One central element in many recent reform efforts concern marketization and the use of business-like conditions and ideals in the public sector. Looking at education in particular, there are good reasons to speak about a growing ‘edu-business’ (Ball, 2007) in that field. Reforms and the ideas they build on are naturally not bound by national borders, instead they travel and diffuse and are learned, borrowed and brokered across nation states (Lawn, 2011). From an international perspective, the Swedish education system is viewed as being extensively effected by marketisation. Taken together, the choice reforms initiated in the 1990s turned the Swedish school system into “one of the world’s most liberal public education systems” (Blomqvist 2004: 148 c.f. Lundahl et. al., 2013). Parents can choose any school for their child free of charge, public as well as private (but still tax funded) free schools. The Swedish system of school choice has received international interest and attention and has provoked statements such as “When it comes to choice, Milton Friedman would be more at home in Stockholm than in Washington, DC” (The Economist, 2013). Put in a market-oriented vocabulary from which the reforms originate, the Swedish system of school choice has been transformed into a ‘commodity’ to be ‘exported’ to other countries. Not only have the reform ideas seemed to travel, but companies that operate Swedish free schools have been on the move as well. Swedish free school chains, i.e. large stock companies that own several schools, have tried to establish themselves and set up new schools abroad, for instance Kunskapsskolan now operate schools in England, the US and India (c.f. Erixon-Arreman & Holm, 2011; Wiborg, 2010; Allen, 2010). It is particularly interesting to note that ’social democratic’ Sweden initiated and implemented choice reforms that attracted the interest of ’liberal’ nations, such as England (c.f. Baggesen Klitgaard, 2008). For instance, in the British national elections in 2010, the Swedish model of free schools was strongly advocated by the Conservative Party. It is expected that the Conservative’s 2015 election manifesto will include more steps in the same Swedish direction, for instance by allowing profit-making companies to run free schools (The Guardian, 2013). This paper aims to describe and discuss the Swedish system of school choice as an example of how market-oriented ideas travel, translate and diffuse across national contexts, thereby illustrating how national reform ideas and practices can become global edu-business. The central questions concern how the Swedish ’export’ is framed and portrayed in a) the Swedish context and b) other national contexts - in particular the English - and c) what consequences follow from these representations. By analyzing empirical sources such as media outlets, official government publications and research reports, the representation of the image Sweden sends out and how the ideas are represented in international contexts are unveiled and critically discussed. The theoretical foundations of the study include perspectives on policy transfer, borrowing and learning (c.f. Benson & Jordan, 2011; Dolowitz, 2009; Meseguer, 2009; Ozga & Jones, 2006).
ECER 2014, European Conference of Educational Research, Porto, Portugal, September 2-5, 2014