The OECD, Neoliberalism, and the
Promoting Human Capital in the Guise of Lifelong Learning
J. Scott MacPhail
A thesis submitted to the Department of Education
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts in Education
Copyright J. Scott MacPhail
One of the many lessons learned from writing a thesis is, it takes a small community of friends and mentors to see it to its completion. With that in mind I would like to acknowledge a few from the community who have helped me complete this thesis:
Dr. Brigham: Sue, you have a wonderful way of adding to my research and writing.
Dr. Plumb: Donovan, aside from being a wonderful mentor and advisor, I feel fortunate to have been able to draw from your incredible intellectual curiosity.
Theresa Mosher: Mom, thanks for instilling me with the idea that, “it’s a short day when you don’t learn something new.”
My Wife: Helen, thanks for believing I could write a thesis and listening to me prattle on about the learning city.
My little girl: Catherine, for you I have to strive to make the world a better place to live.
This thesis is dedicated to Herbie, Martin, and my 21-speed, Giant mountain bike:
“It’s not the final destination, it’s the journey”.
In this thesis I investigate the concept of the learning city; a concept which has attracted the attention of a growing number of adult education theorists. Many of these theorists expound the virtues of the learning city, but it is my claim that they do so without any clear sense of how or why the notion was first postulated. I believe the origins and underlying purpose of the concept of the learning city is largely unexamined or taken for granted by its most avid promoters. In particular, its chief advocates rarely locate the origins and development of the learning city in the neoliberal policy discourses that transpired in the OECD and the EU during the 1970s to the 1990s. In this thesis I conduct a close examination of these policy discourses which reveal that the learning city was initially formulated and subsequently promoted to support a neoliberal policy agenda aimed at fostering unfettered global economic development.
I argue that the notion of the learning city, linked as it has been to OECD policy and the neoliberal agenda, has many drawbacks. Chief amongst these is the ways the OECD notion of the learning city further exacerbates existing global inequalities amongst cities. The neoliberal learning city competes unfairly with urban contexts in the developing world. Rather than promoting equitable social development, the OECD learning city strives to out compete all rivals (including those cities woefully incapable of playing the globalization game).
Table of Contents…………………………………………………………………….…iv
Chapter 2 – Roots of The OECD – From Post WWII European Reconstruction to the Decline of the Keynesian Welfare State ………………………………………………7
From OEEC to OECD: 1945-1961
Embedded Liberalism and Welfare State……………………………..………………7
The Marshall Plan and the OEEC……………………………………..………………9
Demise of the OEEC and the Birth of the OECD……………………………………11
The OECD and Keynesian Economics: 1961- 1970
OECD Economists Influencing Education..…………………………………………14
The Keynesian OECD in Support of Education……………………………………..18
OECD and Human Capital (Part I)…………………………………………………..23
Business and Industry and the OECD……………………………………………….24
Decline of Keynesian Influence………………………………………………..……24
Chapter 3 – Neoliberalism and Globalization- the OECD Shift from Keynesianism to Neoliberalism ……………………………………………………………………. 26
The Rise and Development of Neoliberalism
The Hidden Agenda of Neoliberalism……………………………………………….28
The Neoliberal Attack on the Welfare State…………………………………………32
The Preconditions for Neoliberal’s Emergence…………………………...…………35
Commodification of the Commons – Isolating the Public……………….………….36
Neoliberalism – Redefining the Individual.………………………………………….38
Neoliberalism and the OECD………………………………………………..………41
Globalization and Neoliberalism…………………………………………………….44
Neoliberalism, Globalization, and Urban Governance……………………….…..….47
Neoliberalism, Globalization, and Education……………………………….…….…51
Chapter 4 – The OECD, UNESCO, and Lifelong Learning, 1972 –1978………………55
Roots of Lifelong Learning…………………………………………………………..55
The First Generation of Lifelong Learning
UNESCO, OECD, and Lifelong Learning in the 1970s……………………………..56
1972 – UNESCO’s Learning To Be……………………………...………………….58
1973 – OECD’s Recurrent Education…………………………………….….……...61
1980s – UNESCO, The OECD, and Neoliberal Influence……………………...…...64
The Second Generation of Adult Education
1989 – Education and the Economy in a Changing Society…………………………71
1990s – The OECD and EU Gaining Hegemony and Human Capital (Part II)…......72
1996 – Learning: The Treasure Within………………………………………..…….74
The OECD Redefining Human Capital…………………………………………..….76
Chapter 5 – The OECD and the
Origins of the
Educating Cities Initiative…………………………………………………………....80
The Hirsch Report……………………………………………………………….…...82
The Structure of the
Who Influences Provision in the Adult Education Discourse?...................................94
Lifelong Learning, Human Capital, and the
Chapter 6 – Uncovering the True Meaning of the
Interpretations of the
European Model of Lifelong Learning…………………………………….……….105
Defining the Competition…………………………………………………………..107
Form of Imperialism………………………………………………………………..110
Shikshantar’s Interpretation of the
The Future of the
Is There Hope for the
OECD and EU’s
Use of the
The concept of the learning city has attracted the attention of a growing number of adult education theorists. Longworth (1999), Landry and Matarasso (2001), Farris (2006), and others support the notion of the learning city as a positive way for a city to become more economically competitive in our globalized world. These proponents assert that the purpose of the learning city is to help the city become economically stronger by improving people’s capacities through lifelong learning. Despite the growing influence of the notion of the learning city, according to Plumb, Leverman, and Mcgray (2007), “the concept [of the learning city] has yet to receive sufficient critical theorization” (p. 37). For example, the origins and underlying purpose of the concept of the learning city is largely unexamined or taken for granted by its most avid promoters. In particular, its chief advocates rarely locate the origins and development of the learning city in the neoliberal policy discourses that transpired in the OECD and the EU during the 1970s to 1990s. A close examination of these policy discourses reveals that the learning city was initially formulated and subsequently promoted to support a neoliberal policy agenda aimed at fostering unfettered global economic development.
The focus of my research is to address problems
posed by the OECD supported notion of the learning city, problems which
include; the learning city’s use of lifelong learning as a form of human
capital, the manner in which competitive notions of development are used with
critical impunity, and the potential for the learning city to be a tool for a
modern form of imperialism. I argue that the OECD shaped the concept of the
learning city in ways that promote the interest of those who profit from
rampant economic globalization and disadvantage vast segments of the world’s
population, creating unfair socio-economic development. The thesis suggests
that the notion of the learning city needs to be reconceptualized in a way that
separates it from its neoliberal trappings. The learning city, in effect, must
be reworked so that it can better support the development of sustainable,
equitable, and just cities. An example of how this new vision of the learning
city might look is articulated by leaders of the Shikshantar Institute located
The National Geographic’s Almanac of Geography (2005) describes cities as, “crucibles of social change, cultural transformation, and economic innovation” (p.295). As we experience the first years of a new millennium, cities are gaining even greater primacy. According to the United Nations Population Fund (2007), “by 2008, for the first time, more than half of the globes population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in towns and cities” (p.6). Hidden in these statistics is the dark truth that at least one billion people live in urban slums. With this is mind, we are advised by the Shikshantar Institute (1999) that:
At the dawn of the 21st century, the world finds itself in the midst of dramatic global transformations in which cities around the world are the focal points of change. The issues and concerns facing cities today are unique and must be addressed on an appropriate scale (p.3).
When I initially encountered the idea of a learning city, I expected it to address ‘issues and concerns’ now faced by the modern city because it was being discussed by adult educators as a means to bring about social cohesion. I thought of it as a positive initiative that could help adult educators understand more clearly the ways adult learning might be supported in an urban context. The learning city promised to improve the lives of all who live in an urban environment.
However, two things happened which caused
me to develop some serious reservations about the concept of the learning city.
First, as I explored the concept, I realized that, for many of its promoters,
the learning city intended to refocus education on economic priorities rather
than priorities like social justice or sustainable development. Second, I discovered
that, for the most part, the notion of the learning city is intended to support
the development of a very narrow range of cities in capitalist
As I explored the literature on the learning city, I could not find a single documented history detailing where and how the concept of the learning city originated. Many theorists expound the virtues of the learning city without any clear sense of how or why the notion was first postulated. This might not be a problem if, in taking up the concept of the learning city, new proponents were to have abandoned earlier motives for its development. For the most part, however, this does not seem to have been the case. In taking up the notion, most of its contemporary advocates have unwittingly in some instances or quite deliberately in others retained its original meaning and purpose. Recovering this unspoken history of the concept has become the principle challenge of this thesis. In the following, I investigate the history of the concept of the learning city from its earliest formulations in policy discourses of the OECD, and then as a more robust policy initiative of the OECD and EU. Rather than being simply a folksy good concept developed by well intentioned social advocates, I argue that, from the outset, the learning city was an ideological policy initiative of the OECD as part of a broader neoliberal policy initiative. As such, my account of the learning city concept is built on an understanding the OECD and its involvement with neoliberalism.
For the most part, urban governance throughout the world is deeply influenced by dominant theories of urban growth and development. According to urban geographer, David Harvey (2005), currently, the ideological discourse of neoliberalism is having far ranging impact on the ways urban governments are running their cities. Harvey (2005) depicts neoliberalism as, “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (p.2). Neoliberal social policies have taken the place of earlier Keynesian social policies resulting in a shift from the state taking care of individuals through the mechanisms like social welfare, to the state placing the onus on individuals to take care of themselves.
Presently, there are several international agencies that actively promote neoliberal strategies and policies. Among the most prominent of these are the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the European Union (EU). Of these organizations, the OECD and the EU most openly and actively focus on adult education as a means to achieve neoliberal goals. As such, the idea of lifelong learning has become one the key influences of the OECD’s and EU’s education policies. As part of this larger discourse on lifelong learning, in recent decades, the OECD and the EU developed and promoted the idea of the learning city.
Most contemporary advocates of the
learning city, such as Longworth and Faris, promote notions of the learning
city deeply concordant with the OECD vision of what the learning is and how it
should be promoted. Rather than engaging critically with the assumptions of
what the learning city should be, many advocates have simply adopted the
rhetoric of the OECD and have promoted notions of the learning city deeply
supportive of neoliberal social policies. While I argue that there might not be
anything intrinsically wrong about the notion of the learning city, linked as
it has been to OECD policy and the neoliberal agenda, the learning city has
many drawbacks. Chief amongst these is the ways the OECD notion of the learning
city further exacerbates existing global inequalities amongst cities. The
neoliberal learning city competes unfairly with urban contexts in the
I assert that the OECD is not the only
proponent of the learning city. In
Roots of the OECD – From Post WWII European Reconstruction to the Decline of the Keynesian Welfare State
To provide a clear sense of how the notion of the learning city was first formed in neoliberal policy discourses of the OECD, it is important, first, to describe the OECD and its own historical formulation. Henry, Lingard, Rizvi, and Taylor (2001) state that the OECD; “is, simultaneously, a geographic entity, an organizational structure, a policy-making forum, a network of policy makers, researchers and consultants, and a sphere of influence” (p.7). As such, the OECD is a complex supranational organization whose influence, though sometimes veiled, extends beyond the borders of the nations who form its membership. The origins of the OECD can be traced back to the Organization of European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), which had its ferment in post-World War II era’s embedded liberalism and the development of the Keynesian welfare state.
From OEEC to OECD: 1945-1961
Embedded liberalism grew out of the ashes
of post-World War II Europe, a setting that Judt (2005) describes as offering
“a prospect of utter misery and desolation” (p.13). Prior to WWII,
Ayers (2004), drawing on Korten (1999),
describes embedded liberalism as, “an international economic management system,
in which government regulation, social welfare systems and full employment
policies were considered an acceptable compliment to essentially still
market-based fundamentals” (p.12). And it was these market-based fundamentals
that were held by the
Americans had a great stake in the
Consistent with the values of imbedded
liberalism, American introduced a foreign policy known as the Truman Doctrine,
which, as LeFeber (1991) writes was, “an ideological shield behind which the
According to Wolfe (2007), “the Marshall
Plan was not in fact a plan, but an invitation to the European countries to
tell the United States what needed to be done to assist postwar reconstruction,
implying that aid would be contingent on their ability to work together” (p.1).
The Marshall Plan provided a mechanism for European countries not aligned with
(2004) suggests that the OEEC, “is widely credited with repairing the European
trading system, establishing in 1950 the European Payments Union (EPU) which
provided credit facilities to fund European trade, dismantling quantitative
trade restrictions and preventing backsliding into the protectionist policies
that had blighted the 1930s” (p.114). The OEEC pulled together the capitalist
Johnson (1965) describes “two alternative routes” (p.48) that European economic integration might have taken:
One was the integration through close economic cooperation and
co-ordination of economic policy among European countries, on the basis of
common problems and interests distinguishing them from the rest of the world
economy, and within the framework of the world economy; this was the OEEC
route, favoured by
The chosen route was not the one favoured by the Americans as it reduced
their power to determine European economic and social policies. In order to
continue to have a strong voice in European affairs, the
Commentators differ about the ease with which the OECD developed. Woodward (2004), for instance, suggests that the OECD evolved smoothly to replace the OEEC:
In 1959, buoyed by the success of the OEEC, the
Wolfe, on the other hand, interprets the transition differently. The
demise of the OEEC threatened to give more power to another emergent
Wolfe (2007) explains the outcome of the creation of the OECD as follows;
Placing Canadian Donald Fleming in a
leadership role is indicative of the role North American was to have in the new
organization. The OECD was not to be a European organization. Instead, it was
to be an international organization, strongly directed by the
The OECD and Keynesian Economics: 1961 – 1970
Since its inception in 1961, the “mission” of the OECD:
Has been to help governments achieve sustainable economic growth and employment and rising standards of living in member countries while maintaining financial stability, so contributing to the development of the world economy. Its founding also calls on the OECD to assist sound economic expansion in member countries and other countries in the process of economic development, and to contribute to growth in world trade on a multilateral, non-discriminatory basis. (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2005, p.9)
The OECD began with 20 member nations and
now has 30. Nations cannot apply for membership; rather, membership is offered
by the organization. Unlike cousin organizations such as the World Bank or the
IMF which are headquartered in
Of the 30 nations, the remainder are
comprised of the
Although representing 30 nations, the OECD does limit itself to serving only those nations. "In recent years, the OECD has moved ….to offer its analytical expertise and accumulated experience to more than 100 developing and emerging market economies” (OECD, 2006, p.9) all the while maintaining strategic hegemony.
OECD Economists Influencing Education
To understand how the OECD is able to
influence both member and nonmember countries, it is important to take note of
the important role that economists play in the organization. Since its
inception, the principal focus of the OECD has been on the economy. Dostal
(2004) remarks, “the organization is structured along directorial lines with
700 research personnel, most of them economists as well as lawyers, scientists
and regulatory experts” (p.446).
To fulfill its mission, the OECD performs ‘four functions’, which Woodward (2004) details:
First, it promotes cooperative solutions to the world’s economic problems. It does so by providing a forum for ongoing policy dialogue plus surveillance and peer review of member economies. Second, it gathers and disseminates information…. Third, the OECD provides 'support services' to other international institutions, most notably the WTO and the Group of 7 (G7). These bodies are heavily reliant on the OECD's research and expertise and they occasionally request the OECD to carry out tasks on their behalf. Finally, the OECD is an international standard setter (p.114-116).
Being an ‘international standard setter’ is a seeming contradiction within the generally accepted perception of the OECD. Porter and Webb (2007) state that the OECD is seen as, “a highly technical research organization with little significance for world politics” (p.1). Wolfe (2007) identifies the OECD has having ”no regulatory responsibility, no independent source of funds, no money to lend, and no instruments within its control” (p.3). Despite this, Porter and Webb (2007) argue that, “this underestimates the importance for global governance of the knowledge networks that the OECD helps orchestrate” as the work of the OECD “involves the ongoing development of a sense of identity for members as it develops policy prescriptions appropriate for liberal-democratic countries that see themselves as world leaders, and the aspirations of member states (and some non-member states) to that identity gives the OECD considerable influence despite its lack of formal powers” ( p.1).
The influence of the OECD is derived from its power to offer “codes of conduct” to which nations can aspire. Schafer (2006) comments:
Ever since its formation in 1961, the OECD has sought to ensure that its member states follow the code of conduct for sound economic policies laid down in the OECD Convention. This is achieved through regularly monitoring and evaluating the economic situation in the member states and their respective policies. Thus, every twelve to eighteen months the OECD produces an Economic Survey for each country (p.73).
Associated with the development of ‘codes of conduct,’ Marcussen, (2001) asserts that the OECD participates in the “idea game.” As he relates, “the idea game … [is] about formulating, transferring, selling, and teaching, not formal regulation, but principled or causal beliefs helping to constrain or enable certain types of social behaviour within the OECD area” (p.3). It is by playing this idea game that the OECD can create a ‘sense of identity’ for member nations. It is able to create and set benchmarks, “codes of conduct,” and conditions for development which are in line with the OECD’s set of economic and social views.
