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Contexts-texts-consequences Analysis of Education Policy Research

In this contexts-texts-consequences analysis, I intend to draw upon the research and readings reviewed on Educational Policy Research, and attempt to link that understanding to my field of research, namely Work Integrated Learning.  To contextualise I will take both a macro and micro view, drawing on International, and National policy, then look more specifically at ‘local’ policy at the Educational Institution I currently work at. In this process I will draw upon and analyse the texts and language used in formalised modes of external and internal communications. Lastly and briefly I will attempt to look, or consider, a ‘what if’ scenario, an alternative imaginary, that is less neoliberal in focus.


Rizvi and Lingard identify that education by its very nature has normative implications, and therefore involves considerations of values (Rizvi, 2009, p. 72). In terms of the formation of policy that drives the process of education delivery, this is seen as a political process, where there is ongoing negotiation of said values between differing parties. Hypothetically the left seeks a more harmonious inclusive community focused centralised approach, whilst the right would see a more market focused decentralised approach as better. Rizvi and Lingard point (at time of publication) to an International, a global shift, in political will towards the latter, which can be more clearly defined as Neo-Liberalism. I like Amable’s extended definition here as it highlights its difference from more social collectivist ideologies:

“Neo-liberalism can be defined from several points of view. It is an ideology which legitimates individual competition and questions collective structures; it is a political project of institutional transformation, against any attempt to institute “collectivism” and against the types of capitalism which had resulted from the various social-democratic compromises, in particular in the post-war period, such as redistributive social protection, workers’ collective rights or legal protection of employment and economic status; it can also be seen as a ‘form of existence’ (Dardot and Laval, 2009), as a norm of life characterized by a generalized competition with others, than being defined as the set of discourses, practices, devices which determine a new mode of governance of humans according to the general principle of competition.” (Amable, 2011, p. 7) 

Rizvi and Lingard imply that the impact of Neo-Liberalism on education has seen a move away from the values of democracy and equality to the values of efficiency and accountability. The notion of values in education is complex, and multifaceted and arguably shifts with the underlying political will of Governments of the time. American academic Deborah Stone is noted has having identified that “public policies in liberal democratic societies are structured around five key values – equity, efficiency, security, liberty and community” (Rizvi, 2009, p. 75) but they are also noted as being fluid, and that the application and interpretation varies considerably.

Rizvi and Lingard question the idea or definition of efficiency in particular, instead linking it to human compliance. But there link is a philosophical one. Of particular interest is their review of David Labaree’s 2003 observation on educational policy formation. Policy has evolved over a “struggle” between competing values: democratic equality, social mobility and social efficiency (Rivzi et al 2009 p.77).

This is potentially an interesting framework from which to evaluate the relative success of my own research on work integrated learning. Whilst this implies a measurement, this can both be evaluative and comparative.

I’m unsure how to consider Appadurai’s analysis of the neo-liberal imaginary, that “citizens are now disciplined and controlled, by states, markets and other powerful interests” (Rivzi et al 2009 p.79), partly because I have limited experience in my adult life of ‘the other’. That is, another approach. I feel more aware, or have a greater understanding of issues on a direct micro level.

In Education and as highlighted by Rizvi and Lingard it is firstly to the macro level we need to look to get greater clarity on the major changes that have occurred and continue to direct education policy. At macro level greater consideration needs to be given to policy put forth from organisations such as the OECD, the EU, APEC, UNESCO and the World Bank.

Rizvi and Lingard cite OECD policy from 1996 which suggests that “education now needs to produce different kinds of persons who are better able to work creatively with knowledge, are flexible, adaptable and mobile, are globally minded and interculturally  confident and are lifelong learners” (Rivzi et al 2009 p.81). This implies many things but clearly that economic change is proposed as constant, and as Rizvi and Lingard highlight that “learning for learning sake is no longer sufficient”.

On Social Efficiency.

