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Making global education markets and trade

Janja Komljenovic and Susan L. Robertson

How are education markets constructed? What is the global education industry? How is education becoming part of global trade in services?  Who are the actors involved? What are the consequences and outcomes for the sector and for society at large? These are some of the key questions addressed in a recent special issue ‘Making global education markets and trade’ published in the Globalisation, Societies and Education journal.


This special issue had its genesis in two panels that we have organised at the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Annual Conference in Vancouver in 2016. It aimed to generate theoretical, methodological and empirical insights into the very complex and new ecology of education systems that are being rapidly unbundled as largely state regulated sectors to functioning as a market. The authors identify a number of market devices and analyse how they work to set up and lubricate the ongoing workings of particular markets. They also analyse space and time as marketizing strategies to reveal complex modalities of power at play. And finally, they reveal networks of market-making actors who together work and invest to expand education markets as well as (re)structure national, regional and global political institutions.


Education market devices

A number of papers in the special issue focus on market devices and particularly elaborate (i) standards and standardisation, (ii) technology and infrastructure and (iii) data and metrics.


It is not surprising that standards are ‘normal’ elements of markets as they lubricate their smooth operation by increasing efficiency, reducing cost and enhancing trust. The papers analyse how education market-making actors intensively work to create industry standards, often without charging for this service. This is, however, also unsurprising as standardisation not only lubricates market operations, but also provides market opportunities for innovation and new products. In other words, standardisation in itself enables the creation of new commodities and markets.


Digital technologies and infrastructures are a second key group of market devices that are used both for and in countless particular devices and the same act as devices in their own right. Finally, data and metrics act as devices in that they convince buyers of education products of the trustworthiness of markets and their different products, acting, as one of the contributors to the issue describes it, as ‘epistemic objects’. Moreover, numbers give illusion of objectivity and are tools of the ‘governing by numbers’.


Spatial and temporal strategies for education market-making

Authors reveal the use of space and time as strategies for market-making; a set of processes that are often overlooked in the scholarly work on markets in education. Regarding spatial dynamics, particularly the use of space, scale, place, the nature of their social relations, and strength or weakness of their boundaries, are discussed. Regarding temporal dynamics, particularly the shift in temporal order towards the future is analysed to show how efforts to lock in a particular kind of future that privileges the interests of the investors, in turn helping to reproduce markets in education.


Networks and investors involved in education market-making

A number of papers also analyse those actors who are active in marketizing the education sector and the networks they form. They scrutinise the investment capital that seeks returns-on-profit, but also philanthropic donations that have particular connections to specific companies and the actors behind them.


Future research

Contributions to this special issue all in their own way engage with different sites and social processes as the basis for studying market-making and trade. An important endeavour of the authors was to theoretically and conceptually move beyond current approaches to studying market-making and trading in education services. As editors we endorse this endeavour and see that the complex processes are revealed in a novel way. As the editors, we wish to thank all of the authors for their outstanding contributions and look forward to wider ongoing conversations and future engagements with work on markets in education.


Janja Komljenovic and Susan L. Robertson are guest editors of the special issue ‘Making global education markets and trade’. Dr Janja Komljenovic is Senior Research Associate at the Lancaster University, UK. Professor Susan L. Robertson is Professor of Sociology of Educaton at the University of Cambridge, UK.


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