Since the OECD lacks regulatory power, it depends on peer review (also known as surveillance) to assert its supranational influence. Schaffer (2006) contends that, “the possible effectiveness of multilateral surveillance depends on establishing peer pressure and persuading reluctant actors” (p.81). Through peer review, the OECD ignites competition between nations. The OECD relies on the competitive aspirations of nations and their fear of not wanting to be ranked number 30. Being number one is key to raising a nation’s international stature. For non-OECD members, peer review provides measurable benchmarks to which they should aspire. Being viewed favourably by the OECD is goal to which most countries now strive.
Schafer (2006) refers to peer review as ‘soft law’ which, “is attractive for national governments as it limits sovereignty losses. States rely on multilateral surveillance to co-ordinate their policies in the absence of enforceable, binding rules” (p.83). In contrast ‘hard law’ would be binding and seen as challenging national sovereignty as states would have to change their statutes to adopt new policy. The power of the OECD, therefore, rests in its ability to influence national policy without trammelling the sovereignty rights of nations.
As been shown, the OECD is heavily populated by economists who focus their peer review work on economic indicators. In the case of education, for example, OECD economists have concentrated on the economic effects of different national educational strategies and initiatives. This is evidenced in the introduction to the OECD’s (2007) report, Education at a Glance, which:
Provides a rich, comparable and up-to-date array of indicators that reflect a consensus among professionals on how to measure the current state of education internationally. The indicators provide information on the human and financial resources invested in education, on how education and learning systems operate and evolve, and on the returns to educational investments (p.15).
This document illustrates the method used by the OECD. First, the OECD promotes the importance of education for economic development. Next, it completes a study comparing how different countries are doing in meeting different educational objectives. Finally, it sets educational benchmarks and goals for countries to attain. With no legally binding arrangement, countries can interpret and incorporate the data and statistics as they wish, with the hope that improving education will enable them to become more competitive with other nations.
Studies such as Education at a Glance (2007)are intended for the 30 nations of the OECD but, importantly, are available to any interested nation. The power of the OECD to influence non-member nations is highlighted in a OECD (2006) report titled The OECD in which the OECD claims that, “in recent years, the OECD has moved ….to offer its analytical expertise and accumulated experience to more than 70 developing and emerging market economies” (p.9). “Offering their analytical expertise,” it is important to emphasize, has emerged as an effective method by which the OECD has managed to infiltrate national political, economic, and educational discourses. As such, over the past three decades, the OECD has become a powerful hegemonic force.
Peer review is also part of the process
More than just having a voice in the
The Keynesian OECD in Support of Education
Since its inception, the OECD has gained
influence as a force in support of global capitalism. Due to its sponsorship of
capitalism during the 1950s and 1960s, the OECD played a role the ‘cold war’ as
Along with being a participant in the ‘cold war,’ the OECD member countries also dealt with changes in the capitalist economy, in particular the growing need of corporations for trained employees in high technology industries. Baptiste (2001) tells us that, “prior to World War II, agricultural and industrial economies did not require large numbers of highly skilled workers” (p.186). This changed dramatically during the post WWII era. The need to train highly skilled workers for the high tech workplace became an important part of the OECD’s mandate.
Perhaps because of the influence of Keynesianism, education was a central concern of the OECD from early on. In their review of the OECD, Henry et al. (2001) observe that, “the structural basis for education as an independent activity in the OECD, which persist to this day, came with the establishment in 1968 of the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)… and the replacement of the Committee for Scientific and technical Personnel with the Education Committee in 1970” (p. 9). Prior to the establishment of CERI, education was part of the OECD, although its presence was more veiled. Reviewing the history of education as being a component of the OECD, Papadopoulos (1994) writes:
There is no explicit reference in the OECD Convention to Education being among the concerns and purposes of the Organization. The nearest it comes to getting such a reference is in Article 2 (b), on policies designed to promote the development of Member countries resources in science and technology, encourage research and “promote vocational training” (p.11)
Despite not having a specific reference to education, Papadopoulos suggests that education was, indeed, an important central concern as the OEEC folded and the OECD emerged. He observes that, “the rapid shift in programme priorities towards the economics of education…was in fact an inspired, intentional move designed to secure a lasting place for education within the new organization” (p.37). Even though it was not specifically referred to or provided with explicit institutional support, education was an important part of the OECD mandate since its inception.
Traces of the OECD involvement in education policy formation can be detected as early as 1961 when the OECD held the Policy Conference on Economic Growth and Investment in Education, also known as the Washington Conference. It was at this conference that the influence of Keynesian policies on the OECD philosophy were most profound. The dramatic difference between the attitudes of powerful stakeholders in the OECD then and the attitudes that were soon to develop under neoliberalism are revealed clearly by Walter Heller, then Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, who, true to the Keynsian view, insisted on the, “substitution of the term ‘investment in education’ for the term…‘expenditure on education’” (OECD, 1965, sec I- p.33). In the 1960s, and within the Keynesian policies, large amounts of money were invested, as opposed to being expended, on education by government with the expectation that it would be socially profitable and beneficial. Henry et al. (2001) suggests that public investment in education in the 1960s was expected to have “significant though immeasurable- i.e. residual- benefits for economic growth and social cohesion” (p.59).
The “expansion” in funding for education was of paramount importance. As Papadopoulos (1994) notes, “estimates in the report [Washington Conference], meant not less than a doubling of educational expenditure from all sources” (p.39). Once again the OECD of the 1960s can be seen to be adhering to the Keynesian concept of the welfare state providing significant funding for public programs. A persistent theme of the conference was how education and a strong economy are tightly intertwined. As Philip Coombs, Chairman of the OECD during the Washington Conference, relates, “economic progress itself is increasingly dependent on the development of education and on scientific research” (OECD, 1965, sec I- p.6). The influence moves from the economy to education as well. As the OECD relates, “it is only with economic advance, itself dependant upon education, that a nation can progressively give more substance to the ultimate ideal of equal opportunity for ever individual to develop his latent ability through learning” (OECD, 1965, sec. 1- p. 9).
The Washington Conference explored the relationships between a strong economy and education. It also paid special attention to what was termed the ‘underdeveloped countries.’ With the unstated believe that underdeveloped countries wanted to achieved the prosperity of the developed countries, delegates viewed education as a means for underdeveloped countries to achieve, “social and economic progress” (OECD, 1966, secI- p.13). One strategy that could help with this aspiration was to provide opportunities for students from underdeveloped countries to study in OECD countries. This correlates with the belief of OECD members that, “many of these countries will need to send abroad some or all of their students at higher, and particularly post-graduate, levels” (OECD, 1966, sec.I- p.15). The predominance of this OECD strategy is explained by world-system education scholars who, “suggest that the ideologies transmitted through educational assistance directly support the expansion of the capitalist world economy…. these scholars see immediate economic consequences of education” (Clayton, 1998, p.485). Economists at the OECD believed that they held the core social values which much of the world aspired to attain.
There is another more nefarious possible
motive, however. As Spring (1998a) points out, the notion that development
could be fostered by providing a select few from underdeveloped countries with
education in the developed world, was promoted by the US in order to spread
Western (capitalist) forms of social, cultural, and economic development.
During the Cold War, part of the
Consciously cultivate … foreign student
Importantly, at the time of the Washington Conference, participants
largely viewed education in ‘underdeveloped’ countries as a lesser form of
education. As John Vaizey comments, “in some countries, especially Central,
OECD and Human Capital (Part I)
While it was not explicitly thematized, the notion of human capital development permeated the Washington Conference. As Walter Heller, observes, there was, “a revival in interest” in the notion of human capital development at this juncture in the OECD’s history (OECD, 1965, sec I- p.30) While Heller does not provide a clear definition of human capital, he believes that it can help explain how, “in the United States less than half of the increase in output can be explained by increases in the stock of tangible capital and man-hours worked” (OECD, 1965, sec I- p.32), this increase can be explained by “higher levels of education for greater proportions of our population” (OECD, 1965, sec. I-p.33).
Baptiste (2001) suggests that, in the 1960s, human capital theory had a veiled presence due, in part, to the Keynesian view of education. Keynesianism, “stressed public investment” (p.187) in education but does not make it an explicit element of the economy. The idea that the learning of people was an economic asset (human capital) was present but, within Keynesian economic theory, was not overtly articulated.
During this time, however, a much more explicit form of human capital theory had begun to develop. Referring to Briggs (1987), Baptiste (2001) writes that the, “post- World War II era required massive doses of highly skilled workers. And this technological advancement, he believed, provided the ground for building a theory of human capital” (p.186). In the 1960s, human capital was couched in terms of allowing workers opportunities to improve their lot in life. Sensing that the term human capital might be misunderstood as a form of slavery Schultz (1961) suggested, “our values and believes inhibit us from looking upon human beings as capital goods, except in slavery, and this we abhor” (p.2). Instead it should be understood that, “by investing in themselves, people can enlarge the range of choice available to them” (p.2).
With the ability to ‘enlarge the range of choice available to them’ workers were creating chances to earn higher incomes, with the implication being higher incomes leading to a better life and thus benefiting society. Schultz asserted (without providing any substantial evidence) that people with better education have greater earning capabilities. The logic espoused in the 1960s was that higher education creates opportunities for higher incomes and that higher incomes lead to a better life and society. Thus, even though notions of human capital development surreptitiously informed OECD policies at the time, they were not promulgated strongly or directly. This was soon to change.
Business and Industry and the OECD
Business and industry has long played a role in developing OECD policy, a role Woodward (2004) traces it back to the OECD’s formative days: “The OECD has longstanding arrangements for consulting business groups and trades unions through the Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC) and the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC). These bodies, formally designated by the OECD Council in 1962, participate across the entire gamut of OECD activities and have annual liaisons with the OECD Council” (p.119). These two bodies have influenced OECD education policy through the consultation process employed by the OECD.
Decline of the Keynesian Influence
As was noted above, the formation of CERI
in 1968 signalled the beginning of a shift in the OECD away from Keynesian
policy. Gordon (2005) comments that the Keynesian system responded to the,
“disruptive potential of labour” (p.57), because of this, under the Keynsian
welfare state, “the organized working class won, among other things, the right
to collective bargaining, a commitment from the state for monetary policies
conducive to low levels of unemployment, and a significant increase in social
wage” (p.57). Just around the corner, though, lurked a significant
economic transformation that would restructure the world’s economy and destroy
the welfare state. Instead of being an state investment to support a strong
economy, education became a means for businesses to be more competitive by
focusing education on economic opportunities ahead of individual opportunities.
David Harvey (2005) suggests that after the WWII the economic elite were
willing to share the fruits of capitalism will labour. By the late 1960s and
1970s labour’s share of the production of capital was getting too great for the
economic elite especially as it was causing a falling rate of profit, slow
economic growth, and high inflation. As
Neoliberalism and Globalization- the OECD Shift from Keynesianism to Neoliberalism
In the early1970s, volatility in the market place and social unrest triggered capitalist governments to abandon Keynesian political economy. Governments throughout the Western world began to explore a range of new anti-Keynesian economic philosophies and strategies. Of these, neoliberalism emerged as the dominant economic paradigm.
Fourcade-Gourinchas and Babb (2002) observe that since the 1970s:
A set of economic principles often identified as “neoliberalism” [has] became part of the accepted framework for thinking about, and acting upon, the economy. One after another, national governments of both left and right implemented a wave of reforms—privatizations, dismantling of social welfare apparatuses, retreat of the state from economic regulation, tax cuts, opening of national boundaries—that profoundly transformed the relationship between their citizens and the economy (p.534-535).
Whereas under Keynesianism, the economic imperatives were subordinated to the broader social interest, under neoliberalism the economy was promoted as the main motor for driving societal change.
Hubbard (2004) indicates that, “as the dominant political ideology in late modern society, neoliberalism is implicated in the making of social and spatial orders at a variety of scales” (p.665). It has influenced social, economic, and political policy development from the level of supranational organizations, such as the IMF; to trading blocs, such as NAFTA; to sub-regional players, such as cities.
Associated with neoliberalism is the concept of globalization. Globalization is both the formation of a global economy and another forum through which the global economic elites are able to have greater access to capital accumulation.
It is the contention of this thesis that neoliberalism, particularly in association with globalization, has deeply affected both urban governance and education policy. To understand more clearly how this has transpired, this chapter investigates the rise and development of neoliberalism as a pervasive ideological force and explores the specific ways it has changed the ways cities are governed and education is managed.
The Rise and Development of Neoliberalism
Neoliberalism is the dominant ideological concept guiding economic and social principles in the world today. It is a multi-faceted notion that has ardent proponents and equally ardent opponents. Ong (2006) suggests that, for its proponents, neoliberalism is, “the inevitable endpoint in the evolution of the market economy” (p.11). Advocates believe it creates conditions in which capital can be generated more efficiently. This, they hold, is beneficial to all. Fourcade-Gourinchas and Babb (2002) add that neoliberals believe, “the policies they are associated with “work” better than statist ones” (p.535). Hackworth (2005) suggests that for neoliberals, “the market is seen as the most efficient way and normatively ideal way to allocate goods and solve social problems” (p.30). Expanding on this idea, George adds, “the whole point of neo-liberalism is that the market mechanism should be allowed to direct the fate of human beings. The economy should dictate its rules to society, not the other way around” (1999).
Many theorists from a range of
disciplines contest the claims of neoliberalism’s proponents. According to
Fourcade-Gourinchas and Babb (2002), neoliberalism is widely seen as a system
that advantages those who profit from the, “imposition, by a set of
international agencies and financial institutions, of disciplinary policies
(e.g., conditional loans, retaliation measures) that ultimately serve the
interest of the world hegemonic power, the
Neoliberal ideology, with its ongoing emphasis on deregulation and privatization, has found its material expression in an all-out attack on democratic values and on the very notion of the public sphere. Within the discourse of neoliberalism, the notion of the public good is devalued and, where possible, eliminated as part of a wider rationale for a handful of private interests to control as much social life as possible to in order to maximize its personal profit (p.86).
Perhaps one of the most virulent and
perceptive critics of neoliberalism is geographer and social philosopher, David
Harvey. According to him, all rhetoric aside, neoliberalism is a, “political
project to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore
the power of economic elite” (2005, p.19). Marx once observed that, “capital….
is social power” (1848/2004, p.39). In a society structured for the creation
and accumulation of capital, those who control the forces of production have
the greatest access to power. According to
The central focus of neoliberalism as a
guiding economic-social principle lies in the capitalist’s desire to create
capital and the associated need to import and export excess capital.
is about the development of capital as well as markets, which takes us into the realm of the commodity and commodification – with value, surplus value and profit in tow. Neoliberalism nurtures the development of capital and seeks to crash down any barriers to capital accumulation (2005).
Hill puts it more succinctly by stating that within the neoliberal world, “‘profit is God’, not the public good” (2003).
The set of economic and social strategies
that have become known as neoliberalism are implemented in different ways from
country to country in what Harvey (2005) terms, “uneven geographical
development” (p.87). Each government that embraces neoliberalism has its own
interpretation of it. According to
With this more nefarious account of neoliberalism in hand, let us now explore the history of its development and implementation. This, in turn, will provide a context to better understand the eventual influence of neoliberalism on the OECD.
the end of WWII, the economic elite under the
The free market
economic philosophy of political economist Friedrich Hayek were particularly
auspicious at this historical juncture. Hayek’s economic philosophy was not
new. Like Keynes, Hayek developed many of his foundational insights before and
during WWII (he resided in
The concentration of all decisions in the hands of authority itself produces a state of affairs in which what structure society still possesses is imposed upon it by government and in which the individuals have become interchangeable units with no other definite or durable relations to one another that those determined by the all-comprehensive organization (p.27).
In a collective state and economy, Hayek surmised, individual ability is lost or weakened. Unused abilities, to Hayek, are not only wasted assets but they keep individuals captive of the state. He states that, “a state monopoly is always a state protected monopoly – protected against both potential competition and effective criticism” (p. 197).
Along with being wary of monopolistic government, Hayek was also wary of the monopolistic power of unions. Concerned for those who were without a strong union or were unemployed, Hayek (1944) writes:
The recent growth of monopolies is largely the result of a deliberate collaboration of organized capital and organized labor where the privileged groups of labor share in the monopoly profits at the expense of the community and particularly at the expense of the poorest, those employed in the less-well-organized industries and the unemployed (p.199).
In opposition to Keynes, Hayek advocates restricting strong collectivist governments and reducing their interference in the economy. The most efficient method of dealing with monopolies, according to Hayek, is to create conditions of open and fair competition in the marketplace. He suggests that, “private monopoly is scarcely ever complete and even more rarely of long duration or able to disregard potential competition” (p. 197). In order to help the individuals in society, Hayek (1944) agreed with the idea that, “the guiding principle in any attempt to create a world of free men must be this: a policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy” (p.240). He (1948) suggests that:
For a competitive society the question, [is] not how we an “find” the people who know best, but rather what institutional arrangements are necessary in order that the unknown persons who have the knowledge specially suited to a particular task are most likely to be attracted to that task (p.7).