As mapped out by the OECD the idea of lifelong learning is tied to social efficiency. This is seen as the “ability of individuals and countries to compete in the global economy” (Rivzi et al 2009 p.84). Rizvi and Lingard define this further by stating in fact that the “neoliberal notion of lifelong learning assumes education to be a private good, providing benefits to the individual consumer” (Rivzi et al 2009 p.85). However weirdly this is seen as a form of social control (p.86) were education is assumed to a form of ‘capital’ with a clear divide between the ‘valuable’ (educated) and ‘non-valuable’ (uneducated).

In a major policy document from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) entitled ‘Making Globalization Socially Sustainable’ Woessmann argues for a number of changes to education practice including the development of ‘adaptable’ labour.

“Globalization and the accelerated pace of technological change require a more adaptable labour force than in a static economy, forcing all countries to rethink the role of education and training. There is a clear need to develop specialized programs of vocational and technical education, where they exist, in ways that provide generalizable skills – ones that will not become obsolete immediately with the changes in technology and industrial structure that globalization processes bring about (Mertaugh and Hanushek, 2005). A sound basis of general skills creates the ability of lifelong learning which allows people to develop job-specific skills, to keep their skills up to date, and to retool their skills when career changes are required.” (Woessmann, 2011, p. 311).

Separately the World Bank Group (WBG) recommends wholesale education policy changes at Tertiary level under the guise of ‘Smarter Education Systems for Brighter Futures’ (2015).The WBG highlight the diverse nature of Tertiary level providers globally, many of whom now are not Universities. Whatever the structure of the ‘educational institution’ the WBG acknowledges that knowledge and advanced skills are critical determinants of a country’s economic growth and standard of living:

  • “Increasing institutional diversification;
  • Improving the quality and relevance of tertiary education;
  • Strengthening science and technology research and development capacity;
  • Promoting greater equity mechanisms to assist disadvantaged students;
  • Establishing sustainable financing systems to encourage responsiveness and flexibility;
  • Strengthening management capacities; and
  • Enhancing and expanding information and communication technologies (ICT) capacity to reduce the digital divide.” (World Bank Group, 2015, p. 1)

At a more regional International level the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings have recommended a series of ‘capacity building measures’ related to their overarching strategy and requirement “to pursue trade and investment liberalization and facilitation in the Asia-Pacific region” (Nakamura, 2017, p. 28)

Taking from Rizvi and in order to contextualise the complexities of spatial scale a deeper understanding will need to have “a focus on the institutions, organisations and individuals who are the bearers of globalised education policy discourses” (Rizvi, 2009, p. 44). Additionally Levin points to six key themes that are “characteristic of education reform in many countries” (Levin, 1998, p. 133) including:

  1. Reform is large cast in economic terms with a focus on the “preparation of the workforce and competition with other countries” (p.131)
  2. The general form of policy is negative therefore policy new policy is “an effort to undo alleged damage” (p. 131)
  3. Further investment is not supported
  4. Changes in governance are put forward as a solution
  5. Schooling (or education) is made more “like a commercial of market commodity” (p.133)
  6. Further emphasis is placed on measurement including “standards, accountability and testing” (p.133)

Key policy in Higher Education in Australia is dictated by the Government of the day, and that direction over the last decade is somewhat like a bag of ‘Allsorts’, with Labor steering policy under former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd from 2007, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard from 2010, before a hand over to the Liberals under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013 (Department of Education and Training, 2015, p. 31-33), to current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (from 2015.)

Research out of the Gratton Institute, an independent ‘Think Tank’ housed by Australia’s highest ranked research institute, the University of Melbourne covers policy history in detail. They point to the increasingly ‘Canberra centric’ nature of higher education policy. Interestingly enough it wasn’t until 1993 that University funding, that is, the direct funding of Universities, was administered and distributed from Canberra. Prior to that individual states controlled funding, and thus policy was decentralised. Norton highlights that for the most part Universities are in fact legally ‘corporations’, and as such the “Federal Government now uses the corporations power to regulate higher education accreditation and quality control.” (Norton, 2016, p. 63). With the introduction of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) in 2012 (under Labor), the researchers also note that “the Commonwealth can now mandate rather than buy compliance.” (Norton, 2016, p. 63).

