ETUCE Conference presents new research on privatisation trends in European education systems


On 31 March 2021 ETUCE held the online conference “Education in Europe from Resistance to Recovery: Public Investment, Privatisation, Reforms and the role of Industrial Relations”. This was the final event showcasing a yearlong research project coordinated by ETUCE under the title “Social dialogue and industrial relations in education: the challenges of multi-level governance and of privatisation in Europe”. More than 100 participants attended the event and engaged with a panel of expert speakers from the academic community, civil society organisations, government and European institutions’ representatives.

Larry Flanagan, ETUCE President, kicked off the event and introduced the presentation of the new ETUCE research “Rhetoric or game changer. Social dialogue and Industrial Relations in education midst EU governance and privatisation in Europe”, realised in partnership with the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium), the University of Naples Federico II (Italy) and the University of Warsaw (Poland).

The research brings to surface evidence from four countries, Belgium, Italy, Poland and Sweden, and at EU level. It shows the extent to which programmes promoting market-oriented behaviour in the management of education institutions are increasing pressures on the working conditions, professional autonomy and role of teachers, through the deterioration of the teaching and learning environments.

In some countries, they may also challenge the environment for social dialogue and collective bargaining in education, through the incremental expansion and influence of private provision and services, or through decentralisations and individualised mobilisations and bargaining. Across Europe, however, patterns of industrial relations and social dialogue remain distinct as they evolve from different traditions and models.

 “Despite the ever-growing body of evidence showing the negative consequences associated with privatisation in and of education, we are witnessing an intensification of this agenda at the global, European and national level, impacting greatly on the employment conditions of teachers, and on their ability to exercise professional judgement and autonomy. Education authorities and education institutions should make clear that private market opportunities are not necessarily compatible with quality public education”, commented Larry Flanagan, ETUCE President.

The research also suggests that the European Union (EU) has become an increasingly influential actor in shaping education and teacher policy, in particular through the European Semester. Looking at recent initiatives, such as the European Pillar of Social Rights and the European Education Area, Susan Flocken, ETUCE European Director commented “there is an absolute imperative to challenge the inequities in our societies through inclusive education systems built on equality, inclusion, sustainability, and respect for the teaching profession. High-quality education for all, and fair systems of industrial relations, are two pillars of a decent society, and they should remain central as Europe seeks to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The research by Sorensen et al. (2021), Rhetoric or game changer: Social dialogue and industrial relations in education midst EU governance and privatisation in Europe, Brussels: ETUCE can be found here

The executive summary can be found here

The glossary of terms can be found here