To promote his ideas, Hayek, along with Milton Friedman and other rightwing colleagues, formed the Mount Pelerin Society in 1948. Tickell and Peck (2003) claim that the Mount Pelerin Society:
Was dedicated to opposing the ‘collectivists ideologies’ of nationalism, socialism and fascism. At a time when the dominant political-economic discourse was resolutely statist and interventionist, this advanced guard for neoliberalism was laying the intellectual foundations for an alternative ideological project (p.170).
While the idea’s of Hayek and others provided important intellectual support for the development of neoliberalism, only certain aspects of Hayek’s broader political philosophy were picked up by neoliberal pundits. Like Keynes, the primary concern underlying Hayek’s political economy was not the express advancement of the ruling class. Hayek’s prime concern was to avoid the social conditions that had produced fascist and communist totalitarianism. His attack on Keynesian economics was important, however, in that it provided neoliberals with powerful intellectual support for their own ideological formulations. Through the selective adoptions of Hayek’s philosophy, neoliberals were able to create new routes for capital accumulation.
By the early 1970s, Hayek’s ideas had
begun to be incorporated into the rapidly consolidating discourse of
neoliberalism that was growing amongst a cadre of economists, conservative
intellectuals, politicians, government officials, business advocates, policy
makers, and right wing media pundits primarily in the
To accomplish their aims, neoliberal politicians and policy makers pressed for a new role for capitalist government in the marketplace. Hackworth (2005) points out a generally accepted opinion that in the neoliberal system, “the state should be as “non-interventionist” as possible” (p.30). Hill counters this claim by stating that, “neo-liberalism demands a strong state to promote its interest” (What neo-liberalism demands, para. 2). Neoliberal advocates were able to compel Western capitalist governments to move away from the ideals of the welfare state to embrace a role that would see them generate conditions for a profitable marketplace thus allowing global economic elites greater access to capital.
The government structures that finally
began to emerge reveal how committed advocates of neoliberalism were selective
in their utilization of Hayek’s theories. Hayek believed that governments
should have limited economic and social influence. He also contended that,
“fascism and communism are merely variants of the same totalitarianism which
central control of all economic activity tends to produce” (1965, p.viii).
Olssen and Peters (2005) maintain that Hayek
contended, “that all forms of state action beyond the minimal functions
of the defence of the realm and the protection of basic rights to life and property are dangerous
threats to liberty” (p.317). This contention of Hayek was shared by fellow
economist Milton Friedman (1962), who argued that, “what
we urgently need, for both economic stability and growth, is a reduction of
government involvement not an increase” (Friedman, 1962, p.38). Yet, for many promoting neoliberal policies, the desire
to increase the rate of return in the marketplace, meant developing an
intensely interventionist state. The destruction of the welfare state did not
reduce the role of government; rather, it shifted the benefactors of government
intervention from the working class to the elites. The power and influence of
business increased under the overarching credo of ‘what is good for the
economy is good for society’. And, as a result, social inequalities grew
significantly to the point that George despairingly is able to assert that, “
Reviewing the work of Dumenil and Levy,
Hursh and Martina (2003) observe how in
the early 1970s problems in the marketplace were rampant: “Profits fell primarily because cost
pressures from labor could not be passed on to the consumers in the
increasingly competitive and open world economy” (The rise of neoliberalism and
education… para. 1). The British coal miner’s strikes of the early 1970s
illustrate this contention. In this strike, powerful coal miner’s unions won
their battle for higher wages with the Conservative Government of the day but
with serious monetary consequences for
The Labour government could not afford the terms of the settlement and the fiscal difficulties mounted. A balance of payments crisis paralleled huge budget deficits. Turning for credits to the IMF in 1975-76, it faced the choice of either submitting to IMF-mandated budgetary restraint and austerity or declaring bankruptcy and sacrificing the integrity of sterling…. It chose the former path, and draconian budgetary cutbacks in welfare state expenditures were implemented (p.58).
Like a dam breaking, this signalled the end to the Keynesian welfare state in Britain as it enabled the new Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher (a name synonymous with the very ethos of neoliberalism) to abandon its commitments to social programs. Shorn of the requirements to support expensive programs, the Thatcher’s neoliberal government could now concentrate on creating conditions favourable to a strong national economy. This reorientation of government to economic imperatives eventually washed through the whole of Western society.
Emboldened by strong initial support of
neoliberalism, Thatcher moved quickly to crush British unions, in particular
the miners union, in the 1980s. Soon after, with neoliberal sentiments rapidly
rising, President Ronald Reagan broke the power of many American trade unions
in the 1980s. At the same time, supra-national institutions such as the IMF,
World Bank, and the OECD were increasingly freed to institute economic and
social reforms impossible under conditions of the welfare state. These reforms
shifted from the focus of governments around the world from supporting social
welfare to supporting economic and marketplace welfare. This all was good news for global elites who suddenly found themselves awash in new
opportunities for capital creation. As
In the early 1970s neoliberal policy makers initiated a two pronged transformation of capitalist society. The first part was to weaken the Keynesian welfare state by reducing social and welfare programs through tax reforms and cutbacks to public spending. The second part was to open up new opportunities for capital creation for business and industry. Taking their cue from Hayek's (1944) belief that sole control of a resource creates unfair monopolies, economic reformers were able to break the power of trade unions by reducing their ability to protect the rights of workers, and to pull government out of state managed monopolies of public services and public utilities.
Neoliberal policy makers, looking for new sources of capital creation, recognized that taking control over government managed public services and utilities could be profitable for business and industry. This viewed was enhanced by the fact that state taxpayers had already footed the bill to develop much of the infrastructure. Using neoliberal doctrines, economic reformers convinced capitalist governments to relinquish their monopolies on public service and public utilities, ceding them to the marketplace. As government pulled out, business and industry rushed in, effectively privatizing what had been considered common services and property.
Henri Giroux (2005) observes how, “public services such as health care, child care, public assistance, education, and transportation are now subject to the rules of the market” (p.86). 'Rules of the marketplace' have effectively placed control of many public services in the hands of capitalists whose monetary investment trumps civil concerns. Hill (2003) points out how, “privatised utilities, such as the railway system, health and education services, free and clean water supply are run to maximise the shareholders´ profits, rather than to provide a public service” (The Current neo-liberal project of global capitalism, para.3). Routledge (2004) argues that, “neoliberal policies have resulted in the privatization, deregulation, appropriation, and exploitation of communities' common resources of livelihood (land, water, forests, seeds, culture, and people's identity)” this has, “resulted in the pauperization, displacement and marginalisation of indigenous peoples, women, peasant farmers, and industrial workers, and a reduction in labor, social, and environmental conditions on a global basis” (p.1).
The concessions government made to the marketplace, which Altvater (2004) refers to as, “privatizing access to public goods” (p. 64), enabled business and industry to find new sources of wealth creation while making subservient those who as a result had to pay to access and use to newly privatized goods and services. It has created divisions in society through competition for resources. These divisions have also weakened opposition to business and industry. Creating a unified voice is more difficult in contexts where workers are pitted in competition with each other. The global elite have been able to further ensconce their societal position all the while creating more hardships for the economically disadvantaged. The ideals of neoliberalism have depoliticized the public sphere while allowing business and industry to control access to public goods and services.
The neoliberal attack on the welfare state, trade unions, and public resources have repositioned the role of the individual in society and in the state. Neoliberal cutbacks to social welfare programs left individuals to take care of their own welfare. Through attacking the welfare state, advocates of neoliberalism were able to take advantage of economic insecurity of the 1970s and 1980s, to inaugurate a dramatically different social contract between citizens and the state. The economic downturn of the 70s and 80s gave them grounds to assert that the large amounts of money expended on social welfare programs during the 1950s and 1960s had not helped create a better society; indeed, it was the very cause of society's ills.
In a 1987 interview, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher bluntly articulated the basis for this new social contract. “You know,” she asserted, “there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first” (Guardian Unlimited). In this one statement Thatcher outlines the position of her government of placing the onus on individuals to take care of themselves. This position of Thatcher was earlier identified by her friend and economic tutor, Milton Friedman (1962) who contended that, “individuals should bear the costs of investment in themselves and receive the rewards” (Friedman, 1962, p.105).
Hursh (2005) describes the result of neoliberal policy so forcefully argued by Thatcher, and so enthusiastically adopted by many other governments:
Under neo-liberal post-welfare policies, inequality is a result of individuals' inadequacy, which is to be remedied not by increasing dependency through social welfare, but by requiring that individuals strive to become productive members of the workforce. Neo-liberal governments take less responsibility for the welfare of the individual; the individual becomes responsible for him or herself (p.4-5).
George considers the Thatcher approach as
a form of, “social Darwinism”, as it sets up conditions of, ”competition
between nations, regions, firms and of course individuals” (1999). Social
Darwinism effectively frees the state from social welfare responsibilities by
setting conditions in which inequality is acceptable. George contends that
within this ideal, “nothing in particular is owed to the weak, the poorly
educated, what happens to them is their own fault, never the fault of society”
(1999). Giroux (2005) concurs and suggests that, “a central tenet of
neoliberalism” is to “liberate the individual from the social” (p.181).
Neoliberal ideology took root in the
1970s and 1980s in two of the worlds leading capitalist countries, the
In the international context, the
principal organizations that have helped spread neoliberal policies have been
the IMF, World Bank and the OECD, three organizations heavily influenced by the
The report reflects the OECD's increasing focus on economic issues. Keohane (1978) observed that, to write the report, the OECD, “appointed eight eminent economists, most of whom have held high governmental positions” (p.108). This privileging of the economist’s point of view led Keohane to consider that, “the report does not develop an interdisciplinary analysis; indeed, the authors do even manifest awareness that one is needed” (p.115). Drawing on Keohane (1978), Porter and Webb (2007) pick up on this lack of interdisciplinary analysis:
Even though the central causes of inflation were seen to be political, social and psychological rather than economic, the report drew exclusively on economists' and economic elites' implicit notions about these phenomena rather than on scholarly research from other disciplines like political science, sociology and social psychology (p.7).
Lack of interdisciplinary analysis should have weakened the credibility of the report. But that did not occur. Instead, the authors of the report authors could make unfounded and unsupported claims without serious critical contestation. They claimed, for example, that higher incomes for the rich help the poor because, “increased transfers to the poor are financed out of the higher incomes resulting from economic growth” (p.134). In a context dominated by neoliberal economists, such ludicrous arguments largely went unchallenged.
The McCracken Report essentially disputes the soundness of demand-side Keynesian economic policy, particularly its support of high levels of public expenditure. The economists note that, “it is increasingly suggested that many of the problems encountered in recent years with regard to both growth and inflation can be traced back to the rapid rise in public expenditure” (p.167-168). Language such as this picks up the theme of neoliberal policy makers mantra of laying the blame of society's problems on the welfare state. By linking high levels of inflation to policies of the welfare state then the obvious solution would be to eliminate or, at least, curtail public expenditure.
The McCracken Report offered a solution to out-of-control public expenditure – a user pay system:
The efficiency of the programme could be improved by resorting somewhat more to user charges…. Reform along these lines would not only have the advantage of helping in a practical way to control public expenditure; more fundamentally it would help establish more clearly the connection between the demand for particular public services and the price which the community is prepared to pay for them (p.213).
While not taking on the full neoliberal view, this suggestion it largely consistent with neoliberalism by putting the onus of the individual to contribute (pay) to society.
The report was written at a time when the OECD was not a full-blown neoliberal organization but reading the report provides evidence of how the notion was beginning to evolve. Illustrative of this is the comment that:
Continued economic growth in the industrialized countries, providing of a reasonable rate of expansion in the available supply of goods and services, remains an essential objective. It is needed to satisfy people's aspirations for a rising standard of living and to provide adequate employment opportunities (p.14).
This is an example of economists deciding what 'people's aspirations' are by asserting that society’s well-being rests upon economic imperatives. They were also repositioning the role of the state so that it might better respond to economic issues in order to satisfy the happiness of individuals. Keohane (1978) notes that, “this conception of the state is quite different either laissez-faire theory or the ‘pluralists Keynesianism’ of the 1950's and 1960's” (p.122). The state was being positioned to become more interventionist and less laissez-faire. It is the contention of Porter and Webb (2007) that, “the McCracken Report was seen as an authoritative analysis of the problem of stagflation, and helped shift shared understandings of appropriate policy norms in the OECD in favour of more market-friendly policies” (p,7). They continue with, “a key example can be seen in the OECD's mid-1970s shift away from Keynesian demand management to a neo-classical emphasis on monetary stabilization and supply-side reforms that reduce government intervention in the economy” (p.7). Formerly in the Keynesian paradigm the emphasis was on the demand-side that saw the government increase investment in the economy.
The McCracken report foreshadows the evolution of the modern notion of globalization. The report’s economist authors write that, “we believe that sustained growth in the OECD countries remains a necessary condition – though by no means a sufficient condition for fast economic progress in developing countries” (p.137). They are making two important contentions. First they contend that developing countries depend upon developed countries for growth as there will be some sort of ‘trickle down’ effect which will allow developing countries to rise up to the economic standards of developed countries. Second, they assume that developing countries have the same aspirations as Western countries.
Globalization and Neoliberalism
Though the term globalization has only recently entered our vocabulary, it is not a new process. Capitalism has operated on a global scale for several centuries, primarily through colonization and imperialism. Of particular concern in the current discussion however, is to clarify the particular form that globalization has assumed under the influence of neoliberalism. Olssen and Peters (2005) suggests that, “neoliberalism is a particular element of globalization in that it constitutes the form through which domestic and global economic relations are structured” (p.313). As David Harvey observes, at the very heart of neoliberal influenced globalization is capitalism’s incessant drive towards the reduction, if not elimination, of time and space barriers, allowing capital to stream unimpeded around the world.
The neoliberal capitalist’s drive towards globalization has changed the dynamic of the world’s marketplaces by increasing the power of capitalists to demand concessions from sovereign states. In the marketplace, states are located in fixed territories which they can transform only through the acquisition (through conquest, perhaps) of surrounding territory. Capitalists and their businesses, on the other hand, are free to roam and look for profitable investments irrespective of location. In a global context, the capacity of capital to shift and flow between and amongst territories has resulted in increased competition not just between state and capitalist but, more tellingly, between states. Globalized capitalism favors businesses and industries because they can seek out and bargain with states interested in developing new economic potentials. In a context of competition, capitalists can drive a hard bargain with states who may be unable to be flexible of choosey. The end result is greater capital accumulation for capitalists. Using France as an example, Gordon and Meunier (2001) observe the difficulties globalization poses, as it, “directly challenges the country’s statist, dirigiste political and economic tradition because of the degree to which it requires abandoning state control over the economy- and thereby society” (p.8).
Outwardly neoliberal globalization appears paradoxical because it strives to eliminate trade barriers between nations at the same time as it allows for greater centralization of capital within a few nations. Schoenberger (2003) explains how, under the influence of neoliberal policy, “the state withdrew from a range of activities that had, until then, been considered ‘naturally part of its ambit either as direct producer or as close regulator of private monopolies, and turned them over to private enterprise and international competition” (p.84-85). These activities included a wide range of “public infrastructure,” or common goods, turned over to private hands to be operated at a profit (and, ostensibly, more efficiently). This sets up a situation where it is possible for a company based in one nation or in a distant region within a country to have control of another country’s or regions essential infrastructure or resources. Historically problematic examples of this include water, communications, electrical power, and public transportation. An example provided by Gordon and Meunier, is the ironic case of how the French company Vivendi, “once a local French water company” (p.5), purchased a major Hollywood studio to promote American culture (including the culinary culture of McDonalds), at the same time as France’s culinary heritage is facing sad decline.
The effect that neoliberalism and globalization has had on common recourses is best explained by Routledge (2004):
Neoliberalism has had profound impacts
upon the commons. It entails the centralisation of control of the world economy
in the hands of transnational corporations and their allies in key government
agencies (particularly those of the
Though not mentioned by Routledge, the OECD is an international institution with considerable influence over the conditions that enable an economic elite to control and benefit inordinately from the world economy. Through its peer review and surveillance procedures, the OECD effectively heightens the competitive conflict between nations. In order to meet the OECD’s benchmarks of competitiveness that signals their economic attractiveness to capitalist businesses and industries, nations from around the world are compelled to adopt its economic doctrines and policies, moulded explicitly by the imperatives of neoliberal philosophy.
Amy Chua (2004) expresses an oft heard neoliberal view that nations from around the world compete with each other on a level playing field. Quoting Thomas Friedman’s view of globalization, she writes that neoliberal globalization, “tends to turn all friends and enemies into ‘competitors’” (p.9). As McClaren and Farahmanpour (2001) explain, however, this is far from the truth. In fact, the playing field is not level at all. Corporations from the developed world are highly advantaged in the current global economy with the result that, “transnational corporations drain the local capital from poor countries rather than bring in new capital” (p.139). Raw materials, finances, and human capital, in this way, are plundered from poorer countries and regions leading David Harvey to contend that the current round of capitalist expansion is taking place primarily through accumulation through dispossession. Neoliberalism and globalization have weakened the sovereignty of nation states, undermined the position of workers, destroyed the power of unions, threatened sensitive ecosystems throughout the world, and have altered urban governance.