Higher education policy is also impacted by a whole raft of Government Departments, including, for example, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, who control International access to the education system. Almost all Universities have their own interest groups, such as Universities Australia, and those in the private sector also have lobbying groups. It is the same for staff and students generally represented by ‘Unions’.

There are a myriad of groups who assist when determining the ‘positionality’ (Rizvi 2009) of University policy as experienced. Such background determinations are generally not viewed, or have a limited, somewhat restricted audience. There are economic and social movements, particularly in western cultures, that have strong ties to Australia, in particular the United Kingdom and the United States of America, which can be seen to have influence on policy here. But as Levin has outlined (Levin 2010) this is less ‘learning’, and more adoption with differing interpretation.

Educational Reform and Performativity

Ball discusses the outcome of educational reform of the 1990’s, as “interrelated policy technologies: the market, managerialism, and performativity” (Ball, 2003, p. 215). Ball highlights the policy impact of the major global ‘agents’ such as the World Bank and OECD. Whilst broadly an historical piece, the concept of performativity is arguably more enhanced, or endorsed today than in any point previously. I’ll touch on this later. Ball defines performativity as “a technology, a culture and a mode of regulation that employs judgements, comparisons and displays as means of incentive, control, attrition and change – based on rewards and sanctions (both material and symbolic).” (Ball, 2003, p. 216).

One of the more alarming concepts outlined is the notion that through educational reform, there is a devolved authority that provides significant flexibility, however this is in fact viewed as “re-regulation”. Du-Gay (1996, p.61) defines this as “controlled de-control”. Du-Gay himself also refers to Focault’s (1988) terminology implying that a firm ‘totalizes’ and ‘individualizes’ at one and the same time. Or another way to view it, according to Peters and Waterman excellent companies must be “simultaneously loose and tight”: “organisations that live by the loose/tight principle are on the one hand rigidly controlled, yet at the same time allow (indeed, insist on) autonomy, entrepreneurship, and innovation from the rank and file” (Peters and Waterman, 1982, p. 318).

This is not just an institutional requirement, but a system that encourages self-evaluation, in order to become more productive and “strive for excellence and live an existence of calculation” (Rose 1989 in Ball, 2003, p.217). The agents of change through this reform process are the ‘Managers’. They are referred to by Ball as benefitting from the process, they are the “technicians of behaviour”, their task “to produce bodies that are docile and capable” (Foucault 1979 as cited by Ball, 2003, p.219).

So this begs the question. How exactly is performativity undertaken? Historically Ball refers to the use of data, individual appraisals, annual reviews, the writing of reports, the mechanics and process of promotion, peer reviews and even physical inspections. Whilst this entire process of measurement can lead to employment insecurity, in fact Ball refers to people becoming “ontologically insecure” (Ball, 2003, p. 220), this now has broadly become the norm.

Measuring performance today.

At its simplest level in Higher Education, there are a number of regular mandatory processes both professional and academic staff are required to experience as part of their employment. All University employees must pass basic compliance training that include such topics as Occupational Health and Safety, Working Together, Conflict of Interest, and Swinburne child safety training: Staff roles and responsibilities. (Swinburne University of Technology, n.d.-a, p.) For academic staff the majority of Higher Education Institutions in Australia place heavy emphasis on SFS surveys (anonymous student feedback) – this is very much an internal process.

Where I currently work, Swinburne University in Melbourne, they explain that SFS surveys “are used to measure how we’re doing across different areas and to get suggestions from you (the student) on how we can improve.” (Swinburne University of Technology, n.d.) Furthermore: “the feedback is the main input into the Academic Quality Enhancement Process (AQEP). At the end of every semester, each faculty reviews the survey data to identify units and courses to improve. We then allocate resources to support improvement measures. We also monitor how effective these changes have been through follow-up surveys.” (Swinburne University of Technology, n.d.)

Externally the Australian Government has more recently introduced QILT (Social Research Centre Pty Ltd and Commonwealth of Australia, n.d.).  Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT), is a website that compares undergraduate and postgraduate student experiences and graduate employment experiences, and satisfaction using data from a number of Government sources, and is freely available to the public.

