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“If anyone sells British education to the Chinese, it will be the Swedes”: Mapping Education Policy Retailers on the Move
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of applied educational science.
2015 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

The first part of the title is a quote by Fraser Nelson (2013), editor of The Spectator and a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, pointing to the Swedish system of school choice that was used as a policy justification by the Conservatives prior the 2010 election and the subsequent English free schools policy (Walford, 2014). Indeed, it can be seen as quite a puzzle why ‘social democratic Sweden’ became a reference society (Sellar & Lingard, 2013) on marketization of public welfare to liberal England (Baggesen-Klitgaard, 2008; Hicks, 2015; c.f. Erixon Arreman & Holm, 2011) and thus, in the words of Fraser, how come Swedes will be the ones selling British Education to China. 

In Sweden, far-reaching choice reforms were initiated in the early 1990s, turning the Swedish school system into “one of the world’s most liberal public education systems” (Blomqvist, 2004, p. 148). Swedish parents are free to choose any school for their child free of charge, public as well as tax-funded free schools. The independent education providers are even allowed to extract profit. As a result, for-profit school chains have flourished and they have also gone abroad to sell and market their services and Swedish school chains now operate globally in for instance England, USA and India.

As pointed out by for instance Ball (2012), national and global flows of ideas, actors and organisations, including profit-making companies, all help sustain and reinforce the ever expanding global edu-business. New actors become engaged in creating and implementing policy, embedded within larger governance networks. They become carriers of different ideas, also across national borders. They act as policy brokers as they move in different policy spaces and their expertise is shared, promoted or even sold (c.f Grek et. al., 2009) – they are acting as ‘policy retailers’ - also on a global scale.

This paper is interested in the work and doings of actors of and in the borderless and international flow of policy, exploring how policy retailers carry agendas of educational marketisation and their attempts to ‘export’ such ideas. The aim is to describe and analyse the connections, movements and exchanges of education policy retailers, often with commercial interests, in the transnational flow of policy ideas and services. This is done by empirically studying how a number of Swedish policy retailers market policy ideas about free schools and related services.

The paper draws on theoretical resources from the education policy literature conceptualising the changing and borderless nature of the growing ‘edu-business’ (Ball, 2012; 2009; 2007; Ball & Junemann, 2012; Junemann & Ball, 2013; Lingard & Sellar, 2013), as well as work on policy borrowing and travelling policy (McCann & Ward, 2013; Waldow & Steiner-Khamsi, 2012; Grek et. al., 2009; Ozga & Jones, 2006). The paper seeks inspiration from the “method of network ethnography”, a qualitative and thick mapping by following actors, relations and networks (Junemann & Ball, 2013, p. 424; Ball & Junemann 2012; Ball, 2012). In particular, the ways in which policy retailers travel with and through policy are of interest here; to map their actions, connections and locations - how they carry and market policy, capital and ideas. This paper makes use of the full-text media database Factiva as a way of collecting relevant material about the policy retailers’ moves. The database includes over 30 000 sources such as newspapers and journals, but also radio transcripts, etc., worldwide in more than 30 languages, also those with a pay-wall. 

This paper highlights the role and doings of actors in the making, remaking and assembling (McCann & Ward, 2013) of policy. In particular, a number of Swedish educational policy retailers have been mapped and analysed – thereby highlighting how the original free school ‘architects’ on the ‘domestic arena’ later travelled as ‘transnational missionaries’ retailing not only certain policy solutions but also their own commercialized education services. Previous research on the puzzling nature of the far-reaching Swedish marketization in education has tended to turn to structural, institutional and/or party political considerations and contexts (Baggesen-Klitgaard, 2008; Hicks, 2015). This paper argued that the actors and their moves and embeddedness within networks also are important pieces of the puzzle when understanding and analyzing the extensive marketisation in the Swedish case. In addition, the paper has highlighted the importance of mapping policy retailers and their domestic and global moves as they go on trade routes – thereby carrying, influencing and (trans)forming the growing global edu-business.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
Political Science Educational Sciences
Research subject
statskunskap; Education
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-108857OAI: diva2:854240
ECER 2015, European Conference of Educational Research, Budapest, Hungary, September 7-11, 2015
Swedish Research Council, 2007-4031
Available from: 2015-09-16 Created: 2015-09-16 Last updated: 2015-12-04Bibliographically approved

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