Harvey (1989), Van Vliet (2002), McDonald and Smith (2004), and Greene (2005) suggest that neoliberalism and globalization have had a profound effect on the urban governance. Mahon (2007) defines governance as being more than just the government, it is, “the development, at multiple and intersecting scales, of a variety of mechanisms of regulation operating in the absence of an overarching political authority” (para.3) Expanding the term governance to urban governance, and the shift that has occurred, the United Nations Population Fund (2007) suggests:
The term “urban governance”, formerly equated with urban management, has come to be understood as both government responsibility and civic engagement. Generally, it refers to the processes by which local urban governments—in partnership with other public agencies and different segments of civil society—respond effectively to local needs in a participatory, transparent and accountable manner (p.67).
Harvey (1989) explains that, “urban ‘governance’
means much more than urban ‘government’… the real power to reorganise urban
life so often lies…. within a broader coalition of forces within which urban
government and administration have only a facilitative and coordinating role to
play” (p.6). Within
Van Vliet (2002) identifies an important
shift in urban governance, “under the dominant logic of current globalization,
there has been a shift in urban government policies from managerialism to
entrepreneurialism” (p.37). This shift was identified by David Harvey in 1989,
when he observed that, “the shift from urban managerialism to some kind of
entrepreneurialism remains a persistent and recurrent theme in the period since
the early 1970s” (p.5).
McDonald and Smith (2004) recognize this shift
Ranging from the outright sale of public assets to the corporatisation of a public utility to the deepening commodification of essential services through full cost recovery. The common thread here is one of commercialisation and the embracement of market principles, with the objective of balancing the financial bottom line and ‘running the city more like a business’” (p.1462).
Due to modification of urban government, essential services in Cape Town that are now placed into the capriciousness of the marketplace, reducing citizens security to access basic services necessary for day-to-day living.
A disturbing derivative of the new urban governance is the culture of competition it creates. The idea of competition between cities is not new, but with changes in technology and transportation the competition has heightened. David Harvey (1989) observes that:
The diminution in transport costs and the consequent reduction in spatial barriers to movement of goods, people, money and information, the significance of the qualities of place has been enhanced and the vigour of inter-urban competition for capitalist development… has strengthened considerably (p.10).
With more actors in competition with one another, greater emphasis is put on regional and sub-regional participants. This is altering the role of urban governance to be business orientated causing a restructuring of the urban landscape.
In a 1989,
Since capital tends to be more rather than less mobile these days, it follows that local subsidies to capital will likely increase while local provision for the underprivileged will diminish, producing greater polarization in the social distribution of real income (p.12).
The case of
Greene (2005) explains that, “the result of these regulatory and policy shifts was to exacerbate the already existing problems of poverty, homelessness, and inequality and thereby fuel class tension” because, as he adds, “rather than invest in social housing or make allowances for poor people, neoliberal restructuring in Toronto meant “cracking down” on marginal populations” (p.10). Hubbard (2004) identifies this aspect of neoliberalism as, “creating new forms of urban inequality, striating society and space along visible fault lines” (p.665).
Urban governments are moving away from their welfare responsibilities to creating conditions in which business and industry can thrive in the urban environment. To thrive in a neoliberal world cities have to compete with other cities through programs such as tax incentives and a well trained workforce, which enhance their position in the global marketplace. It is a competition being played out in the global arena, an arena where cities must market their competitive advantage. Smith (2002) uses the term “geobribes” (p.427) (the competitive advantage that a city has in the marketplace), to describe how cities lure capital or to get corporations to stay in, or move to, a city.
Neoliberalism and globalization have
clearly altered the focus of urban governance. Hubbard (2004) suggests that the
private sector has surpassed the state in operating cities, “what is
distinctive about neoliberalism is that here the state takes a back seat,
allowing the private sector to orchestrate urban development unfettered by
governmental constraints…. Accompanied by a discourse that suggests excessive
regulation stifles urban creativity” (p.668).
When the high-ranking policy makers in an urban area are entrenched within the neoliberal discourse they create, what McDonald and Smith (2004) describe, as a, “self-reinforcing loop of neo-liberal discourse and practice at different levels of government” (p.1461). Neoliberalism becomes part of the fabric of urban governance, which is then woven into the social fabric. An important piece of the social fabric is education, now part of the ‘self-reinforcing loop’ of neo-liberalism.
Neoliberalism and globalization have had profound impacts on societal values and institutions, including, the values and institutions shaping education policy and discourse. In the 1980s, the effect of neoliberalism was felt as government reduced funding to education institutions and programs. At this time, however, the effects of neoliberal ideology was primarily fiscal; the more philosophical views of neoliberalism did not significantly touch basic educational values or policies. The ideology was based on policies of neoliberal advocates such as Milton Friedman (1962), who had this to say about schooling:
If the financial burden imposed by such
a schooling requirement could readily be met by the great bulk of the families
in a community, it might be still both feasible and desirable to require the
parents to meet the cost directly…. This would eliminate the governmental
machinery now required to collect tax funds from all residents during the whole
of their lives and then pay it back mostly to the same people during the period
their children are in school. It would reduce the likelihood that government
would also administer schools (p.87).
In the early 1990s, according to Peck and Tickle (2002) a second wave of neoliberalism occurred. Neoliberalism moved away from what Peck and Tickle dubbed “roll-back neoliberalism”, to a system they dubbed “roll-out neoliberalism”. The change was akin to the Keynesian policy in which government invested large sums of money in social welfare programs but, contrary to the Keynesian system, it was not invested in a broad based manner. Instead it was targeted on programs that would aid, or seen to have measurable impact, on economic growth. Leading the way for roll-out neoliberalism was the British government under Prime Minister Tony Blair, who suggested in the introduction to 1998 publication The learning age: a renaissance for a new Britain, that, “education is the best economic policy we have” (British Department for Education and Employment (DfEE)1998, para.1). Within the confines of roll-out neoliberalism educational policy was constructed in a manner that served the economy.
On the global stage, neoliberal advocates offered education as a tool for gaining competitive advantage between regions, countries, corporations, and cities. Noel Dempsey (2004), Ireland's minister for education and science, summed up the situation as, “the never-ending search for competitive advantage in the global knowledge economy has led all public policymakers to focus on education as a key factor in strengthening competitiveness, employment and social cohesion” (OECD Observer, para.1). This remark addresses the growing demand for highly skilled workers to keep countries and regions that had now become part of the global economy from becoming marginalized. How it addresses the issue of social cohesion is not explained, however.
After years of transformation,
neoliberalism and globalization have produced long reaching changes to
educational systems around the world. Countries, such as
To meet the challenges of the rapidly
changing socio-economic environments wrought by the rise of the knowledge-based
economy, the Chinese government has recognized that depending upon the state
alone would never satisfy the strong demands for Higher Education in the
Mainland. Under these circumstances proliferation of education providers and
diversification of education finance have become increasingly popular in the
post-Mao era (
This is just one example of how education has become tied to neoliberal economic policy. Like never before, economists have power to shape educational discourse in terms of expressly economic goals and imperatives. This is supported by Spring (1998b) who asserts that, “in the 1980s and 1990s, business and their legion of economists and accountants completed their takeover of educational rhetoric. Now the common call is to educate students “to meet the needs of the global economy”” (p.151). Industry has gained hegemony in national and international education discourses causing national and sub-national actors to compete for their share of the global capital through education.
Additionally, the neoliberal focus on the individual in society also encourages competition for educational resources. Who ever works hardest to afford education will be the rightful recipient of capitalism’s fiscal benefits. Equally, whichever company or city can afford to train it staff or citizenry gains an advantage over its competitors. Neoliberalism and its push for individualism and competition has created conditions for financial meritocracy for education.
Hill (2003) sees the OECD as deeply implicated in the process of transforming our view of education. He suggests that leading neoliberal states rely on influential international organizations like the OECD to push forth their agenda. Hill believes that, “the business agenda for schools is increasingly transnational, generated and disseminated through key organizations of the international and political elite such as the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development” (The business agenda for schools, para.2). Initially the role that the OECD had in the education discourse was influenced by Keynesian philosophy but, as evidenced by the McCracken Report that changed in the 1970s. Today the OECD is a key international player in education discourse and the evolving notion of lifelong learning. The next chapter details how the OECD has attained its stature as a leading policy maker for lifelong learning in the 1990s.
The OECD, UNESCO, and Lifelong Learning, 1972 – 1998
It is my contention that the notion of the learning city emerged and developed as part of a broader turn to neoliberalism during the 1980s and 1990s. Specifically, it was under the prevailing influence of the OECD on educational policy that the concept first emerged. In order to trace the emergence of the concept, then, it is helpful to examine in more detail the history of the OECD’s gradual accumulation of power to influence educational policy more generally, and especially policies related to lifelong learning, during this period. Of course, during the same time, the OECD was not the only player on the scene influencing lifelong learning policy. Other important organizations like UNESCO and the EU also had an important voice. In the increasingly neoliberal climate of the late 1980s and 1990s, however, the OECD rapidly gained ascendancy as a primary influence on educational policy. It became a powerful player in transforming the purpose of education and particularly lifelong learning to serve the narrow neoliberal agenda of improving and screening human capital to boost the competitiveness and profitability of global capitalism. The learning city, this chapter concludes was forged in the same furnace that tied education to economic performance.
Scheutz, and Istance (2002) observe that, “we operate now in a world where
‘lifelong learning’ is almost cliché, but it was indeed new 30 years ago”
(p.2). Although the term may have been coined in the 1970s, the origins of a specific
concept of lifelong learning can be identified as being planted as early as the
1960s. In his 1961 address to the delegates of the
As personal incomes rise and working hours decrease, there will be more leisure time….much of this leisure time will be used for learning as a means of individual self-fulfillment and pleasure. In short, education, to borrow a well known British phrase, is fast becoming a cradle-to-grave proposition” (OECD, 1965, p.27).
Coombs identified, to his audience, a need for them to adjust their understanding of education. He sees education as meeting the needs of a person throughout ones’ lifetime, not limiting it to the young people or to formal education institutions. Coombs had planted the seeds for the first generation of ‘cradle-to-grave’ learning.
The First Generation of Lifelong Learning
Kallen (2002) identifies that the idea of lifelong learning emerged in this 1970s because, “the need for ‘second chance’ education and training came to be generally recognized and soon a wide variety of such programs appeared” (p.33). Rubenson (2006) calls this period, “the first generation of lifelong learning” (p.3). “It appeared at a time”, Rubenson (2004) adds, “when the post World War II optimism about development, prosperity and the ability of schooling to promote social equality was being challenged. As a result there were calls for new paradigms to inform educational policy” (the changing discourse on lifelong learning, para.1). Rubenson is referring to the demise of the Keynesian welfare state, which puts the rise of a specific concept of lifelong learning concurrent with the rise of neoliberalism.
Since the end of the post WWII era, the two principle international organizations advocating lifelong learning have been the OECD and UNESCO. Rubenson (2006) suggests that, “it is primarily the policy-oriented work by these two supranational organizations that has come to shape the understanding of lifelong learning” (p.2). In the 1970s and the 1990s both organizations presented influential documents detailing their position on lifelong learning. Of the two organizations, it was UNESCO which had greater hegemony in terms of policy influence in the 1970s. By the 1990s the tide had shifted and the OECD gained hegemony in international education policy. The OECD accomplished this by clearly separating itself from UNESCO policy through its adoption of a neoliberal strategy in its lifelong learning policy.
Also playing a role in the lifelong learning discourse was the EU. Reflective of their role of being the predominant bloc within the OECD, the EU has tended to stay within the parameters set out by the OECD. According to Rubenson (2006), “the EU seems to have fully embraced the OECD paradigm of lifelong learning”. The role staked out by the EU, Rubenson points out, is to encourage, “EU countries to implement the idea into national policies” (p.2).
Rubenson (2000) has established that for the first generation of lifelong learning, “most of the literature… was done under the auspices of UNESCO,” which “stressed that the evolution of lifelong learning involved the horizontal integration of education and life” (the changing discourse on lifelong learning, para.1). Mundy (1999) points out that at this time, 1960s and early 1970s, UNESCO was positioned as, “the central mediator between developing country demands for educational funding and the resources for development now available from Western governments through the United Nations, bilateral aid programs, and the World Bank” (p.34).
Responding to its position in global politics and its education mandate, in 1972 UNESCO published Learning to be: the World of Education Today and Tomorrow, also known as the Faure Commission Report. According to Norman Longworth, a contributor to the learning city discourse, this document, “was considered by many to be one of the most important educational reform documents of the second half of the 20th century” (2003, p.7). The Faure Commission Report recognized that lifelong learning was an integral part of an individual’s and society’s development. Most significantly it put into common usage the idea of the learning society
Field (2000) believes that, “its essential humanistic concern was with achieving the ‘fulfillment of man’” (p.5). According to Schuetze (2006) the, “report formulated the philosophical-political concept of a humanistic, democratic and emancipatory system of learning opportunities for everybody, independent of class, race or financial means, and independent of the age of the learner” (p.290). This was to be achieved through the “four basic assumptions” which underpin the report:
The first … is that of the existence of an international community which, amidst the variety of nations and cultures, of political options and degrees of development, is reflected in common …aspirations, problems and trends, and in its movement towards one and the same destiny.
The second is belief in democracy, conceived of as implying each man's right to realize his own potential and to share in the building of his own future. The keystone of democracy, so conceived, is education—not only education that is accessible to all, but education whose aims and methods have been thought out afresh.
The third assumption is that the aim of development is the complete fulfillment of man, in all the richness of his personality, the complexity of his forms of expression and his various commitments—as individual, member of a family and of a community, citizen and producer, inventor of techniques and creative dreamer.
Our last assumption is that only an over-all, lifelong education can produce the kind of complete man the need for whom is increasing with the continually more stringent constraints tearing the individual asunder. We should no longer assiduously acquire knowledge once and for all, but learn how to build up a continually evolving body of knowledge all through life—'learn to be'” (Faure, 1972, p.v-vi).
The report points to the need to extend a recognition of learning beyond the formal school years. Schuetze (2006) adds, “that education and organised learning should no longer be limited to a person’s youth, nor should education be the exclusive domain of educational institutions” (p.290). Learning was presented as being a lifelong and life-wide activity; an activity that reaches into the formal, informal, and non-formal understanding of education.
The report confronts the issue of education having a limited scope as it is not part of a lifelong system of leaning. It pushes for the adoption of a learning society:
If learning involves all of one's Life, in the sense of both time-span and diversity, and all of society, including its social and economic as well as its educational resources, then we must go even further than the necessary overhaul of 'educational systems' until we reach the stage of a learning society (Faure, 1972, p.xxxii).
For Boshier (2004) the key to the Faure Commission Report was this recognition and push for a learning society. He believes that the learning society is an, “integrated and democratized system of education” (p.4). A learning society would allow access to education for adult and young people, in formal and informal settings, throughout life creating greater opportunities for personal and societal growth.
Mundy (1999) suggests:
Beginning with the assertion that education has ‘reached a dead end,’ this document provides a unique window onto the way in which educational challenges presented by a new economic and technological era in the North were being linked to the increasingly inability of the world’s governments to finance rapidly growing public demand for education (p.37).
This relates to her comments about UNESCO position of seeking funding for education for developing countries. In the global context the Keynesian welfare system’s redistribution of wealth associated was being eroded as third world nations were not receiving there share of economic development money.
The Faure Commission Report’s authors contend that, “any educational policy reflects a country's political options, its traditions and values and its conception of its future. Clearly, in the first place, it is a function pertaining to each State's national sovereignty” (p.170). This can be interpreted with Spring’s (1998a) evaluation of the report, where he asserts that the, “learning society and lifelong learning…. are linked to political power” (p.205). This political power exists within a state and among states. Spring contends that the, “four assumptions are cast against a background of a Eurocentric interpretation of educational history. This historical interpretation fuses economic with political development” (p.206).
The report’s authors viewed their time as one of revolution, “the scientific and technological revolution” and the “revolution in mass-media and cybernetics” (p.xxiii). It was also a time when revolutionary and dissenting thoughts on education were being discussed. The Faure Commission Report counters a revolutionary idea of education by suggesting that if they were put into operation they would be “reactionary” (p,xxxii) rather than revolutionary and would not lead to desirable outcomes.
Although influential, the Faure Commission Report had little real impact. This stems from the fact that in the 1970’s the 1980’s the world was a politically divided. Field (2001) contends that during this period, “policy innovations might be taken seriously by the contenders if they offered something of an advantage over their rivalries, but lifelong learning was just not a big enough stake in this struggle to make much of an impact” (p.8). Lifelong learning did not have a strong enough champion to push it forward, nor were the champions of lifelong learning in a strong enough position to make it an important element of social and educational policy.
