Listen to Janja Komljenovic on FreshEd:

The power of LinkedIn in higher education    

Contemporary Capitalism & the Higher Education Industry

by Janja Komljenovic
Senior Lecturer
Lancaster University

My interest has always been to understand the socio-economic order underpinning our societies, the power relations constituting that order, and how we can make that order better for more people. It is what Steven Klees explains to be a progressive political economic agenda, one, which focuses on tackling social inequalities head-on. Steve is not shy to explain why inequality is inherently at the core of the neoliberal capitalism we live in today and why compensatory legitimation, a Hans Weiler’s term, makes us feel better but does not bring actual change. He says “75 years is enough” and calls for a profound system change. Being optimistic, he highlights the possible positive sides of the current pandemic: governments can do the work, money can be found, and positive change can happen fast.

What Steve discusses at a broadest, global and systemic level, Gita Steiner-Khamsi addresses via discussing higher education research on markets and privatisation. Gita mentions a sobering quote from Natasha Ridge et al.’s chapter in the 2016 World Yearbook on Education, where Varkey from GEMS Corporation says, “We sell first-class, business, and economy class education, like an aeroplane,” which is communicated as a positive and accessible model of education provision because parents can pay what they can afford. This got Gita activated in what she calls second-generation research into education privatisation. In the episode, she brings together debates on evidence-based policymaking as a context for structural coupling between education and economy, and concrete tools of privatisation, such as standardised testing, certification and programmatic philanthropy. An added benefit of this episode is that it was the first one recorded in front of a live audience. I was in that room in San Francisco and felt this was a fantastic endeavour for Will and the team at FreshEd.

Ben Williamson brings the debate on privatisation and capitalism into the digital world. Ben talks about education technology that has impressively expanded in all levels and functions of education, mainly via digital architecture and via quite mundane and hidden practices. He discusses how digital data has become a resource in education and the emerging business models of private companies, which are fuelled by digital data. He highlights that dataficaton in education is often government-led but aligned with the interests of private actors. Ben raised hugely important concerns around the ideas of DNA and precision education, which gives another flavour to thinking about contemporary capitalism. In the digital economy and digital education, our concerns should go well beyond profits and inequality in redistribution.

I want to conclude by pointing out the critical work that FreshEd does not only for the theme I focused on, capitalism and privatisation in education, but more broadly. It is crucial that ideas are made accessible and that discussions are sparked. One of my favourite shows is thus on FreshEd itself, in which Susan Robertson interviews Will. I understand this episode as a celebration of the show and a tribute to education.

December 4, 2021