choosing the curriculum, student admission and control of their employees all this will be possible due to them not being obliged by national and local union agreements on workers reimbursement and working environment; 2) ‘free schools’ funded by the government but run by either parents, private organizations or teachers without any interference from local authorities will be permissible ( Wadham, Pudsey & Boyd 2007; Booth et al 1992).

Education in developed countries especially the European ones have general tendencies that include: (Dewey 1998)

  1. Decentralization and deregulation- the well known system of centralized education structures being run and controlled by government are now re-organized so that power is shifted from a central or upper location to networks that are able to change or be changed according to circumstances, aggressive schools, often administered by local authorities or non-governmental groups. They are accorded authority to develop their own methods of teaching and programs. The European research institute on education (Eurydice) made public a report eight years ago that observed reforms within the education sector could be summed up as a gradual development in progress towards decentralization and deregulation of the education sector. (Eurydice, 1997)
  2. Fast rising educational expenditures that were a major characteristic of the fifties to the seventies have to a very noticeable degree and often with surprising effect decreased in the eighties and nineties, an example of this is the trends in the European Union where public education expenditures have failed to develop, progress, or make necessary changes for more than a decade now and are about 5% of the gross domestic product. A case in point, Belgium’s comparative expenses have greatly reduced and do not reflect to the increasing number of students in higher education.
  3. Special importance, significance, and stress is being now not only being put on knowledge but also more than ever on skills preordained, and intended to train for :“life-long learning” specialized skills (acquiring a second language, or ICT-connected skills); indistinguishable intersecting skills (crisis solving); and “social skills” (for example, flexibility). This is now a major objective of the education systems.
  4. A growing social inequalities in schools. Researches show that a significant difference between higher-class and lower-class children is widening situations, attitudes, and perceptions in many states. An observation can be made, where a flourishing, well developing, and likely to continue, due to a boost in faster selection of students, more than habitually results to a social selection, this is in contrast to the all-inclusive generalization of education which was widespread in the sixties and seventies.
  5. Importance is being heaped on occupational training, work-related teaching, and partnership developments between schools and private business ventures for entrepreneurial education and mentoring. Private companies nowadays do not wait for schools to approach them rather they go to schools by placing advertisements on school-walls and on teaching-material, and sponsoring of activities.
  6. Education has turned into a profit making market that encompasses a wide array of services such as: private tutoring, academies, private management of schools, on-line learning all this can be termed in one word as Education commerce. Evolution of education to privatization towards an excessive form of marketisation relates more or less to long-life learning.

The west has embraced marketisation wholeheartedly. Its emergence is due to an economic belief that reason and logic are the primary sources of knowledge and truth and should be relied on in searching for and testing the truth of things also termed as neo-liberalism. Western governments have since been warming up to this since the eighties endeavoring to elevate educational quality and standards by making the playing field more and more competitive. This can attributed to globalization. The justification for this is that the dynamics influencing and in play in the market place will spur a growth and increase in educational standards. This is realized by moving away and removing government regulation and allowing the market to dictate the proceedings (Bendor, Bordoff, & Furman 2007)

Marketisation in the school system in England

Marketisation and privatization takes two forms, firstly public schools are able to change into academies which operate outside of local authorities but still enjoy government grants. Bendor, Bordoff, & Furman (2007) notes “ the new government’s academies differ from Labor’s in that they do not have new buildings put up with money provided by government, do not have guarantors, and there is no necessary change in the governing body.” This is most commonly seen in the U.K where twelve years of Labour party rule in the British government have resulted in subsidy-maintained schools that are not under local authority control. According to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s perception on marketisation and privatization, in spite of pressure resulting from market dealings arising out of preference and variety being a major factor, the influential drive of development was modernism brought about by external bakers. ‘…an external sponsor […] brings not only a financial endowment but also vision, commitment, and a record of success from outside the state school system’ (Blair quoted in’ (Shaw 2004, p. 1). An increase in school self-governance market competition goes up and schools are now able to respond to parental preferences for this reason there is no need for sponsors.