In the year following the Faure Commission Report the OECD/CERI published Recurrent Education: a Strategy for Lifelong Learning, sometimes referred to as the Clarifying Report. “Recurrent education,” as defined by the OECD (1973), “is a comprehensive strategy for all post-compulsory or post-basic education, the essential characteristic of which is the distribution of education over the total life-span of the individual in a recurring way” (emphasis in original, p.24). Papadopoulos (1994) believes that The Clarifying Report, “represents the nearest OECD ever came to advocating an explicit strategy of its own for the long-term development of educational systems in advanced, industrialized societies” (p.112).
The Clarifying Report deals with the, “ever-lengthening period of continuing education for youth” (OECD, 1973, p.5). It calls for a restructuring the education system by reforming the front end loading of the education. The crux of the report’s argument is that adults should be allowed to enter back into the education system at different stages of their lives not just having access limited to their youth. Tuijman and Bostrom (2002) suggest that, “the goal of recurrent education was the modification of the education system so that access to organized education would become available throughout the lifetime of each individual” (p.99).
Like the Faure Commission Report, the Clarifying Report deals with a need to reorganize the education system, but maintains a much narrower view of education. “The main argument of this report”, the OECD contends, “is that the essence of the educational opportunities as provided to the young … should be made available to everyone throughout his entire lifetime” (OECD, 1973, p.25). This suggests that the OECD wanted to lengthen the availability of the formal education system, not widen it. Within their narrower view, the report authors see education as a way to solve the problem of, “inter-generation inequality” (p.64), implying that a younger, better trained generation, have an unfair advantage in the work place.
According to Field (2001), the aim of this report, “was to provide governments with practical ways of realizing lifelong education” (p.7). Tuijman and Bostrom (2002) explain that recurrent education was concerned with, “supplying labour markets with the skilled work force required to sustain economic growth” (p.100). This differed from a notion of, “lifelong education [which] sought human liberation and enlightenment in a learning society” (p.101).
et al. (2001) note that the Faure Commission Report and the Clarifying Report represented, “a
complete rethinking of education as a system and a process in the context of
the other (political, economic, cultural etc.) elements of the total social
system” (p.109). Both were responding to demands of the time. For example, the Faure Commission Report was dealing more with the so called disjuncture
between First and
Schuller, Scheutz and Istance (2002) note that along with the Faure Commission Report, the Clarifying Report, “opened the way for a flow of policy analysis and prescription in countries across the world” (p.2). Both reports were written in response to societal change but their differences were important. In a crucial observation, John Field (1998) notes that the:
OECD’s contribution was couched more in
terms of human capital thinking, albeit laced with a few dashes of social
democracy. OECD’s ideal socio-economic model at this time would probably have
been a pragmatic one, blending the dynamism and openness of the
For Tuijman and Bastrom (2002), “an important difference between the concepts of lifelong learning and recurrent education was thus that the former referred to all stages of education and life-wide education whereas the latter came to be associated with policies for the promotion of formal adult education” (p.99).
Like the Faure Commission Report, the Clarifying Report had limited long-term success. Rubenson (2004) attributes the lack of success to the time in which the documents came out:
The principles were put forward in a time when neo-liberal ideas started to take root and issues like equality, democratization and civil society were not the aspirations that came to inform the adult educational discourse in the coming years. In this political climate lifelong learning quickly disappeared from the policy scene. (The changing discourse on lifelong learning, p. 2)
For Henry at al. (2001) recurrent education did not have great success because:
As originally envisaged, recurrent
education would have challenged the tenets of meritocracy and involved a major
revision of administrative arrangements in member countries because of the need
for intersectoral policy and administration at the time. The Minister for
Education from the
(This was the same Margaret Thatcher who rose to become Prime Minister of Great Britain and who was a prime force in pushing forth policies of neoliberalism.)
Another factor, which limited the report, was a societal change: it became less stable due to the rise of neoliberal policies. Fields (2001) contends that in the 1970s:
Lifelong learning as concept was rooted on an economy of full employment.… Once the stable model of waged employment gave way to a more fragmented and turbulent labour market, combined with the shift towards consumerism that characterized the affluent western societies, the early conception of lifelong learning lost much of its appeal (p.8).
Roseberry (2002) believes that, “the capitalist world has been structured in specific ways at particular times, and, as part of periodic restructurings, there has also been a periodic making and remaking of space, on global, local, and personal scales” (p.62). The 1970s and 1980s were a time ‘of periodic restructuring.’ Western governments, under the influence of neoliberal policy makers, were pulling out of or downsizing their involvement in the welfare of society. Neoliberal thinking was separating Western governments from the Keynesian welfare state.
Papadopoulos (1994) identifies that in the 1980s:
The policy context for education had considerably changed as a result of the rapid decrease in economic activity consequent on the successive oil-crises, rise in unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, drastically contracting public budgets…. This was accompanied by a re-ordering of social objectives and priorities with education losing its previously privileged social rank” (p.125).
Regarding lifelong learning, Field (2000) notes that, “for much of the 1980s, the international and intergovernmental bodies found relatively little to say on the topic. Tackling unemployment replaced earlier preoccupations as the central task for adult education and training” (p.7). This is not to suggest that little was happening within the OECD and UNESCO as both organizations were experiencing levels of restructuring. Of the two organizations UNESCO felt the greatest effects of restructuring as neoliberalism ate away at its very foundation.
Detailing changes and problems that
occurred within UNESCO, Mundy (1999) points out that, “disagreement between
Third World and Western members over the organization’s broader purposes and
roles” led UNESCO to search “unproductively for a core rationale or set of
goals with which to bridge the radical demands of developing countries and the
liberal, developmentalist ideologies of its core country members” (p.39). In
the 1960s, developed countries had demonstrated a willingness to aid developing
countries, but by the 1980s the willingness had dissipated. This is not to
suggest that all aid had ceased but there existed a desire of the developed
countries to rethink how it should be done and the role of international
organizations in dispersing aid. By 1984, the US,
The OECD also experienced changes in the 1980s but not to the extent of UNESCO. The 1980s can be characterized as a period when UNESCO was battling the tide of globalization and neoliberalism while the OECD was incorporating the language of globalization and neoliberalism into its policies. This is exemplified in 1985 when the OECD produced two companion reports titled Education in Modern Society (1985a) and OECD Ministers Discuss Education in Modern Society (1985b). In these reports the OECD uses neoliberal doctrines to guide its views and policies on education.
Careful not to solely blame the education system for the high unemployment and economic recessions, the first report suggests that education is not living up to its responsibility:
One fact is that growth faltered with the recession of 1973, 1979 and the early 1980s, at the very time when, according to the theories, countries should have been reaping the economic benefits of rapid educational expansion. Though few contended that education alone guarantees growth, the confidence of earlier economic theories of education was undermined (OECD, 1985a, p.26-27).
The second report notes, “both government and the general public today insist upon receiving value for money” (OECD, 1985b, p.11). The suggestion is that education has not provided the security or mechanisms required to avoid recessionary periods. Thus, the role of education needed repositioning:
The notion of ‘crisis’ of the Welfare State, particularly in the financial means to sustain it, has acquired greater currency. Yet as economic recovery takes hold, it becomes apparent that finance is not the whole of the matter and that the rightful role of the public authorities, the place of State provision and alternatives to it, are becoming the subject of serious policy debate (OECD, 1985a, p.10).
The influence of neoliberalism and the belief that education needed to be restructured is obvious in the following statement issued by the OECD’s Business and Industrial Advisory Committee (BIAC) to the ministers of the OECD:
The education system is confronted with the need and challenge to renovate its structures and mechanisms.... However, since education must bear its share in reducing public spending, in line with governments' efforts to restore health to national finances, this renovation must be carried out within tight budgetary limits (OECD, 1985b, p.50).
The reports pick up on changes in the workplace by noting that, “a further feature of ‘post-industrial’ societies is that people are employed increasingly in services, rather than the primary and secondary sectors of agriculture and industry” (OECD, 1985a, p.20). Changes in the workplace are seen to be promoting urgent changes in education. Education becomes synonymous with qualifications. Qualifications are seen as a prerequisite to avoid unemployment because, “the risk of unemployment is much higher for those with few or no educational qualifications” (OECD, 1985a, p.20). This pushes forth the connection of the term education to skills training: by the 1990s ‘education and training’ starts to replace the term education in most OECD documents.
Due to changes in the post-industrial society, the OECD (1985a) notes that, “it is widely recognized that education (including training) supports the economy and can shape its performance and development. Modern economies require, more than ever, high levels of skill and flexibility of the labour force” (p.25). This more explicit focus on the economy represents a telling shift in priorities away from the earlier and much broader ideal of education for the betterment of the individual that had prevailed under welfare state capitalism. Writing specifically about adult education, the OECD suggests that:
Greater opportunities for adult training and retraining is a priority. The training capacity of the public institutions has been build up in relation to the lower levels of unemployment of the post-war years when there was less need for policies to promote the structural redeployment of the labour force. Policies in this area should help retrain older workers, often immobilised geographically by the costs of moving and by social and family ties, through further skill training which preserves the value of their accumulated experience and helps them compete with other workers on a broadly equal basis (OECD, 1985a, p.31).
An example of efforts at the time to shift the view of education from a Keynesian view to a neoliberal view is evident in a discussion among the Education Ministers of the OECD member countries, in 1985. To begin, Mr. Maravall, the Spanish Minister, proposes a UNESCO view of education as he, “underlined the fundamental need for everyone to receive a rounded, humanistic education that is neither too narrow nor closed to the outside world” (OECD, 1985b, p.18). He adds, “all too often...education is used as an excuse for the failures of economic policy” (OECD, 1985b, p.18). The Danish Minister, Mr. Haarder, agrees with Mr. Maravall but connects education to the economy by stating, “that education is a necessary condition of economic progress -- alone insufficient, but certainly necessary” (OECD, 1985b, p.19). The Minister from the United States, Mr. Jones, disputes the UNESCO view of education as he, “expressed serious concern about the problem of structural unemployment and the need to find a coherent national response to it” (OECD, 1985b, p.20). By the time Mr. Jones’ has finished commenting, the discussion about education had been reframed, exemplifying the shift towards a neoliberal stance.
Rubenson (2004) states, “at the end of the 1980s, the OECD again turned its attention to education as the generator of economic growth within a political landscape that had dramatically altered since the 1960s”. The preceding two documents helped identify the transformation of the OECD to an organization that was accepting of neoliberal thought and helps make the connection to the next, or ‘second generation’ lifelong learning. These texts helped influence the position of lifelong learning in the international adult education discourse by revealing how neoliberalism has influenced the development of our current notions of adult education. As will shortly be seen, the learning city is a product of this development.
The Second Generation of Adult Education
Rubenson (2000) observes that the two generations of lifelong learning, “seem to be informed by competing ideologies, are rooted in different policy imperatives on education and contain markedly different notions of what the principle of lifelong learning should look like” (para.3). He continues with this assessment of the second generation:
Judging from national policy documents as well as those coming from intergovernmental organizations like EU, OECD and UNESCO it is evident that lifelong learning has become the New Jerusalem by promising to solve some of the economic and social problems facing the industrialized world (para.6).
In both generations, the OECD and UNESCO envisioned lifelong learning to be an agent for social change. While UNESCO tended to stick with the ideal of education to solve social problems, the OECD increasingly pressed for a view of education as a means to solve economic problems. Since the 1980s, business and industry, which needed a greater supply of highly skilled workers and a desire to expand their consumer’s base, have become more influential in government education policy. Schueller, Schuetz,and Istance (2002) contend that, “with the economic crises of the 1980s…. companies, especially those caught up most by scientific and technological change, greatly increased their investment in the continuing education and training of at least sections of their workforce” (2002, p.6). The growing influence of business on the policies of the OECD generated even more pressure to restrict the view of lifelong learning according to economic imperatives.
This new, business influenced, vision for the OECD was realized in the 1989 report, Education and the Economy in a Changing Society. This is a report that confronts the challenge of how to use the individual and society to help the national economy, not how the economy can be used to help society. It advocates the notion of education being needed for competitive advantage. As such, it is strongly representative of the shift to neoliberalism.
J.C. Paye, secretary of the OECD at that time comments that, “each individual must provide the intellectual apparatus that will enable him, as and when needed, to acquire knowledge that is in a constant state of evolution” (OECD, 1989, p.7). This relates to Margaret Thatcher’s government putting the onus on the individual to keep up with employment needs. Education has been placed into the equation of social Darwinism – who ever has the best educational qualifications has best chance of succeeding in a capitalist consumer society.
In the opening statement of the report,
the Hon. John Dawkins M.P. (
The comparative advantage of many OECD countries has stemmed from the quality of the workforce. However, the rest of the world has seen and learnt from our experience and is acting accordingly. There is no room for complacency – rather, an urgent need to upgrade the quality of our education and training if we are to retain and strengthen our positions in the future (OECD, 1989, p.11).
In this statement, Dawkins supports the
neoliberal notion that education can help global elites gain and maintain their
dominance through economic means. Concerned about any potential rise in
competition that might threaten the position of
The Education and the Economy in a Changing Society report, perhaps more explicitly than any other OECD report, ties education to the economy and economic outputs, while also tying the economy to societal health. To best support society at large, any investment in education should therefore aid the economy first. The rising tide of economic productivity would result in social benefits that would support greater consumer capability. The OECD’s commitment to this idea of putting the economy ahead of society is evident in remarks such as, “there exist today widespread agreement that education and skill development among adults should no longer be considered as a ‘social cost’ but as an economically useful investment in tangible resources without which other forms of investment in material investment will yield sub-optimal results” (OECD, 1989, p.49). Sub-optimal results would be lower income levels.
There is also a certain level of Western superiority in the 1989 report as it suggests that, “in an open economy, the competitiveness of the workforce is closely connected with its ability to acquire the right kinds of knowledge and skills, and hence also with its general level of cultural sophistication” (OECD, 1989, p.17). How ‘cultural sophistication’ is understood is not defined but the OECD is setting up a attitude of competition as to who has the ability to acquire the ‘right kind of knowledge and skills’. This feeds into the neoliberal notion of separating the elite from the rest of the world.
Rubenson (2006) sums up the importance of this report in perspective as follows:
The 1989 OECD report quickly became a bible not only for ministers of education but also for their colleagues holding labour portfolios. In fact it is difficult to find any policy document where educational policy is not discussed in the context of the challenges and threats of global competition and new technologies. In the OECD’s search of an overarching strategy to address the new challenges, the principle of lifelong learning made its comeback.
This report was published at a landmark point in our modern history with a ‘new world order’ emerging as the Berlin Wall came down announcing the end of the cold war. Henry at al. (2001) suggests that when, “the Cold War ended, the situation is very different as the OECD attempts to position itself within a ‘new world order’” (p.158). While the 1985 companion documents provide evidence of the growing influence of neoliberalism, by the 1989 report, neoliberal ideas have become completely predominant. For the rest of the 1990s, the OECD put the policies in action.
Like the early 1970s, at the beginning of the 1990s, several supranational organizations – most notably UNESCO, the OECD, and the European Union – published documents positioning themselves within the discourse of lifelong learning. It was at this juncture that the great differences between the OECD (and the EU) and UNESCO became most apparent. Morris (n.d.) suggests that the UNESCO position on lifelong learning, “has been diluted within the more traditional sectors of education” (p.8). The OECD and the EU, Morris continues, take, “a much more consistent and aggressive approach both analytically and in terms of policy formation and encompassing both the economic and social rationale of such an approach” (p.8).
A 1995 report written by the Commission
of European Communities, which highlighted the EUs position on lifelong learning,
was the White Paper on Education and
Learning: Teaching and Learning, Towards the Learning Society. Reiterating
the neoliberal policy of social Darwinism, the crux of this report was
strategies to make
The authors of the White Paper felt that they had provided the definitive education document. They go so far as to title a section, “the end of debate on educational principles”. The reasons for the end of the debate include:
A broad knowledge base and training for employment are no longer two contradictory or separate things…..Bridges are being built between school and the business sector….The principle of equal rights in education is being applied increasingly in the context of equality of opportunity…. The dawning of the information society…has now revealed new demand for education and training and has started to renew teaching approaches, while facilitating the development of contacts and links between teachers and institutions on a European scale (1996, p.23-24).
For Kallen (2002), the White Paper, “largely reflects the dominant ideas about economic growth and the key role of education and training in that growth” (p.37). This paper sees education as primarily serving business and economic growth. Kallen adds that the White Paper, “assigns to lifelong learning a key role in bringing about the new society with its free flows of information, knowledge, goods and persons, and with a flexible and disposable labour force” (p.37). Perhaps more clearly than anywhere else, the White Paper, promotes a view of adult education that has shifted from lifelong learning to lifelong earning. Creating a ‘disposable labour force’ fits into the neoliberal discourse as it is of benefit to business. How it can help create a stronger society remains unclear.
As already noted, by the 1990s, UNESCO had lost its hegemony in world educational policy. Rubenson (2006) contends that, “by the end of the 1980s, UNESCO had lost much of its influence on educational issues to other supranational organizations like the OECD, EU and the World Bank” (p.14). Rubenson goes on to suggest, “to regain some of the initiative in the international debates on education the Director General of UNESCO put together an international commission chaired by Jacques Delors, the former President of the European Commission, to reflect on education and learning for the twenty-first century” (p.15). The report they wrote is titled Learning: the Treasure Within, more commonly referred to as the Delors Report.
