Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Understanding educational transfer: theoretical perspectives and conceptual frameworks


Educational transfer is an important and growing body of literature in the field of comparative education. Work from the last decade has focused on the stages of the borrowing cycle, and the context, causes and rationales for education borrowing. This recent work has contributed to earlier research on the role of multilateral organizations in education development and transfer. Rather than reviewing in comprehensive detail the substance, agents or mechanisms of educational transfer, this paper provides an overview of the field’s main theoretical lenses and conceptual frameworks, focusing on the stages, processes and forms of educational transfer. Throughout the paper we link related literature from disciplines other than education to account for education policy changes. The paper concludes with a discussion of future lines of research on educational transfer.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. Ball, S. (1998). Big policies/small world: An introduction to international perspectives in education policy. Comparative Education, 34(2), 119–130.

  2. Bordieu, P. (1989). Social space and symbolic power. Sociological Theory, 7(1), 14–25.

  3. Burbules, N. C., & Torres, C. A. (2000). Globalization and education: Critical perspectives. New York: Routledge.

  4. Burde, D. (2004). International NGOs and best practices: The art of educational lending. In G. Steiner-Khamsi (Ed.), The global politics of educational borrowing and lending (pp. 173–187). New York: Teachers College Press.

  5. Dale, R. (1999). Specifying globalization effects on national policy: A focus on the mechanisms. Journal of Education Policy, 14(1), 1–17.

  6. Dale, R. (2000). Globalization and education: Demonstrating a “common world educational culture” or locating a “globally structured educational agenda”? Educational Theory, 50(4), 427–448.

  7. Dale, R. (2005). Globalisation, knowledge economy and comparative education. Comparative Education, 41(2), 117–149.

  8. Dolowitz, D. P., & Marsh, D. (2000). Learning from abroad: The role of policy transfer in contemporary policy-making. Governance: An International Journal of Policy and Administration, 13(1), 5–23.

  9. Epstein, E. H. (1987). The peril of paternalism: The imposition of education on Cuba by the U.S. American Journal of Education, 96, 1–23.

  10. Evans, M., & Davies, J. (1999). Understanding policy transfer: A multi-level, multi-disciplinary perspective. Public Administration, 77(2), 361–385.

  11. Frank, A. G. (1975). On capitalist underdevelopment. Bombay: Oxford University Press.

  12. Hall, P. (1993). Policy paradigms, social learning and the state: The case of economic policy making in Britain. Comparative Politics, 25, 275–297.

  13. Halpin, D., & Troyna, B. (1995). The politics of education policy borrowing. Comparative Education, 31(3), 303–310.

  14. Henry, M., Lingard, B., Rizvi, F., & Taylor, S. (2000). The OECD, globalization, and education policy. Oxford: Pergamon.

  15. Hulme, R. (2005). Policy transfer and internationalisation of social policy. Social Policy & Society, 4(4), 417–425.

  16. Irizarry, R. L. (1980). Overeducation and unemployment in the third world: The paradoxes of dependent industrialization. Comparative Education Review, 24(3), 338–352.

  17. Jones, P. W. (2004). Taking the credit: Financing and policy linkages in the educational portfolio of the World Bank. In G. Steiner-Khamsi (Ed.), The global politics of educational borrowing and lending. New York: Teachers College Press.

  18. Jones, P. W. (2005). Education, multilateralism and the UN. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

  19. Keck, M. E., & Sikkink, K. (1998). Activist beyond borders: Advocacy networks in international politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

  20. Kingdon, J. W. (1995). Agendas, alternatives, and public policies (2nd ed.). New York: Longman.

  21. Lindquist, E. A. (2003). Discerning policy influence: Framework for a strategic evaluation of IDRC-supported research. Canada: International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Retrieved October 15, 2007 from

  22. Luhmann, N. (1982). The differentiation of society. New York: Columbia University Press.

  23. Luhmann, N. (1994). The modernity of science. New German Critique, 61, 9–24 (K. Behnke, Trans.). Retrieved August 20, 2007 from

  24. Luhman, N. (1997). The limits of steering. Theory Culture Society, 41(1), 41–57.

  25. Meseguer, C. (2005). Policy learning, policy diffusion, and the making of new order. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 598(1), 67–82.

  26. Meyer, J. W. (2006). In Keynote speech presented at the biannual conference. Comparative education in Europe Society. Granada, July 2006.