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The second form is where alternative education givers that include private tutors, parent and teacher groups are permitted to form ‘free schools’ devoid of any control from local authorities but still enjoy grants from the central government. The government’s vision is to grow the quality of education by giving school owners more control over school related issues and the curriculum, now than before. The spirit of this moves is to make education more market oriented and thus education quality might be further developed since competition will now be more than ever before. Competition brought about by more autonomous schools will provide a diverse choice for parents. Higher performing schools stand a better chance of being the favorite picks of parents who want their children to excel; consequently this is intended to boost the standard of education among English schools as they try to package themselves adequately to fit market demands. Jones (2003) notes “this total embracing of marketisation of education came upon the realization by the labour government of Blair that limiting parents to specific choices of schools was not effective in delivering educational reforms, and relied instead on more prescriptive state intervention.” This is quite contrary to the perceptions of the previous 80s and 90s conservative governments headed by Margaret Thatcher and John Major where market relations in the education sector were encouraged but to a certain degree which saw parental choices and autonomous schools being inputted but inside the limits or rules of a regulatory structure focusing on the national curriculum and performance appraisal frameworks. This can be simply summed up as an intensifying, broadening of horizons and sanctioning of service delivery so as to marshal aggressive demand. “…the school system in England and Wales is certainly fairer now than it was in 1989, but the most recent trend, long after the maturation of the school choice process, is once again towards unfairness. It would be preposterous to claim, as others have done, that either of these trends was the outcome solely of government policies of increasing parental choice’ (Gorard, Fitz & Taylor 2006, p 22). Marketisation has both pros and cons and though its intention is to spur education growth, it is risky and its success cannot be guaranteed due to the fact that suppliers and consumer influx into the sector cannot be quantified or envisaged. The degree to which quality will be realized cannot also be quantified, thus a danger of facing hostility and resistance. So to fully understand this, one has to ask, what motivates this perception? What is the driving force behind this radical move towards marketisation? What is the government’s thinking? This cannot be passed off as a perception of an individual to bring about an increase in business in schools and reduction of government control at the same time. Despite the fact that Conservatives and Liberal Democrats share the same opinions, governments at the end of the day are manipulated by personal class benefits, not philosophies, nevertheless they conceptualize and operationalize those benefits in philosophical terms.

The government’s view of marketisation can be broken down to five drivers:

  • Promotion of a right-wing cultural agenda in education;
  • Promotion of social inclusion through ‘equality of opportunity’, for both social and economic reasons;
  • Raising standards of attainment in order to produce more effectively the ‘human capital’ which is deemed necessary for the competitiveness of the economy;
  • Consolidation of the electoral vote/support
  • Providing viable opportunities for ‘edubusiness’ (Zajda & Geo-JaJa 2010 89)

Nevertheless, the above drivers are not in harmony as anyone would assume hence they do not function in unison automatically. For instance there should be a balance between protecting the interests of the middle class as a result of political interest and maintaining equality between both financial status divide. (Zajda & Geo-JaJa 2010 89) notes “this is important so as to maintain working class electoral support that has a foundation on the conviction that the system is satisfactorily reasonable and meets ‘human capital’ requirements by elevating the achievements of working-class students.”

Note that these same five driving forces are not comparable. Marketisation’s overriding rationale is based on economic- raising standards of the labor force. Marketisation of education systems is a universal agenda.

This course of action being taken by the government to marketise the English school system will present businesses with prospects/chance, especially one that offers some kind of advantage to manage schools with an intention of making profits. It is the governments hope that this will in turn raise educational standards/quality and productivity of the prospective labor force be realized for capital as a whole and not benefiting the small sector of the economy represented by school edubusiness businesses alone.

Marketisation and innovation

This is more or less a very fundamental question that needs to be addressed and pointed out. Does marketisation impact innovation positively or is it just a lost cause? An influx of companies into managing of schools has not really realized an increase in quality and standards as intended. The quality cannot be actually quantified throughout the whole sector. The challenge facing marketisation is the hiring of inexperienced management and a fairly far above the normal percentage of teachers without qualified teaching status are very major aspects. Reports, evaluations and studies conducted on determining whether innovation is spurred on by marketisation, constantly show or conclude that there is no direct linkage between the two. Instead of a move away from the strategies that were in place before and being used by local authorities, the same methods are still being used by privately run schools and this has instead of moving education forward it has drawn it backwards and no positive gains have been actually seen.

This variability is significantly observed in the United States as compared to the Britain. In the U.K, the capacity for innovation is much lesser where private school owners are involved basically by relocating existing performances to new regions. All the same according to (Lubienski 2009), innovation tends to be brought out in two forms by the dynamics controlling the market. This can be termed as regressive, and is categorized into traditional and standardization forms of innovation.