The Delors Report (1996) reads like an extension of the Faure Commission Report. It deals with the:
Need to rethink and broaden the notion of lifelong education. Not only must it adapt to changes in the nature of work, but it must also constitute a continuous process of forming whole human beings – their knowledge and aptitudes, as well as the critical faculty and the ability to act. It should enable people to develop awareness of themselves and their environment and encourage them to play their social role at work and in the community (p.21).
This is reflective of UNESCO’s position of trying to balance the capitalists/neoliberal influence of limiting lifelong learning policy with the socio/economic concerns of the global village.
The Delors Report accepts the neoliberal requirement of education policy being set to meet the demands for training in the work place. It also takes a page from the Faure Report by emphasizes the ‘learning to live together’ pillar:
The Commission has put greater emphasis on one of the four pillars that it proposes and describes as the foundations of education: learning to live together, by developing an understanding of others and their history, traditions and spiritual values and, on this basis, creating a new spirit which, guided by recognition of our growing interdependence and a common analysis of the risks and challenges of the future, would induce people to implement common projects or to manage the inevitable conflicts in an intelligent and peaceful way. Utopia, some might think, but it is a necessary Utopia, indeed a vital one if we are to escape from a dangerous cycle sustained by cynicism or by resignation (p.20).
The potential of the Delors Report to influence national educational discourses was weakened by the fact that UNESCO is a worldwide organization. As such, it has to address issues in a broad context. In contrast, the OECD, which represents a select group of countries, can maintain a much narrower focus. The ‘Utopian’ view of education that the Delors Report promotes were soon revealed to be far less influential on government decision makers than the much more “hard-nosed” policies of the OECD.
The real weakness of the Delors Report can be found in Mundy’s (1999) comments that, “the Delors report offers little critical analysis of the deteriorating commitment of northern countries to redistributive multilateralism or of funding alternatives for the renewal of multilateral efforts in social policy fields” (p.47). This contrasts with the 1970s, when UNESCO was used as an agent of the Western capitalist states to share development aid with the economically impoverished parts of the world, partly for humanitarian reasons and partly as a way to spread capitalism to third world countries which would also help confront communist influence. By the 1990s, the first world had adopted neoliberal policies which caused debtor nations to severely cut funding to all welfare programs and pay heed to economic goals foisted upon them by funding nations and organizations. Neoliberalism had sucked any hint of humanitarianism out of third world economic aid and weakened the influence of UNESCO. In this climate, the Delors Report could have little effect on lifelong learning discourse.
The vision of lifelong learning articulated by the European Commission’s White Paper largely prevailed in two important OECD publications; Measuring What People Know (1996a) and Human Capital Investment: an International Comparison (1998). In these documents lifelong learning is positioned as a contributor to human capital development. Education is framed as a tool for high-technology economies that rely on highly skilled workers, as well as for workers who need upgrading, to stay ‘competitive’. Any pretext for education being beneficial for civil justice or the benefit of the individual is virtually absent in these documents.
Rikowski suggests that human capital is a product of our modern capitalist world and is best defined as, “humans as capital” (2000). The individual has become a cog in the capitalist wheel of economic betterment. Competition is prevalent at all levels, ranging from the local to the international. Allocation of educational investment is driven by economic imperatives, reducing education to, “knowledge acquired for use in the workplace” (OECD, 1996a, p.82).
Measuring What People Know defines human capital as, “the knowledge that individuals acquire during their life and use to produce goods service or ideas in market or non-market circumstances” (p.22). In Human Capital Investment: an International Comparison, human capital is defined as, “the knowledge, skills, competences and other attributes embodied in individuals that are relevant to economic activity” (p.9). Later the 1998 document gives a firmer, colder, definition of human capital:
The quantity of human capital investment can most readily be measured through two resources devoted to learning: money and time….The amount of money spent by individuals, companies and governments on training and education, and the time spent by participants in courses of study, serve as useful approximations of human capital formation. In practice, the concepts of time and money investments overlap, since forgone earnings can be an important element of the cost of learning that takes place beyond compulsory schooling. Both time and money expended are indirect measures of capital formation, since a dollar of spending or an hour of study produce highly variable types and quantities of human capital (p.35).
Measuring What People Know and Human Capital Investment: an International Comparison were written by accountants and economists. Their understanding of education policy is limited to educational investments that generate the greatest economic returns. The goal of education is to support in the market and workplace, all of which “will lead to improved economic performance” (OECD, 1996a, p.85). As Spring (1998a) cautions, “policies for these purposes create situations where the individual worker is manipulated by the state in the interest of the marketplace” (p.127).
Like the EC, in these documents the OECD cloaks its argument of education and training for economic growth in the guise of being socially responsible. They offer arguments such as, “the cost of inadequate investment in young people’s human capital cannot just be measured in relation to the labour market. Associated problems of social exclusion, higher crime and poverty may carry even greater costs” (1998, p.57). As a spin-off effect, investment in human capital offers a way to a safer society. “Human capital investment can also give rise to a wide range of non-economic benefits including greater social cohesion, lower crime and better health” (1998, p.53).
Writers of these later OECD documents also incorporate an idea identified in the 1985a OECD Report Education in Modern Society, that education is an important screening condition for employers. Baptiste (2001) identifies this and combines it with the OECD use of the human capital:
The human capital theory that the OECD endorsed, however, is markedly different from the 1960s version…. the OECD incorporated elements of the screening hypothesis into its revised model. Unlike its earlier framers, the OECD contended that education and training perform important screening functions that are likely to positively affect worker productivity regardless of whether or not the training provides specific, job-related skills. The key, according to the OECD, appears to be the ability of workers to cope with technological changes and to turn them into advantages in the future. The OECD believed that education, through its screening function, streamlines the available pool of flexible and adaptable workers and consequently enhances the efficiency of both the recruitment and production (p.188).
It was within the context of this restrictive and increasingly neoliberal discourses of lifelong learning that prevailed in the OECD of the late 1980s and early 1990s that the parameters of the learning city were first defined. As originally conceived, the learning city was to help create the conditions consistent with the neoliberal vision of economic and social development. From the very outset, it was a competitive tool, designed to help in the screening and development of human capital.
The OECD and the
One of the main stimuli for this thesis was my early discovery that there is no clearly articulated historical account of the idea of the learning city. As will be related below, some learning city pundits like Longworth (n.d.) and Schrey-Niemenmaa, Rintamaki, and Tormala (2003) vaguely trace the rise of the idea of the learning city to the early 1970s and link it to other prominent notions of the time like the learning society and recurrent education. Other than these rather nebulous accounts, however, the origins and use of the term in these early years remains murky. Things become much clearer in the early 1990s, however. As almost all commentators relate, at that juncture, the idea of the learning city moved center stage when it began to be promoted by the OECD as a means to guide urban regeneration in the EU.
Origins of the
that the notion of the learning city extended earlier than the 1990s is very
slim and anecdotal, at best. Longworth’s (n.d.) suggestion, for example, that
the OECD Clarifying Report outlines
how the notion of the learning city originated, “in the 1970s, [when the] OECD
funded a project to create learning cities” is suspect. Close examination of
the Clarifying Report shows no
indication of any such project. Like Longworth, Schrey-Niemenmaa, Rintamaki,
and Tormala (2003) also tie the learning city to the 1970s. They relate how,
“in the early 1970s the concept of the learning or educating city came into
use” (p.161). Regrettably, they do not provide any documentation to back up their
assertion. Cara, Landry, and Ranson (1999) also trace the notion of the
learning city back to the 1970s, but, in a crucial observation, add that, “it
developed real momentum after a report of a conference organized by Barcelona
City Council in 1990 – The First
International Congress on Educating Cities. The report of this conference
contains the beginnings of the ideas incorporated in the concept of the
An early contributor to the OECD debates
on the learning city, Donald Hirsch (personal communication February 09, 2008),
who provides the most accurate description of the events that led to the
learning city. Hirsch details how the CERI was planning to hold part of the
Educating Cities conference series in
Prior to the second congress, CERI commissioned Hirsch,to visit seven OECD cities and study their use of lifelong learning. His report, City Strategies for Lifelong Learning (also known as the Hirsch Report), was presented in 1992 at the Gothenburg Conference and published in1993 by CERI/OECD. The Hirsch Report has since become an important cornerstone on which the learning city has been structured.
The impetus behind the educating and learning city initiatives can be located in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the OECD and CERI were becoming involved in the idea lifelong learning. In particular, they were interested in training adults to be active participants in an ever changing workforce. Hirsch (1993) identifies that at a:
Meeting in Paris in 1990, [in which] the education ministers of the 24 OECD countries, described initial education as “a start to lifelong learning”, and identified as one of their aims the development of new learning opportunities and systems for adults to “allow them to participate actively in today’s rapidly changing labour market and society” (OECD, 1993, p.11).
The motivation for CERI/OECD to commission the Hirsch Report was, “an attempt to discover whether a strategy to create a culture of lifelong learning can be developed at the city level” (p.8). The idea of debating ‘whether a culture of lifelong learning can be developed’ in a city is misleading, for cities have long been recognized as places of particularly vibrant learning processes. More accurately, the purpose of the report was to look, not at broad learning processes, but at a specific, narrower view of lifelong learning tightly tied to the needs of economic development. Instead of considering lifelong learning in a holistic way, the report narrowed its view and considered, “the need to adjust to structural economic change by equipping workers with new skills applies as much to the city as to the national or international level” (CERI, 1993, p.21).
A key part of Hirsh’s report was his observation that cities have long been weak links in the delivery of education. Hirsch contends that, “the public authorities in cities have not been well placed to take an overview of lifelong learning” (p.15). Regarding lifelong learning, Hirsch observes that, “in most cities…no single institution has a responsibility for provision throughout the lifecycle” (p.23). Although they are home to educational institutions, Hirsch views cities as not being part of the education system because, “higher education institutions are relatively rarely controlled by cities” (p.15). The result of not having control of the educational institution is that, “curriculum may be determined by a provincial or national ministry” (p.15). In essence, cities are host to education institutions and are contexts of extensive lifelong learning but, for the most part, have little influence in education discourse.
Hirsch recognizes that, “cities may play an important role in ensuring that initial education opportunities… are followed up with opportunities in adult life, whose provision can be more haphazard” (p.18). Being haphazard in delivery makes lifelong learning difficult to structure, control, and influence, but if incorporated into an urban strategy, an opportunity arises to give structure to the unstructured concept of lifelong learning. Maybe not all facets of lifelong learning and adult education could be given structured and controlled, but some elements, especially those which pertain to the workplace, could be.
The Hirsch Report separates lifelong learning into realms of formal and informal learning. It values informal or cultural learning as a lesser form of learning. Hirsch observes that, “the cultural life of a city-museums, festival, libraries – sets the context of informal learning and helps shape the interests of the population” (p.15). Later, Hirsch questions whether it is, “realistic to link cultural participation with lifelong learning, or is it simply a form of leisure?” (p.22). Removing ‘learning for leisure’ from the lifelong learning debate narrows the focus of education to learning for work or skills learning. Narrowing the focus creates opportunities for controlling education as it allows for measurable outcomes.
By noting the benefits that lifelong learning could have for employers, because education institutions have the ability to train and educate for the workplace, the Hirsch Report connects education and lifelong learning to workplace education. This is something businesses may be incapable of doing or unable to afford. Hirsch observes that, “there is an increasing realisation of the advantages of company-based training, yet much training expertise resides in external institutions – so partnerships between companies and colleges are growing” (p.21). This suggests a neoliberal inspired form of partnership between business, city government, and educational institutions.
The Hirsch Report was written at a time when cities and towns, particularly in the OECD, were being hit by high unemployment due the shift from an industrial based economy to a service based economy. The shift in the economy had businesses seeking employees who could be trained, and retrained, to meet the high pace of change in the workplace. This brings the Hirsch Report in line it with the OECD’s, Education and the Economy in a Changing Society (1989), which calls for, “efficient strategies of preventative upskilling and retraining for those threatened by displacement” (p.43). In the backdrop was the OECD’s and EU’s fear mongering concerning unemployment being the cause of social unrest.
To strengthen its credibility, the Hirsch Report uses the standard OECD method of peer review or surveillance. In this case, seven OECD cities were used as comparative benchmarks. The cities were selected because they, “have in some way adopted strategies to encourage their inhabitants to continue learning throughout their lives” (p.8). Through comparison of each of the seven cities, Hirsh developed the structure of the learning city.
Although erroneous in his reference (Faris refers to the 1992 conference as a learning city conference when, in fact, it was an educating city conference), Faris (2006) does outline the importance of the Gothenburg conference. As he relates, “it was a 1992 OECD conference on learning cities in Gothenburg, Sweden that launched what became the world-wide learning communities movement – and resulted in OECD learning region projects in Europe following the 1996 European Year of Lifelong Learning” (p.8). The conference pushed the notion of workplace lifelong leaning in cities into the public domain.
Inspired by the educating cities
conferences (Gothenburg was part of a series of conferences), Yarnit (2000)
notes how, “by the early 1990s there were a good handful of
It is important to note how, with minor variations, most advocates of the learning city adhere to the basic notion of the learning city articulated by Hirsch and promoted by the OECD. Admittedly, there is no agreed upon definition of a learning city. It is an evolving concept with new participants and their views constantly enter the discourse about it. Despite its evolving nature, it is still helpful to look at how the learning city is understood by the main advocates of the idea. For the most part, the initial formulation of the learning city as a notion tightly allied with OECD notions of economic development has limited the scope of how the concept has been imagined.
Progress and Value: Learning Communities: Assessing the Value They Add (1998),
written by the Department for Education and Employment,
practice a “
Cara, Landry and Ransom (1999) asserted that the “key characteristic” of the learning city:
Is its ability to develop successfully in a rapidly changing socio-economic environment….It nurtures the potential of all, because it understands that in the emerging knowledge based economy it is the capacity to learn and reflect in all its facets, in responding to urban challenges that will largely determine success or failure. It knows that knowledge is more than information (p.6).
Henderson, Castles, McGrath and Brown (2000), writing for Adult Learning Australia, provide this description: “Learning community explicitly links learning to social and economic well-being. By focusing on innovation and enterprise, learning community initiatives can encourage economic and skill development in various ways” (p.9). It is interesting to note that throughout their report the terms learning city and learning community are used interchangeably. In a 2003, Candy described how, “Learning Cities harness resources across the community – knowledge, social networks, environmental assets and financial capital – to enable local people and organizations to develop skills, knowledge and values” (para.1). These are skills, knowledge, and values that relate first to the workplace. Also in 2003, Boshier commented that, “learning cities are committed to learning as a core of development. They seek to sustain economic activity by combining lifelong learning, innovation and information technology” (Defining the city, para.3).
In 2006, Faris contended that the learning city, “provides a coherent, integrated and comprehensive approach to organizing and mobilizing existing and future lifelong learning resources necessary for individuals and communities to face the ever-changing challenges of the knowledge-based economy and society of the 21st century” (p.4). Faris also suggests where and how the learning city should be located with an urban area:
It appears important that the initiative be housed in a “neutral space” that is seen by partners from all community sectors as “non-threatening, non-competitive and belongs to the whole community” and fosters cross-sectoral partnerships that address local issues and build community capacity” (p.36).
This goal of locating the initiative in a ‘neutral space’ is commendable but, as learning city literature confirms, it is inaccurate.
The OECD (2001) report, Cities
and Regions in the New Learning Economy, places the learning city within a broader learning region structure of
lifelong learning. In this report, the OECD denotes the difference and
connection between learning city and learning region. According to the OECD, a
learning city refers to, “learning as the acquisition of knowledge,
understanding, skills, and so forth by individual
people, through participation in some form of education, formal or
informal” (p.8) at the city level. Referencing the work of
The significance not simply of individual learning, but also of “learning” which takes place within and between organisations (firms, research institutes, economic development agencies, etc). Here, the emphasis is on continuous innovation (in products, processes and wider work organisation) as the key to competitiveness (p.8).
Structurally the learning city can be understood as providing individual learning at the urban level, which feeds into organizational learning at a regional level.
Donald Hirsch (1993) identified a problem posed for adult education at the city level, “beyond schooling there is no single ‘system’ conveniently managed by a centralised public structure” (p.9). The learning city was created to provide an opportunity to develop a ‘centralised public structure’ to manage lifelong learning in the urban context. The objective is to produce structure in a previously unstructured setting. Through the creation of an identifiable structure, citizens have a clearer defined portal into lifelong learning opportunities. Longworth (1999) contends that the learning city, “provides both a structural and a mental framework which allows its citizens to understand and react positively to change” (p.110), most probably changes in the workplace.