The future of work?

When you look specifically at the Australian economy and Australian Government Educational Policy over the last 25 years there a number of key problems identified, with one issue standing out, the need for high level skills in the economy to drive productivity and innovation and at the same time address technological change.

Arguably this has not been given greater emphasis than other identified priority areas such as expanding access to higher education to give greater access to students from more diverse backgrounds, managing a growing and increasingly competitive higher education system, and funding higher education under constrained budgetary circumstances (E.g. GFC).

That said, under the current Conservative Government, there are signals of an increased emphasis on evaluating, and measuring Universities abilities to deliver on Policy (E.g. QILT), and thus Higher Educational institutions are taking additional measures to find enhanced solutions to address the Governments identified problems.

Swinburne University has a long history of working with industry and places a fairly strong emphasis (at least in policy, and in its marketing materials) on creating work ready graduates. University cooperative education style projects such as the ‘Swinburne Advantage’ – are considered market leading, taking a centralised ‘all discipline’ approach to work integrated learning.

There are a number of major global concerns that are continuing to impact on the Australian Economy. The financial crisis of 2007-2008 is continuing to impact of the livelihoods of millions of people worldwide. Whilst Australia has largely escaped significant recession there is in increased understanding of the importance of job security in an increasingly unstable global economic climate. Looking ahead, we can see upcoming changes in Europe with the United Kingdom having voted (in 2016) to leave the European Union, and the resulting impact, after cession in 2019 will not only impact Europe’s economy, but also Australia’s. There is thus an increasing emphasis for Higher Education Institutions to ensure that academic qualifications create greater career opportunities for its graduates.

Government and Institutional policy is very much policy-as-discourse, in that it clearly states its meaning, reinforcing power and authority, but they are very much frozen in time.

A key assumption is that in order for the economy to drive forward its people must be gainfully employed. A productive economy in a consumer centric society generally ensures human satisfaction. Government Policy identifies a series of ‘issues’ (problems) that are required to be addressed. The interpretation of such issues could more broadly be seen as an attempt to understand ’concepts’, and if that is the case, according to Tanesini they are simply “proposals about how we ought to proceed from here” (Tanesini 1994 in Baachi 2000 p.44). Bacchi is somewhat confusing, no doubt it’s me, but she concludes in her Policy as Discourse paper by stating that “there is no single or correct definition of discourse; we define it to suit our purposes. Though this usually happens with conscious intent” (Bacchi, 2000, p. 55). I lean to the view then that ‘understanding’ is led primarily by those who hold power.

Higher Education Institutions in Australia, the majority of which are publicly funded, are expected to agree to the ‘terms’ set forth in Policy, but they retain the right to question, negotiate, amend.

Arguably there is some irony here, as the very idea of work based learning fits perfectly within neo-liberal ideology. Created ‘work ready’, ‘industry capable’ graduates are seen as lifelong learners. Billet and Choy (2011) highlight that work integrated learning creates the appropriate groundwork for a professional life that is most probably one of constant change because “of the changing needs of occupational practice; the dynamic needs of work practices; and the need for developmental opportunities to move within and across occupations” (Billet and Choy, 2011, p. 27).

Here work-integrated learning is linked to the much broader concept of work-integrated learning across working lives.


So to text, or an analysis of the written words of policy, and how such communication persuasively communicates a neo-liberal agenda within my field of research, Work Integrated Learning (WIL). I’m firstly going to refer directly to and explain the impact of key changes in the WIL program at Swinburne University.

Swinburne University of Technologyhas its origins as the Eastern Suburbs Technical College, which was established in 1908 in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn by the Honourable George Swinburne. In 1913, the institution changed its name to Swinburne Technical College. The Institute attained university status in July 1992 following the passage of the Swinburne University of Technology Act 1992 through the Victorian State Government. From 1992 to date Swinburne University of Technology has operated as a dual sector educational business, offering certificates and diplomas as a TAFE, and offering undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, and research degrees as a University.