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Innovation and education are correlated and intertwined especially because education plays a role of having to provide required skills and training recommended and necessary for the labor force in relation to economic growth. “…in this respect, policymakers look to schools to nurture creativity, initiative, adaptability and problem-solving. Yet it is also important to understand innovations in the education sector itself. The new imperatives of the global economy require new skills, so school must innovate to find ways of meeting these demands” (Lubienski 2009, p. 3). To further see a much positive impact of education in the society through innovation, schools need to come up with better ways and methods of impacting knowledge to communities and their students and not just keep sourcing for labor force save for an issue of ethical and moral social uprightness. This way, innovation can be achieved without even investing so many resources in it (Whitty 2000).

Academies funded by government but privately owned and managed

These types of academies brought about by marketisation and privatization of the education have become a very common placed feature of the educational system in Britain and other western countries such as Spain, Denmark, Ireland. They still enjoy grants and subsidies from the government but are managed by private businesses, religious organizations, and non-governmental organizations. In Germany and Sweden, such types of schools are permitted to be managed with intention of making profit. Sweden has what is called ‘free schools’-run by parent and teacher groups while those in the United States are referred to as charter schools (Davies, Holland & Minhas 1992).

Charter schools are of diverse types with some being managed by the community or charities- are not into profit making but impacting knowledge and education; others are owned by private business and are intended to generate revenue and profits- such type of schools can either be owned by the companies or managed on contract by the private companies from the local authority ( Burnett & Meadmore 2004).

The ‘free paying schools’ of Sweden do not have school fees charged to their students for providing education services. They are managed and owned by a wide array of providers encompassing non-profit co-operatives and religious assemblies to profit making businesses. The framework for funding for this type of schools by the government is on a parental voucher footing, and has seen an increase in number of these schools with the largest development sector being private corporations operating chains of schools for profit, which now represent about 75% of free schools.

Competition vs. quality

There is adequate evidence to actually answer this question and prove that academies are thriving more or less at the same level with non-academies with all of them having a level playing field in student admissions. The most recent of studies carried out on students to check their performance in the GCSE examinations showed that there is noticeable improvement but in general, the change in student’s performance in GCSE examinations in private schools is impossible to differentiate from that of non-private schools.

An argument continues to rage between proponents of marketisation and critics of it. Will the competition brought about by marketisation be healthy? Will the competition elevate education values? These are very fundamental questions that need to have more studies carried out so as to be able to answer them. Proponents of turning education into a business argue that performances of public schools turned into profit making academies have relatively gone up. A study done by the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket) “…the majority of municipalities with a high proportion of pupils in independent schools consider that relations between independent and municipal schools are largely characterized by competition” (Skolverket 2006, p. 32). Critics of the marketisation strategy argue that the competition is not healthy and thus not productive “…this competition between schools that was one of the reasons for introducing the new schools has not led to better results.” Zimmer et al (2008, p. Evidence from the precursors of the new liberal/conservative coalition government’s policy does not prop up the assertion that the blend of parental choice and new private education providers raises standards of attainment, including, and particularly, in socially deprived areas. Conservative Party (2010) notes “the biggest detriment to provision of quality education and factor that causes or influences inequality is economic inequality.” The policies brought about by the new liberal/conservative coalition immensely increase this.

To have some semblance of balance between quality and competition it is wise to consider all the obstacles, forces and dynamics that are fundamental to the education sector. Implementation of policies on education reform may encounter obstacles and requires an association of different things or factors, or the act of mixing them to be achievable. The elements involved in this incorporate rudiments of supply and demand:

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  • Choosing of schools by parents and children as per the government’s scheme. (demand)
  • Pressure being heaped on education providers from parental choices forcing them to offer services in tandem to government’s agenda. (supply)

Firstly, demand: demand is only successful; especially in producing a strong or favorable impression when adequate selections of suppliers exert competitive pressure on the market place is present. Cases where oversubscription being experienced in schools, are brought about by, schools choosing students they would prefer and parents opting for particular schools basing their choices on a myriad of reasons and not solely basing on standards or government’s agenda.