  27. Meyer, J. W., Boli, J., Thomas, G. M., & Ramirez, F. O. (1997). World society and the nation-state. The American Journal of Sociology, 103(1), 144–181.

  28. Ochs, K., & Phillips, D. (2002). “Comparative studies” and “cross-national attraction” in education: A typology for the analysis of English interest in educational policy and provision in Germany. Educational Studies, 28(4), 325–339.

  29. Paulston, R. G. (1990). Essay review: Toward a reflective comparative education. Comparative Education Review, 34(2), 248–255.

  30. Paulston, R. G. (1999). Mapping comparative education after postmodernity. Comparative Education Review, 43(4), 438–463.

  31. Phillips, D. (2004). Toward a theory of policy attraction in education. In G. Steiner-Khamsi (Ed.), The global politics of educational borrowing and lending (pp. 54–68). New York: Teachers College Press.

  32. Phillips, D. (2006). Investigating policy attraction in education. Oxford Review of Education, 32(5), 551–559.

  33. Phillips, D., & Ochs, K. (2003). Processes of policy borrowing in education: Some analytical and explanatory devices. Comparative Education, 39(4), 451–461.

  34. Phillips, D., & Ochs, K. (2004). Researching policy borrowing: Some methodological challenges in comparative education. British Educational Research Journal, 30(6), 773–784.

  35. Przeworski, A., & Teune, H. (1970). The logic of comparative social inquiry. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

  36. Rose, R. (1991). What is lesson drawing? Journal of Public Policy, 11(1), 1–22.

  37. Schriewer, J. (1989). The twofold character of comparative education: Cross-cultural comparison and externalisation to world situations. Prospects, 14(3), 389–406.

  38. Schriewer, J. (1992). The method of comparison and the need for externalization: Methodological criteria and sociological concepts. In J. Schriewer & B. Holmes (Eds.), Theories and methods in comparative education (3rd ed., pp. 25–83). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

  39. Schriewer, J. (2000). World system and interrelationship networks. In T. S. Popkewitz (Ed.), Educational knowledge: Changing relationships between the state, civil society, and the educational community (pp. 305–343). Albany: State University of New York Press.

  40. Schriewer, J. (2003). Globalisation in education: Process and discourse. Policy Futures in Education, 1(2), 271–282.

  41. Schriewer, J., & Martinez, C. (2004). Constructions of internationality in education. In G. Steiner-Khamsi (Ed.), The global politics of educational borrowing and lending (pp. 29–53). New York: Teachers College Press.

  42. Shibata, M. (2004). Educational borrowing in Japan in the Meiji and post-war eras. In D. Phillips & K. Ochs (Eds.), Educational policy borrowing: Historical perspectives (pp. 145–165). Oxford studies in comparative education. Oxford: Symposium Books.

  43. Singer, J. D. (1961). The level-of-analysis problem in international relations. World Politics, 14(1), 77–92.

  44. Spreen, C. A. (2004). Appropriating borrowed policies: Outcomes-based education in South Africa. In G. Steiner-Khamsi (Ed.), The global politics of education borrowing and lending (pp. 101–113). New York: Teachers College Press.

  45. Steiner-Khamsi, G. (2002). Re-framing educational borrowing as a policy strategy. In M. Caruso & H. Tenorth (Eds.), Comparing educational systems and semantics. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

  46. Steiner-Khamsi, G. (2004). Blazing a trail for policy theory and practice. In G. Steiner-Khamsi (Ed.), The global politics of educational borrowing and lending (pp. 201–220). New York: Teachers College Press.

  47. Steiner-Khamsi, G., & Quist, H. (2000). The politics of educational borrowing: Reopening the case of Achimota in British Ghana. Comparative Education Review, 44(3), 272–299.

  48. Stone, D. (2001). Learning lessons, policy transfer and the international diffusion of policy ideas. Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation Working Paper No. 69/01.

  49. Sutton, R. (1999). The policy process: An overview. University of Sussex Overseas Development Institute Working Paper 118. London: Chameleon Press.

  50. Wallerstein, I. (1974). The modern world system: Capitalist agriculture and the origins of the European world economy in the sixteenth century. New York: Academic Press.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Laura B. Perry.

About this article

Cite this article

Perry, L.B., Tor, G. Understanding educational transfer: theoretical perspectives and conceptual frameworks. Prospects 38, 509–526 (2008).

Download citation


  • Educational transfer
  • Theoretical perspectives
  • Conceptual frameworks