Work Integrated Learning or Cooperative Learning has had a long history at Swinburne. Originally termed IBL (Industry Based Learning), it commenced in the Engineering Department in 1963 (Swinburne University of Technology, 2013, p. 2) and is in fact recognised as one the longest running industry engaged learning programs in Australia. Rebranded and restructured in 2016 as part of ‘The Swinburne Advantage’, the University sought to offer a more dynamic series of ‘educational products’ including:

  • Professional Degrees – a 4 year ‘professionally’ tagged degree whereby the University guaranteed enrolled students a one year paid ‘Professional Placement’.
  • Professional Placements and Internship electives
  • Industry-linked Projects
  • Accreditation placements
  • Industry Study Tours

Whilst the IBL program ran as a de-centralised Faculty managed program the new ‘Swinburne Advantage’ program undertook a different path, and runs as a centralised, all-degree program.

At a macro level there are significant State and Federal policies impacting on the University’s internal policy changes.  Looking at the Liberal Party’s Education policy there is a (false) sense of an ongoing and significant commitment to Higher Education.

“Under the Turnbull Government, funding for universities is at record levels, with funding of over $16 billion in 2016.” “We are connecting our academics with industry in order to build commercial capacity and create jobs in Australia.” (The Liberal Party, n.d.)

On writing this it is somewhat ironic that just prior to Christmas 2017 the Government announced Higher Education reforms “to improve the higher education sector” (Birmingham and Andrews, 18 December 2017). A key statistic highlighted in the Hon Simon Birmingham’s Media Release was that “(whilst) attrition has increased, six-year university completion rates have fallen from 67.2 per cent to 66 per cent and short-term employment outcomes dropped from 83.6 per cent to 70.9 per cent” (Birmingham and Andrews, 18 December 2017).

At a Federal level there is a renewed emphasis on accountability, transparency and accountability. This is framed as the Government being responsible to the taxpayer. At a micro level the University (Swinburne) has implemented strategic change to improve and adjust its work integrated learning packages. Whilst the University has a long history in this area, its IBL program had grown somewhat stale. Swinburne continues to face strong competition in the Higher Education sector in the State of Victoria where eight Universities are fighting for the same prospective high school student leavers. Thus any ‘marketing’ point of difference, such as ‘The Swinburne Advantage’ supports further enrolments.

I moved to this eastern Melbourne University at time when the University was adjusting to the loss of significant state Government funding. By the time I arrived redundancies had already been effected, and the University had ‘centralised’ its Higher Education operations, building a ‘super-faculty’ structure for academic governance, whilst at the same time reducing and also contrasting administrative functions. When looking at the language used in higher education and in relation to the writers experience at the eastern Melbourne University, there is an ongoing, continuous use of specific types of terms, and a particular framing of the communication.

Gee and Lankshear inform us that ‘fast capitalist texts’ is information and knowledge written by business managers that helps shape a new work order within a new capitalism. “A new enchanted workplace where hierarchy is dead and partners engage in meaningful work amidst a collaborative environment of mutual commitment and trust” (Gee and Lankshear, 1995, p. 5).

In relation to my research on Work Integrated Learning I am opting to examine the ‘text’ of two Swinburne University of Technology policy documents:

  • ‘The Swinburne 2025 strategy’, 2017 (Swinburne University of Technology, 2017)
  • ‘Refreshing Swinburne University Graduate Attributes’ (Office of the PVC (Education and Quality) and Swinburne University of Technology, 17 November 2017)

The ‘Swinburne 2025 strategy’ is an official public facing document approved by Senior University Management (the Academic Senate), and builds on previous ‘overarching’ University documents that communicate the key focus of University business endeavours for the following 5-10 years.

The core audience is arguably National in focus, the document is beautifully designed, glossy in style, and takes a simpler approach in its choice of language and text. There are no references to research sources, with Swinburne taking sole possession of the originality of the vision.

Gee and Lankshear argue that keywords in discourse can in fact have significantly different meanings, in fact “cross discursive boundaries” (Gee and Lankshear, 1995, p. 10). They give a great example, and that is the varying definitions of the word freedom. In can mean “the absence or removal of constraints to one’s actions (negative freedom)” or “being free is being able (positive freedom)” (p.11). In essence they argue that words that are socially contested often get caught up in different discourses.