The management of this structure has been identified as a partnership among the elite of urban governance; business, government, education providers, and community groups. This partnership should operate as a cooperative, in which all stakeholders have an equal amount of influence; instead it operates like a corporation with business and industry having greatest influence in urban governance. This influence occurs at both the regional and urban level: business and industry control the objectives of lifelong learning in the learning city.
The objective of a learning city is to build a strong urban economy using a narrowly defined the concept of lifelong learning. To attain this objective, lifelong learning opportunities are re-evaluated and adjusted to keep then in accordance with the economic policies and social goals of the city and/or state. Re-evaluation and adjustments to lifelong learning are guided by the well healed neoliberal doctrine that the acquisition of skills will allow individuals, the city, and the region to become more competitive and socially cohesive. The importance of indoctrinating society with this belief is to create a sense of fear among adults that those who do not become part of the new economic order will be left behind and society will deteriorate.
Field (2000) contends that, “with public attention focusing mainly upon the
school system and higher education, adult education stood somewhat to the
margins” (p.101). One of the chief objectives of the learning city, therefore,
is to pull adult education in from the margins. Being more central, adult education
can be used to pull the unemployed (and under-employed) in from the margins of society,
train them for employment, and allow them to become more self-sufficient. This
can best be achieved under the umbrella of partnerships between business, city government,
community groups, and education providers. Yarnit (n.d) describes the partnerships of
The priority, therefore, is to raise the skill levels of the workforce
but also to re-engage young people and adults in learning, 30,000 of them over
the next few years. The solution is REAL – that is the name for a city-wide
network of learning centres designed to drive up participation rates. REAL is a
physical and virtual network involving education, business, libraries and community groups, and strongly backed by
The OECD’s desire to re-educate adults can be traced back to the Clarifying Report which sought to use lifelong learning as an avenue to allow adults to return to the formal school system. This issue was identified again in 2000, when the Commission of European Communities published A Memorandum on Lifelong Learning, which noted, “the knowledge, skills and understanding we learn as children and as young people in the family, at school, during training and at college or university will not last a lifetime” (p.7). The learning city provides a structure to reach the objective of re-educating adults for the workforce by envisioning a formal and informal system in which adults can meet specific developmental objectives. The learning city also provides a slogan around which a specific type of adult education can be promoted.
The learning city is being promoted around the theme that education for the economy will assist social regeneration and help build stronger sense of community. In Practice Progress and Value: Learning Communities: Assessing the Value They Add (1998) it is noted that the, “Learning Cities explicitly use learning as a way of promoting social cohesion, regeneration and economic development which involves all parts of the community” (p.5). This theme of social cohesion is in accordance with the EU’s 1996 White Paper, which stated that, “a new focus for education and training policies is needed now, to develop capacities to realize the potential of the ‘global information economy’ and to contribute to employment, culture, democracy and, above all, social cohesion” (1996, p.15).
In Human Capital Investment (1998), the OECD links education and employment to social well being. “[T]hose with higher levels of education are more likely to participate in the labour market, face lower risks of unemployment, and receive on average higher earnings” (p.54). This produces “spin-off,” which, “may affect public health, crime, the environment, parenting, political and community participation and social cohesion, which in turn feed back into economic well-being” (p.66).
Longworth (2003) contends that the need for learning and need for work are intertwined, “put simply, to stay employable is to stay learning, and vice versa” (p.41). Within the OECD’s and the EU’s view of lifelong learning there is a sense that without a strong economic structure there will be social exclusion and societal break down. Human capital feeds the economy and everyone is safe or at least ahead of the competition. Social cohesion will be fashioned by the unstated equation; a good education leads to good employment, which, in turn, leads to financial security, produces happiness and contentment, and an economically competitive society.
It is interesting to note that the OECD,
while tied to the development of the learning city is not counted among the
promoters of it; this is left to several, mostly European, organizations, one
of which is the PALLACE project. Lee (2003) describes the PALLACE (Promoting
Active Lifelong Learning in
Working under the overall management of
Norman Longworth (2006), who is associated with Napier University, depicts the PALLACE project as a, “pioneering project established multilateral links between cities, creeds, cultures and countries to facilitate the building of a new learning and understanding world” (Where is it happening, para.1).
Also involved with the learning city is the European Lifelong Learning Initiative (ELLI), an organization which draws membership from all European Union countries. This organization as gone so far as to develop a charter for the learning city that begins with, “we recognise the crucial importance of learning as the major driving force for the future prosperity, stability and well-being of our citizens….We declare that we will invest in Lifelong Learning within our community” (Longworth, p.206, 1999).
During the 1990s, the urban culture most conducive to hosting a learning city was one experiencing high unemployment caused by economic difficulties. This was highlighted in Martin Yarnit’s (2001) report, Towns, Cities and Regions in the Learning Age: a Survey of Learning Communities:
A legacy of the successive economic shocks of the last twenty five years is the collapse of unskilled and semi-skilled employment, especially in manufacturing and extractive industries. Many people who are looking for employment, especially those who have never worked or who have been unemployed for lengthy periods, have lost touch with employers’ requirements (p.69).
report paints an image of urban wastelands caused by economic crises and high
unemployment. Yarnit describes, “the decline of employment in fishing, the docks and manufacturing
The role of the learning city, as suggested
by Morris (n.d.), was, “to provide a means of bringing together the growing
imperative of lifelong learning for all” (p.9). Morris suggests that the
impetus behind it was to try and help with, “the renewal and revitalisation of
declining cities, towns, and regions” (p.9).
This impetus behind a learning city is also mentioned by the OECD
(2001), it suggest that, “those cities and regions that were the heartlands of
primary and manufacturing industry during the industrial epoch, have borne the
brunt of adjustment to the new circumstances” (p.7). Exemplifying this is the
The late 1990s can be referred to as the
first generation of the learning city, a generation in which the idea was
mostly European. The second generation is represented by the 2000s, as the
initiative moved out of
common theme for the promotion of the learning city is to use it as a tool to
repair problems associated with city life. The common thread is that the
problems identified are economic in nature. In most cases, this is problems
with unemployment but, as
The notion of the learning city emerged as Western economies shifted from an industrial and service-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. During this shift, business leaders and economists contended that many workers had lost touch with, or did not have the necessary skill sets, to adapt to changing needs of the workplace. Exacerbating the problem, no system was in place to help retrain workers. The implication of this for a city or region that did not have the skilled workers for the workplace were considered to be calamitous as business could choose not to locate there or could pick up stakes and move. This meant that a city could lose part of its tax base both from loss of business and from the reduced incomes of the workers as well as the cost of a rise in unemployment levels. High unemployment was linked to many social ills, principally higher crime rates. The fear mongering of high crime rates is a favoured tactic of right wing groups who use the fear associated with higher crime rates to introduce self-beneficial policies, under the pretext that they will reduce incidents of crime.
Due to the new economic and workplace realities, employees need to upgrade their skills so they, and their employer, can remain ‘competitive.’ New economic realities also implicate cities and regions in the need to remain competitive. This has created a change in education provision, Longworth and Davies (1998) suggests that, “the major transformation since the early 1980’s is that business and industry have moved ahead of the traditional education providers in their thinking, designing, and implementing of learning” (p.57). This has become a feature of ‘roll-out' neoliberalism, governments have started to spend more money on the education system but want that money to produce benefits to the economy.
The notion of the learning city is based on the use and understanding of lifelong learning. Schuetze (2006) suggests that lifelong learning is, “a concept for re-organising education and for extending it beyond the confines of both perceived ‘formative’ age of people and the formal system of schools and tertiary institutions” (p.289). The manner in which lifelong learning is interpreted is influenced by who is defining it. In the 1970s and 1990s, UNESCO and the OECD dedicated much time to understand and create understandings of the idea. UNESCO tended to couch its approach for a life wide as well as a lifelong understanding but with little instruction as to how to bring it into being. The OECD tended to couch its’ approach in the narrow band of how it would work economically. By the 1990s, the OECD was able to create conditions and produce a form in which their concept of lifelong learning could operate.
Field provides an important insight into why the OECD’s approach outmanoeuvred UNESCO’s approach to lifelong learning. Because lifelong learning is a complex area for governments to get involved with, Field (2000) contends that they have a tendency to focus on vocational training. Governments did this because, “it is associated with wealth-creation and living standards… it represents a relatively easy field for non-regulatory types of intervention… finance ministers are usually favorable to this type of public spending” (p.29). The approach advocated by UNESCO may have broader general appeal but lacks a model and identifiable outcomes to bring it into form. The OECD provided identifiable outcomes as well as a model, the learning city, to bring lifelong learning to life.
Morris’s (n.d) contends that, “the
current advocacy of lifelong learning is more driven by economic and
technological imperatives” (p.8). Lifelong learning when so sharply defined is
focused on human capital development, a field in which the OECD has great
influence. It also means by which the learning city, as influenced by OECD
policy, came to have a greater focus on human capital development than a
broader notion of lifelong learning. This focus on human capital is exemplified
by Hilpert’s (1999) comments about
The learning city concept is related to the knowledge-based economy, but it does not exclusively refer to immediate economic effects…. This is also a clear paradigm shift, in that the focus is on the production of knowledge as the main resource of modern economics. Human skills and capacities based on learning and knowledge are viewed as fundamental to learning. Hence, it is more than simply economics, as it is strongly linked to cultural conditions (p.131).
The link between human capital and the
learning city can be gleaned from Machnik’s reasoning how, as
The OECD’s (2001) report, Cities and Regions in the New Learning Economy, also takes up the idea of relating knowledge to the economy:
However, knowledge in itself does not contribute to economic growth. Crucially, it has to be incorporated into the production of goods and services. Hence, educated and skilled individuals not only have to be produced (via the education and training system), but also their knowledge and skills have to be used. They actually have to be recruited into employment within enterprises and other organisations; and their work needs to be organised in ways that ensure the real utilisation of their competences” (p.11).
In the Case of
In the 1998 report, Human Capital Investment: An International Comparison the OECD defines human capital as; ““the knowledge, skills, competences and other attributes embodied in individuals that are relevant to economic activity [their italic]” (p.9). They go on to note:
This definition in one sense broadens, and in another sense narrows previous uses of the term. It defines human attributes broadly – not just the level to which a person has been educated, but also the degree to which he or she is able to put a wide range of skills to productive use. At the same time, it narrows the definition to refer only to attributes that have benefits via economic activity” (p9).
In reality learning, when placed within the concept of human capital, is narrowly understood as a means to foster competitive advantage within the workplace. Within the confines of the learning city, the focus on learning stays within the narrow lens of learning that benefits economic realities. This is backed up by Boshier’s (2003) assertion; “learning cities are committed to learning as a core aspect of development. They seek to sustain economic activity by combining lifelong learning, innovation and information technologies” (p.11).
The OECD (1998) offers that, “investment in human capital is at the heart of strategies in OECD countries to promote economic prosperity, fuller employment, and social cohesion” (p.7). The learning city focuses on learning for economic reasons, therefore learning, within the learning city, exists within a narrow focus of economic outcomes. It is here, within the economic outcomes of education, that the clearest image of the neoliberal learning city is most obvious.
Uncovering the True Meaning of the
The journey through the recent history of the concept of the learning city has led me to understand that there are multiple interpretations of the notion of the learning city. It is by unlocking the multiple interpretations that the true meaning of the learning city shows itself. In its most dominant form, the learning city denotes an interpretation of lifelong learning that benefits the wants of the global economic elite. At the same time, this interpretation of lifelong learning actively disadvantages vast segments of the world’s population.
In recent years, urban strategists and lifelong learning advocates have tried to conceptualize geographical representations of lifelong learning, including; cities, regions, towns, and communities. Of these geographical entities, Donald Hirsch argues that, “the city is arguably the most significant geographical entity around which lifelong learning can be organised” (CERI, p.16). There has also been a move to find a term or label for this geographical concept of lifelong learning, for example; smart city, educating city, sustainable city, creative city, and learning cities. Of these labels the learning city is the one capturing the imagination of strategists, due to its life wide and lifelong appeal. Landry and Matarasso (2001) suggest that the learning city is the embodiment of the other notions of understanding lifelong learning in an urban environment. They advise that, “the learning city is both richer and more complex than the educated city, though it encompasses it” (p.4).
Determining which label for a city is important. Healey (2002) contends that it:
matters which city images are called up and consolidated in public policy and how this is achieved. Articulating a conception of ‘city’ in public policy is not so much a work of analysis, but of imagination, of ‘calling up’ the city into consciousness. Only through some kind of collective mental work can ‘the city’ as such become an active force with the power to have an influence, as the mental imagery motivates and shapes what people do (1782).
Building on Healeys’s contention, the ‘mental imagery’ conjured up by the learning city label is, what David Harvey (2005) would refer to as, “a conceptual apparatus” (p.5). In the case of the learning city, it is an apparatus utilized to persuade citizens to take for granted predetermined notions of lifelong learning; notions which that suggest that a strong economy creates opportunities for a better quality of life, thus creating stronger communities. The underlying motivation is to, “ensure the optimum conditions for the existence of a free market.” To do this it, “must indoctrinate the population into believing in the value of the free market” (Spring, 1998a, p.135). In simple terms, the term ‘learning city’ works to ‘indoctrinate’ society with a neoliberal vision of lifelong learning by reconstituting the urban space to service economy desires.
Healey (2002) also contends that many of the terms used to conceptualize the urban space, “are little more than marketing by-lines, or they merely emphasise one dimension of urban life” (1779). The learning city is a good marketing by-line. It allows city officials to use the term as a screening agent, denoting that investment has been made to adapt to the increasing need for individuals to remain employable in the workforce. Business and industry leaders seeing this designation can separate or screen learning cities out from other cities and will be encouraged to invest there.
Neoliberalism has created a situation in
which traditional forms of government have lost their power. David Harvey
(1989) explains the weakening of the state and urban authority as being due to,
“the declining powers of the nation state to control multinational money flows”
(p.5). The response to this,
Due to its murky historical accounts, it can be hypothesized that the concept of learning city is a derivative of the OECD’s understanding of education as a screening agent. Evidence of this is found in the OECD’s Education in Modern Society (1985), where it is suggested that, “employers...use educational certificates to screen as a principle form of selection” (p.27). The learning city is an expansion of this idea, instead of individuals with the needed qualifications it is the city – a collection of individuals – which provides the qualifications.
The screening process also works well within the surveillance model favoured by the OECD as it allows for comparisons between cities to be made. It creates conditions for to identify measurable markers of lifelong learning that can be used as a means to advertise strengths and attract capital investment. Screening can be manipulated to create added value to a city’s image. This added value also plays a role for cities, particularly in the context of urban renewal and regeneration.
Within the policies of the Keynesian thesis, capitalist cities were supported by state funding for both their social and physical infrastructure. Smith (2002) describes, “the Keynesian city of advanced capitalism, in which state underwrote wide swaths of social reproduction, from housing to welfare to transportation infrastructure, represented the zenith of this definitive relationship between urban scale and social reproduction” (p.432). During the 1970’s and 1980’s, city cores changed significantly. In capitalist countries, the decline and destruction of the Keynesian welfare state, urban funding from state governments was slashed. At the same time, cities had their economic base destabilized as the economy shifted to the knowledge economy. MacLeod (2002) describes that during the 1970s and 1980s, “city after city endured catastrophic deindustrialization and witnessed the suburban ‘flight’ of high-income earners and an associated concentration of impoverished residents in their inner areas” (p.604). To counter the ‘flight’ out of the urban core the idea of urban regeneration had great appeal. Urban regeneration was employed to keep people in the city to work and consume but it differed greatly to urban regeneration of the Keynesian era.
With reduced funding, cities had to find
new sources of finance, moving from managerial to entrepreneurial, to recreate
the structures in the urban core. To replace Keynesian-age government funding for
urban regeneration, the neoliberal promoted idea of public-private partnerships
emerged. The ‘partnership ideal’ made up for the loss of state funding the city
coffers but it gave greater voice to business in the city development. Smith
(2002) details that, “neoliberal urbanism is an integral part of this wider
rescaling of functions, activities, and relationships. It comes with a
considerable emphasis on the nexus of production and finance capital at the
expense of questions of social reproduction” (p.435). Neoliberalism provided
urban governance with a new agenda: use partnerships to regenerate for the
creation of capital. The partnership idea for urban regeneration is taken out
of neoliberal policy as it helps to protect the private investor.
Like modern urban regeneration, the learning city also promotes partnership within the lifelong learning policy. The notion of partnership can be found in the Hirsch Report (1993), where he observed, “there is an increasing realization of the advantages of company-based training, yet much training expertise resides in external institutions –so partnerships between companies and colleges are growing” (p.21). In this context companies can influence colleges programs and curriculum by funding programs which are beneficial to them. Formerly, Keynesian government would have funded college programs through public money.
