New ETUCE project will search for the source of trends towards liberalisation and privatisation in European education systems


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ETUCE launched a new EU-funded research project on 3 April 2020 under the title ‘Social Dialogue and Industrial Relations in Education: the Challenges of Multi-level Governance and Privatisation in Europe’. For this one-year research project ETUCE is working in a consortium with three universities from different parts of the EU: the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium), the University of Naples Federico II (Italy) and the University of Warsaw (Poland). The final conference launching the research will take place in March 2021.

This project covers a topic of long-term concern to education trade unions which has recently become strikingly relevant. For the last ten years, ETUCE has been denouncing the creeping privatisation in European education systems, a trend which is diverting the education policy narrative away from the mission and values of quality public education towards market-based mechanisms and priorities. This project is an opportunity to better understand these slow transformations and to bring new evidence to light. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has added new urgency to this issue, and it will be a key priority for the project to analyse and forecast the impact on education provision and financing. This will allow us to develop an evidence-based perspective on the potential risks arising from an even greater and unregulated involvement of private actors, such as corporation and ed-tech companies which provide platforms for online teaching and learning.

The project will aim to identify and analyse such trends towards liberalisation and privatisation in education policy at the EU and national levels. It will also identify the impacts of multi-level systems of governance and the influence of international institutions (such as the EU and OECD) on national education reform patterns. The research will shed light on the factors behind the long-term trend towards liberalisation of the education sector. Topics will include:

  • School choice policies, voucher schemes and similar competitive formulas based on demand-side financing
  • New Public Management (NPM) reforms such as school-based management, performance-related pay, standardisation, accountability and evaluation
  • Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in the education sector

This new project will take a further step by attempting to ascertain the impact of such trends on industrial relations, including social dialogue and collective bargaining, which trade unions fear is being weakened by the dominance of economic imperatives, imposed austerity and an uncritical adherence to market ideologies, especially in crisis-hit countries. Well established processes for industrial relations and social dialogue are a core feature of the European social model. They have offered education personnel, represented by their trade unions, an extraordinary opportunity to be heard and to negotiate fairly on their working conditions.

In light of the research results, ETUCE member organisations will discuss the implications for trade unions as the voice of the teaching and education professions. The research launch will be an occasion to explore how to organise around a strong narrative on quality public education, so that education trade unions can make an even greater difference for workers in education through solidarity at national and at European level.

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