Does the Swinburne Communication endorse or support fast capitalist texts? Gee and Lankshear point to a number of key aspects of such writing, communication and practice.

  • Fast capitalists use “projective” or “enactive” texts (Gee, 1994 in Gee and Lankshear, 1995, p.8)
  • Fast capitalist texts stress the need for leaders and workers to understand the systems they are part of, and not just their local places within those systems (p.10)
  • Fast capitalist texts stress the requirement for lifelong learning (p.12)
  • Fast capitalist literature …put (s) a high premium on collaboration and effective communication, as well as on empowering workers and on their being self-directed (leaners). (p.12)
  • Fast capitalist advocate the importance of visionary workplace leaders employing empowerment as a means for getting followers to carry out goals of the organisation (p.15)
  • In fast capitalist practices, employees are to be empowered to discover and implement ‘the one best way’ of meeting their organisation’s production and quality goals. (p.16)

Keyword use in policy at Swinburne University (example one):

“Swinburne Strategic framework. To realise our vision we will build our capability, investing in our people, processes and systems.


Future-ready learners

  • Confident and enterprising learners who create social impact
  • Learners prepared to find and solve complex problems
  • Adaptive learners equipped for careers of the future
  • Learners as global citizens

Research with impact

  • Transforming industries shaping lives and communities
  • Driving innovation built on excellence in science and technology
  • Global in action, presence and reputation

Innovative enterprise

  • Agile, resilient and market-responsive
  • Flexible, state of the art spaces and infrastructure
  • Connected with business, industry and community
  • Sustainable, inclusive and diverse 
  • Globally capable”

By the mapping the strategic dot points across to the fast capitalist identifiers it’s fairly clear that Swinburne 2025 strategy endorses or utilises text, and language that might otherwise be viewed as fast capitalist. Strategy is however always meant to be somewhat optimist in tone so the choice of ‘policy’ to analyse was probably a bad one.  That said, what we can see that the public University, in this example, Swinburne University in Melbourne, is becoming increasingly business focused, and commercially driven. Is this an outcome of Neo-Liberal Government Policy?

Keyword use in policy at Swinburne University (example two):

“Refreshing Swinburne University Graduate Attributes

1.0 Future-Ready Learners at Swinburne

The student learning experience is at the core of developing Future-Ready Learners. Therefore, Swinburne’s curriculum, course design, learning environment and co-curricular activity should build the knowledge, skills, behaviours, and attitudes that equip graduates for the future world of work.

Graduate attributes

TEQSA defines graduate attributes as generic learning outcomes that are transferrable, non-discipline specific skills that have application in study, work and life contexts.

Why a refresh?

By refreshing the graduate attributes Swinburne will deliver the objectives of Future-Ready Learners and proactively anticipate emerging social and economic trends.

2.1 Global trends will influence the social and economic life of graduates

Global trends influence relationships between people, the environment, resources, and work.

Swinburne graduates will work in an increasingly connected and fluid world.

Global market integration is shifting trade policies and creating new demand for product differentiation. In response, companies are switching to new modes of international collaboration

Swinburne graduates will enter a world of changing political and economic structures.

As political and economic structures change, government and industry will need to adapt, and different employment opportunities requiring different skills will arise

Digital and technology advancement is occurring at pace and scale.

The uptake and advancement of digital technology is boosting social connectivity, information flow and the exchange of labour.

A changing social context, including rising inequality, means graduates may work in increasingly volatile environments and labour markets.

Research from the World Economic Forum indicates geopolitical volatility and the emergence of a large middle class market are two defining drivers of the future employment landscape,as they add new pressure to government policy that could have implications for labour movement and capital exchange.

2.2 Graduates can expect a dynamic career

Trends in the future workplaces and changing characteristics of work will impact future careers.