Secondly, supply: this has got very many demographics applying to it which may include:

  • The question whether schools would want to change from public to private. A major obstacle is the lack of enthusiasm among head teachers since the perks that come with being a public school are no longer applicable. Academies enjoy more freedom from local authorities and are now autonomous. A number of school heads are fascinated by the occasion for their schools to become academies due to freedom from employee agreements and they handle their own student admissions. Despite this most of U.K schools have a preference to remain public since they enjoy much support from local authorities. The government in countering this is offering an entitlement to an extra ten percent subsidy. This is meant to sweeten the prospect of turning schools into academies. A lingering question is whether enough money will be left over with the school, after it pays off some services such as: legal fees, wages emergency bills, and human resources- which were being handled by local authorities before. Will this be viable enough for schools to embrace marketisation and turn into academies?
  • A question on capacity of the schools being able to handle the foreseen huge influx of students, business and other market forces come into play. Individuals, private businesses and many more different groups are aligning themselves to seize the opportunity as they foresee huge profit making ventures coming. Market forces are spurred on by parental choices especially where the capacity to handle their preferences is adequate (as much as they would need) (Campbell 2007; Tight 2009).
  • Another challenge or obstacle to this is the potentiality of private companies to manage schools and realize profits at the same time. An assurance of private schools being profitable would influence a lot the entrance of private businesses in entering the market in very huge numbers with each intending to make money. The chance at profitability is the only driving force that can influence the much needed growth and development of innovation in the education sector. Private companies have two options of running this schools: 1) management under contracts from the local authorities- private business ventures could take out management of schools on paying a certain fee to the relevant authorities (this is modeled on the American education management system). 2) Businesses should as a point of fact own and manage as well private schools or ‘free schools’. But this is reliant on the government’s willingness to bring about the necessary policies that pave way for reforms in the education sector.
  • Funding or grant allocation to schools should be able to satisfactorily attract private companies to take up schools and run them and be able to make profit in the long run. Business can also engage in provision of services to schools and make money out of that. The big question here is whether these schools would be adequate profit making ventures able to attract private businesses ( Meadmore 1999; Evans, Haughey & Murphy 2008). But still leaves a question whether this will be able to attract parents in the U.K who are habituated to schools that have comparatively far above the ground levels of financial support and amenities.


Education is more and more being regarded as an article of trade that has an ‘exchange value’ in the marketplace, this is as a result of market dynamics and forces (supply, demand, competition and choice). Marketisation goes hand in hand with privatization. The evolution and reforms taking place and reforms being carried out in the education sector are not only hinged on response and willingness of players in the education sector but also on political will. The intention of embracing marketisation as a policy is to grow and increase quality education and standards. Marketisation is intended to spur growth through creating competition among schools. Three foremost aspects are brought out by marketisation that indicate that 1) pupils/ students will now be viewed by the industry as potential flexible service providers in the future; 2) adaptable customers present worldwide and 3) the promising education trade will enjoy first-class consumers. Schools have now become autonomous and moved away from local authority and regulation and now can set out their programs, curriculums without any interference or regulation from the government (Jones 2003). Through all this private schools or better known as academies still enjoy grants and subsidies from the government. Research and studies show that material and economic state of affairs set in motion education systems worldwide (in developed countries) on the road to marketisation; the policy on marketisation should also be understood in a wider view- marketisation does not mean privatization, but can be said to ‘be’ privatization; the transformation of education to new markets, means aligning strategies with the labour markets’ current, precise demands and utilization of the education structure as a tool for motivation. A general trend can be noticed in marketisation among various countries especially the developed ones in Europe: decentralization and deregulation; fast rising educational expenditures are decreasing; importance and significance is now on skills more than just obtaining knowledge; social inequalities in schools is rising; occupational training being given more and more importance; and lastly education being turned into profit making businesses. Despite the myriad dynamics that marketisation encounters its main intention is to spur educational growth and a rise in standards (Mattheou 2010; Heyer 2010). It is paramount to involve the private sector in all matters relating and regarding the education sector whether in providing school learning facilities, services to schools for day to day running, curriculums and much more. Factoring in long term expenditures and instant remuneration is vital to creating favorable working environments so as to be able to attract the private sector. The most important aspect to remember is the framework in which any joint venture between schools and private players, takes place in which is very fundamental to the guaranteeing of democratically responsible services compounded with long term maintainable obligation to the education matters/sector (Birch, McNaboe & Norvak 1998; Zajda & Geo-JaJa 2010; Jones 2003). Despite the criticism and opposition to marketisation there can be said to be a conspicuous lack of presence of a substitute by its critics, to the government’s proposed action/ strategies to marketise education with the belief that the market (gathering in a public place for buying and selling merchandise or farm products, especially one held regularly) – a variety of suppliers, and the prospect for parents and teachers included to penetrate the market as a suppliers – attempts to give people something that is better than before. Parents are being offered more unadulterated democracy to run the schools than what has been the norm of local authorities before. It is with the discussed points in this paper in mind that governments worldwide intend to spur education quality growth and rise in standards of teaching and service provision by creating extremely competitive playing fields.


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