Illustrative of long learning connection to
urban regeneration is the “mission” statement for the UK Learning City Network,
where it is stated they will, “promote
the use of lifelong learning for urban regeneration” (website). Bringing in the
idea of partnership is Jonathan
Clark’s (2001) report to the EU for Scottish Enterprise Glasgow titled,
When placed within the framework of neoliberal partnerships and urban regeneration a truer understanding of the learning city emerges, as it has more to do with community economic renewal than developing stronger, broad-minded educational structure for an urban environment. The real selling point of the learning city is that it is an agreeable slogan for community economic development. It works on economic imperatives that create a system in which lifelong learning can be used to educate and train individual citizens for the workplace. These educated and trained individuals can then feed into a regional economic structure; from the regional level they help at the larger organizational or bloc level.
Although lacking a clearly articulated history, the learning city is, as Boshier (2003) contends, ‘an outgrowth of OECD thinking about lifelong learning. It is a European idea” (Defining the city, para.5). This is reflective of the relationship between the two organizations. “In the mid- to late 1990s,” Dostal (2004) contends, “the OECD happened to be uniquely placed to provide… a set of well-developed welfare and labour market policies to EU policy makers in areas in which the EU had not previously held well-developed track records” (p.442). The first cities to adopt the notion of the OECD conceived learning city were EU cities. The governments of the EU used the idea as a slogan to rally citizens around the notion of urban regeneration. The notion was located in cities hardest impacted by changes to their economic base; cities were citizens were in the most desperate need of economic and social assistance.
Returning to Boshier’s assertion, the learning city is placed within the EU’s model of lifelong learning, a model developed in the early 1990s as an important element of EU economic/social policy. The EU, in the 1990s, developed and promoted lifelong learning in response to the economic difficulties caused as the economy shifted from an industrial based economy to a knowledge based economy. Within the EU a fear existed that they were not being competitive in the global marketplace. This promulgated a push, for both the EU as a whole and for regions within the EU, to become more economically competitive. Lifelong learning was presented as one of the cures social distress by allowing people and states to gain economic advantages. The importance of lifelong learning in the EU was highlighted in 1996, when the EU promoted the European Year of Lifelong Learning, to push the idea into the bloc’s psyche.
By the 2000s, stronger economic conditions saw a shift in lifelong learning promotion; it is now being promoted as a way for the EU to retain competitive advantage in the knowledge economy. Doukas (2002), looking at general changes in lifelong learning policies, notes that, “no longer are they based on material products but rather on immaterial ones such as innovation and ideas” (p.281-282). This is the knowledge economy at work as opposed to an industrial based economy. In response to such change, Doukas continues, ‘the European Union in the European Council of Lisbon (March 2000) has decided and launched a new aim: To make Europe the most dynamic society-economy of knowledge with employment and social cohesion in the next decade… the means to achieve this aim is Lifelong leaning”(p.282). Although not clear what ‘society-economy’ means, it does imply a tightening of the two terms.
Lifelong learning is now a mainstay of EU
economic planning. This can be observed in the Official Journal of the European Union, November, 2006. At this
time they were, “establishing an action
programme in the field of lifelong learning”. Section 8, of the Journal refers
to the Lisbon Convention- 2000- which had set, “a strategic goal for the
European Union to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based
economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and
better jobs and greater social cohesion” (p. L 327/45). This is followed by the suggestion in section
9 that, “an advanced knowledge society is the key to higher growth and
employment rates. Education and training are essential priorities for the
European Union in order to achieve the
Defining the Competition
Within the neoliberal thesis, cities need
to be competitive. It is accepted that by fostering the notion of a
competition, a learning city can help cities gain a competitive advantage over
cities whose learning remains stilted. The question that is rarely considered
by proponents of the competitive learning city, however, is who are the cities
competing against: Citizen against citizen? Other cities? Other regions? If the
leaning city notion is based in advanced capitalist’s countries as most OECD
nations are, then learning cities must be competing against cities in both
developed and developing nations. It is long past the time for learning city
theorists and advocates to look beyond the boundaries of the OECD and see what
is happening in the rest of the world, to find out who the competition really
It is estimated that over six billion people live on the planet, of that number it is estimated that over half, over three billion people, live in urban areas. Of that three billion, the UN-Habitat (2003) estimates that one third- over one billion people- live in slums. When the OECD promotes the notion of being competitive it is against the slums of the world they are in competition with. The moral reprehensibility of this fact requires that we forge a new understanding of learning cities and their function.
Ironically, in the 1960s, when the OECD first gained interest in education, they had an interest in helping ‘underdeveloped’ countries. There were different reasons for wanting to aid third world countries. As Noel, Therien, and Dallaire (2004) explain, “aid was invented at the beginning of the cold war as a tool in the struggle against communism than as an instrument to fight poverty”(p.31). They add that aid was not only a strategic tool. “Canadian aid was also shaped by the evolution of the country’s political values and institutions, especially those related to the development of the welfare state” (p.31). As we have seen, neoliberalism severely undermined the conditions of the welfare state in the 1970s and 1980s.
By the end of the 1960s and into the early 1970s there was a movement in the UN to get countries of the developed world to donate 0.7 % of their GDP to poorer countries but for the most part this has failed. Referring to Canada not contributing 0.7% of GDP to foreign aid, Lewis (2005) admonishes, “the real immorality is for one of the most wealthy and privileged countries in the world to fail to respond adequately to the life and death struggle of hundreds of millions of impoverished people” (p.33).
Within the irony of the OECD exists another irony. Public opinion in OECD countries is supportive of international aid. In a 2001 OECD report, International development co-operation in OECD countries, concerning public support for aid, they found:
The analyses of recent trends in public opinion in OECD countries showed that not only does public support remain high but that on the whole it has not declined in the past decade. Yet, public support was seen as often mis-informed and based on exaggerated perceptions of the size of aid budgets, or weak understanding of development co-operation. What was seen as more problematic was that, despite the steady public support for aid, official aid flows have declined significantly in the majority of DAC [Development Assistance Committee] Member countries since the early 1990s (p.2).
Not contributing enough financial resources to
aid the plight of people trapped in slums is morally irresponsible. Exasperating
the situation is that there continues to be a rise in urbanization in third
world countries and that one of the main causes has been policies of the first
world countries. “The policies of agricultural degradation and financial
discipline”, Mike Davis (2006) contends policies, “enforced by the IMF and
World Bank [through the SAP’s] continued to generate an exodus of surplus labor
to urban slums even as cities ceased to be job machines” (p.15). People have
become nothing more than ‘surplus labor’ creating an identifiable stock of
workers for business. When
OECD is symbolic of divide between countries, but it is much more than that as it is also closely allied with international organizations and first world policies, such as the IMF and World Bank, which created conditions of poverty through neoliberal dogma. Since the OECD is implicit in the creation or expansion of slums in third world countries, the learning city concept is also implicit.
Form of Imperialism
makes a powerful statement when he contends that, “European colonialism and
education [played a key role] in providing the language, infrastructure, and shape
of today’s economy” (p.8). This would have started during first round of
globalization, roughly the 1600s, when European nations expanded their business
interests around the world. The
globalization, or neoliberal globalization, is foisted upon the public by its
proponents as a positive set of policies and procedures that will provide
riches for all citizens of the planet who wish to, take part in global trade. Others
take a more sinister view of globalization, Spring (1998), McLaren and
Farahmandpur (2001), and Harvey (2003) consider globalization, strongly led by
American rhetoric, as a new form of imperialism. A traditional understanding of
imperialism has one nation controlling another through manipulation of the
social, economic, and political process. One way to accomplish this was through
standardization and assimilation of processes and standards set by the imperial
power to create, to quote Chomsky (2004), a “system of domination” (p.141).
A common characteristic shared by
neoliberalism, modern globalization, and traditional imperialism are policies
that afford avenues, for a few economic elite, to accumulate large amounts of
financial capital on the backs of the poor. Illustrative of those policies is
the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) of the World Bank and the IMF. Sachs
(2005) suggests that due to the SAP programs, “belt tightening, privatization,
liberalization, and good governance became the order of the day” (p.81) in
third world countries. Lewis (2005) is more succinct in his appraisal of the
SAP’s, he refers to them as, “Reaganomics gone berserk.” (p.5).
Other than terminology there is in fact
there is little to distinguish traditional imperialism from today’s
globalization. McLaren and
Farahmandpur (2001) contend, “globalization represents an ideological facade
that camouflages the manifold operations of imperialism. In fact, the concept
of globalization has effectively replaced the term imperialism” (p.138). A common theme for both models is
that, “the wealth and well-being of particular territories are augmented
at the expense of others” (
The global imperialism in today’s world is
allowing advanced capitalist countries, such as the
First, education under globalization is viewed as a vehicle that assists the growing market economy. For many developing countries, an educated and skilled workforce ostensibly would mean higher levels of productivity and economic development. Second, education is viewed as a tool in solving problems associated with economic globalization such as unemployment and poverty. If, however, the market economy (by means of the capitalist law of value) is itself the cause of social and economic inequality, then it would appear a contradiction in terms to argue that the goal of education should be to assist in the expansion of the market economy (p.139).
When cast in the light of modern globalization and neoliberalism, the learning city can be understood as a modern representation of imperialism. The learning city strives to implement a universal understanding of lifelong learning, one that highlights the development of human capital and reduces the value of learning for social justice – or even for pleasure. It seeks to standardize lifelong learning by putting in place economic indicators and quantifiable outcomes to judge its value to society. When economic indicators of education’s value are put into place, the situation of peer review it creates a situation where cities compete to get the better value- to be number one. It makes placing cities in a competitive global arena sound like a positive aspiration for city governance without any critical thought concerning with whom they are being competitive. The conqueror uses the language of finance and capital to assimilate the conquered.
Re- interpretating the
The interpretation of the learning city provided by the EU and the OECD is wholly inadequate to reach the billions of citizens in dire economic and social circumstance. The model they created is limited to cities that are interested in community economic development. Spring (1998a) maintains that, “OECD experts want knowledge to be measured according to its contribution to economic growth. In contrast, Confucius and Plato were interested in determining the ability of individuals to create moral and just societies” (p.168). If the learning city initiative is to be a more effective tool to push forth the idea of making a society that is “moral and just” then it should deal with challenging neoliberal orthodoxy.
One institute that is challenging the
neoliberal view of the OECD’s learning city is the Shikshantar Institute, based
Most efforts towards building Learning Cities in industrialized countries have concentrated primarily on institutionalized (formal and non-formal) delivery systems. We would like to move beyond this by locating more informal, dynamic learning spaces such as extended families, peer groups, work environments, professional associations, communication media, religious centers, natural recreation spots, and other socio-cultural meeting places (Shikshantar, n.d., p.2).
Leverman, and Mcgray (2007) provide this analysis of
They have worked to regenerate learning spaces (‘learning parks’) in which people can gather to learn about things of shared interest or concern; held workshops for ‘learning activists’ (in which un-learning predominant modes of learning has played a large part); supported public discussions, meetings, and exhibitions to promote engagement in key issues facing neighborhoods; fostered the self-organization of learning communities grappling with specific issues; and investigated and raised awareness of the rich mosaic of everyday learning already transpiring in Udaipur (p.48).
Shikshantar instructs us that there are
problems with the current interpretation of the learning city. Problems that
are not being addressed in developed countries due to the uncritical acceptance
of neoliberal policy and globalization of capital.
Beyond their ability to instruct an
alternative understanding of a learning city,
The focus of the Shikshantar Institute is on the wants and needs of a specific community:
We firmly believe ‘what’ and ‘how’
The learning city, as suggested by the Shikshantar Institute is both for and of the people.
To date, alternative approaches to the learning city have been mostly limited to the work of the Shikshantar. In 2007, learning city theorists Plumb, Leverman, and Mcgray offered a rare critical investigation of the learning city by contesting the notion in the realm of the third world. Their investigation uncovered the effects of policies that have pushed, “slum-dwellers” to join “the wretched ranks of ‘informal’ workers, eking out a stark existence through a myriad of marginal or illegal activities” (p.39). Consider how this differs from sanguine notions of capitalism espoused by Fukuyama (1996), “the workplace also draws people out of their private lives and connects them to a wider social world” (p.6).
The notion of a learning city limits the, “development of urban form”, contend Plumb, Leverman, and Mcgray:
Rather than realizing the full promise of the learning city as a notion that can help promote the development of urban forms that can enable the full participation of citizens in the development of their city, narrow, economistic notions of the learning city can only contribute to a growing polarization of urban life (p.37).
Other than Plumb, Leverman, and Mcgray, learning city pundits have lacked the wherewithal to look outside the borders of their self-described developed world – the world of the OECD – to try and comprehend what is happening in cities around the world. Instead, they choose to stay within their myopic borders. Indeed, most do not even consider the implications of what their thoughts and theories could have on the citizens of the cities they theorize about and the world beyond the limits of a city.
Presently, learning city pundits avoid the reality that they are trying to create a system of governance that benefits the business culture of the city and the global economic elite. This is being accomplished by convincing and manipulating the working class into believing that learning for earning is beneficial for all. The question must be asked; why have they been allowed, and have allowed themselves, to ignore the effects that the learning city could have on the rest of the world? This sort of unaccountability is unacceptable. It is now time to expand the horizons of the leaning city.
Learning city pundits should take their cue from Plumb, Leverman, and Mcgray, and look outside of the sphere created by the OECD when planning or envisioning the learning city. They should consider Mike Davis’s (2006) prediction that, “the cities of the future, rather than being made of glass and steel as envisioned by earlier urbanists, are instead largely constructed out of crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks and scrap wood” (p.19). How do the learning cities, for example, of Ballarat or Glasgow fit into this milieu?
The vision of a learning city should
include an understanding of what
Plumb, Leverman, and Mcgray (2007) assert that the notion of the learning city is not a lost cause. They contend that, “it is imperative to retain a revitalized notion of the learning city… [because] it opens the possibility for transformative action that might begin to address the disastrous urban development of contemporary times” (p.46). A revitalized notion of the learning city should begin with Giroux’s (2005) suggestion that a, “public pedagogy [that] defines the cultural objects of interpretation, and offers the possibility for engaging modes of literacy that are not just about competency, but also about the possibility of interpretation as an intervention in the world” (p.131).
Learning city pundits must resist sloganizing the notion and recognize that all cities are learning cities. In doing this it would highlight the fact that lifelong learning is broad based, and that sharing and helping one another is better that being competitive. It must drop its self-centered righteousness and allow people the right to live on the margins without marginalizing them; not all citizens desire to be part of the global economy. To have any chance of being a positive force in the world, the learning city notion must be taking out of the hands of the OECD and EU and placed into the domain of a broad range of lifelong learning theorists and pundits.
At the conclusion to this thesis, I am confronted with the question that has challenged me since I first started to investigate the concept of the learning city: “is there hope for the learning city?” My initial response, when confronted with a concept that allows neoliberals to dress human capital in the guise of lifelong learning is, no. When I examine how the learning city is defined within the OECD defined parameters of free market neoliberalism, I struggle with finding a solution to reclaim the notion from capitalists. Alan Rogers’ (2006) assertion concerning the “failure of lifelong learning” in that it, “concentrates first on learning for work” (p. 125), is applicable for the OECD’s use of lifelong learning. As a student of adult education, I cannot support a concept that places education in a potentially oppressive role.
Being a student of adult education has provided me with an opportunity to study the writings and thoughts of a variety of individuals who have committed considerable parts of their lives to understanding the capitalist system and, more importantly, have tried or are trying, to change the system. I have been inspired by; Ivan Illich, Paolo Freire, Moses Coady, Jimmy Tompkins, Karl Marx, Stephen Lewis, Mike Davis, and Manish Jain, to name a few, people who seek changes intended to help those that are most disadvantaged by rampant capitalism. I take heart from such people and feel compelled to reclaim the notion of the learning city.
To reclaim the concept of the learning city, first the notion of lifelong learning must be reclaimed. Is the role of lifelong learning purely for the creation of human capital? Or, can it have other uses? Alan Rogers (2006) believes that lifelong learning can be reclaimed:
The potential is there within lifelong learning – and it is up to those of us who find our commitment to radical social and cultural change growing stronger to encourage those engaged in lifelong learning to join us in the struggle to build a better more socially cohesive and tolerant society rather than just a richer and a more democratic (in its narrow sense) society (p.133).
Once the discourse of lifelong is reclaimed, and removed from the control of neoliberal dogma, then, I believe, there will be hope for the learning city. Hope, as explained by Giroux (2005), “is the precondition for individual and social struggle, involving the ongoing practice of critical education in a wide variety of sites and the renewal of civic courage among citizens who wish to address pressing social problems” (p.178). Giroux sees hope as a subversive force which is necessary to mend social and civic problems.
At this point, I can offer no strategies
or plans to reclaim the learning city but if we start to rethink the concept
then we may find a path to change. As
If we expand our view of the learning city and imagine it as a context of enhanced citizen engagement, if we focus on developing a broader base of urban partnerships that includes not only economic players but also the wealth of community, non-governmental, and other civil society organizations, if we promote the learning city as a context within which we can develop economically sustainable, peaceful, socially meaningful, and aesthetically beautiful ways of living together, the reality of the concept might approach the bounty of its promise.
Thanks to the work of adult education and lifelong learning theorists, who believe we can change an unfair economic/social system, I can conclude by saying there is hope and promise for the learning city.
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