2.3 Swinburne learners will have graduate attributes that make them future ready

Swinburne wants its graduate students to be confident and enterprising learners who will lead in employability and business creation. They will have immediate workforce value, drive positive social and economic impact, and engage in global contexts. “

Figure 1. Swinburne Future Ready Framework (2017)

By contrast the ‘Refreshing Swinburne University Graduate Attributes’ document is drafted as an internal Consultation Paper, with an intended audience of Senior Management, Senior Faculty and Senior Administrative staff. Whilst not a research article per see (there is no peer review or publication), its structure is of an applied nature. Here the strategic vision is supported by thorough research. Of note particularly here is the use of data from the OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), WTO (World Trade Organisation), WEF (World Economic Forum), and leading Industry Bodies and Industry Consultancies including PwC, McKinsey and Company, Deloitte Access Economics and the Business Council of Australia. These groups are generally conservative in nature, neo-liberal leaning in philosophy. This key document relies 100% on secondary research, and completely ignores, or simply fails to include original primary data of a local nature.

The future – what if?

So to the future and a ‘what if’ scenario, an alternative imaginary, that is less neoliberal in focusTo recap. Neoliberalism is used to refer to “an economic system in which the “free” market is extended to every part of our public and personal worlds” (Birch, 2017).  If Neoliberalism is expressed through a hierarchical corporate management style, then we need to look to the opposite to consider an alternative.

This ‘evolution’ is certainly not unfamiliar, as it is where ‘people’ become the focus.Otherwise known as a People-Centric style, wherein a collaborative style of management exists or is proposed. Some of these ‘movements’, philosophy’s, or corporate management styles are more radical than others, but nonetheless highlight that there is a groundswell or thought towards alternatives. They include:


Sociocracy – Conceptualized by French Philosopher Auguste Comté, Sociocracy can be traced back to 1851, originally defined as the social order of the future. It enables companies and teams to manage themselves as an organic whole meaning everyone gets a voice in the management of the organization. Sociocracy 3.0 announced its existence in 2014, conceived by German Bernhard Bockelbrink and Britain James Priest and thus a resurgence has come about (Bockelbrink and Priest, 2014-2017).

Semco Style – developed by former Brazilian CEO, and Professor of Leadership at MIT’s Sloan School of Management Ricardo Semler is a “champion of the employee-friendly radical corporate democracy” (Semler, n.d.).  Semco Style promotes the devolvement of power to employees with trust at its heart.

Holacracy – credited to US businessman Brain Robertson, and the company Ternary in 2007 it embraces a democratic form of organizational governance, and is somewhat similar to Sociocracy, wherein there is no middle management (Talks at Google, 18 June 2015).

Teal – Introduced in the book Reinventing Organizations by Belgian Frederic Laloux in 2014, Teal proposes the idea of soulful places of employment. Laloux suggest three stages of management are required for an organisation to succeed: they are self-managed, they embrace wholeness and they have an evolutionary purpose (Laloux, 2015).

Whether or not any of these styles could be applied to education is questionable. Higher Education in Australia suffers from a false belief in a flat hierarchical structure. By this I mean, that in attempts to run in an open and democratic way, but management processes are old and stale.

Finally it could be argued that Neoliberalism is not always a bad thing, and those world bodies that drive International policy don’t necessarily agreed 100% with a purist interpretation of such an agenda.

For example, under the umbrella of the United Nations UNESCO addresses work integrated learning/ cooperative education through its TVET strategy.  Technical and Vocational Education and Training is both linked and not linked to Higher Education, this variance largely dependent on individual country education policy and structure. UNESCO contextualizes its strategy by back grounding at an International level widespread rising youth unemployment “73 million youth unemployed” (UNESCO 2016 p.6) within both developing and developed countries. UNESCO argues that TVET can create inclusive equitable education that promotes life learning for all:

“to equip all youth and adults with the skills required for employment, decent work, entrepreneurship and lifelong learning, and to contribute to the implementation of the 2030 (UNESCO) Agenda for Sustainable Development as a whole.” (UNESCO, 2016, p. 6)

Here the concept of life learning is set forth in a favorable manor, and not as a negative aspect of neoliberalism.


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