Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Neoliberal Globalization and Educational Administration: Western and Developing Nation Perspectives

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_287



The political philosophy of neoliberalism has become pervasive, both in its effects in government and on societies, and in the academic literature. Equally, globalization has reshaped political agendas, the configuration and practices in social institutions, and is a common topic in several disciplines, currently reshaping both the university systems providing education in the West and those in the developing world receiving their services. However, there is considerable controversy over their positive and negative attributes, spawning a large and widespread critical literature. Most of the discussion originates in the West, but increasingly critique of neoliberalism and globalization are emerging from the developing world, which has been the recipient of these socioeconomic and political developments, ones that have also had an impact on the cultural-educational sectors internationally.

This entry provides an overview and discussion of the origins and characteristics of neoliberalism and its economic expression through globalization as well as the effects they have had on education and its administration. Just as neoliberalism affected the entire public sector and, in turn, influenced the private sector, globalization leaves untouched no aspect of society – its influence is pervasive through all social institutions, including social welfare, health, education, including causing issues of sovereignty through internet technology and multi- and transnational corporations (Held 2004). The entry also identifies critiques that have been raised in Western and developing parts of the world, especially as they affect education in the inequalities produced and the cultural (re)colonization taking place in many countries creating dependence and the silencing of intellectual traditions.

Neoliberalism and globalization will be traced from their theoretical origins to the forms they take in restructuring and reshaping educational organizations, their governance, roles and patterns of social interaction, curriculum, and pedagogical practices, including the values that are promoted, their effect on knowledge and its creation through research, reshaping of policy, and the institutionalization of neoliberalism through think tanks, institutes, and intellectual movements promoting its application globally. Both have been approached through a variety of disciplines – history, political science, sociology, cultural studies – therefore the definitions and critiques vary depending on the disciplinary focus used, but all of these have significance for the interdisciplinary fields of education.

The Nature of Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is the term applied to a shift to the political right asserting economic ends, in the form of free markets, over political ends that began in the early 1980s in the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand that was accompanied by a public administration ideology called the New Public Management (NPM) which was inspired by private-sector practices consonant with the neoliberal return to market principles as a fundamental approach to government. The general change is the abrogation of the State’s responsibility for education by abandoning it to the market-place and the introduction of corporate “universities”. The historical origins, though, originate in eighteenth-century “cameralism” which was aimed at economic efficacy and scientific management, followed by the international scientific management movement in the 1910s, 1940s economic institutionalism theory, led primarily by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, and accompanied in its NPM formation by the 1980s corporate culture doctrine and a political embracing of public choice theory based on economic maximization of self-interest (Saad-Filho and Johnston 2004).

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the NPM was systematically applied to all public sector areas, although primarily aimed at privatizing, deregulating, and downsizing of public bureaucracies in social welfare, education, and healthcare along market principles, in other words, rationalizing through the following main changes in practices:
  1. 1.

    From senior administrative responsibility grounded in policy development to a managerial style typified by cost-consciousness producing a “scientized” managerialism ideology affecting role, structure, and staffing

  2. 2.

    Decentralizing organizations based on a monopoly system into corporatized units, internal markets, and rivalry, accompanied by a more centralized control over policy and civil service monitoring

  3. 3.

    From planning and public service welfarism to cost-cutting and labour discipline, producing deregulation and downsizing

  4. 4.

    From administrative processes adhering to policy initiatives to an emphasis on output through control and accountability mechanisms, producing quantitative methods of performance and efficiency measurements

  5. 5.

    Turning over permanent public bureaucracy provision of services to the private sector production of public services for “consumers” through term contracts, the use of consultants, contracting out, quasi-governmental organizations, and privatization


A broad-based critique of neoliberalism is its persistent erosion of the welfare state (see Bourdieu and Chomsky), the commodification of human activity, and the reduction of human experience to economic value (Peters 2011). Foucault’s concept of governmentality is a more effective critique of neoliberalism, since this concept is not confined to formal governmental or governance structures but includes all discourses and practices (intellectual technologies) that regulate human activity – reflect particular modalities of speaking, how “truth” is formed, who is authorized to speak the “truth” (epistemological structures), who generates it, moral forms, and which consonant actions are legitimated, together constituting the exercise of power. In this broadened conception, all organizations yielding to neoliberal practices are implicated.


To many, globalization is seen as a benign, or even positive, development in which transnational connections and interactions have been formed on civic levels, between companies, and between nations that are primarily an economic phenomenon aimed at increasing international trade and investment. It is also associated with, or seen as dependent upon, advances in information technology that allows for its characteristic broadened and more rapid interconnectedness (Held 2004). Its scope is far beyond that of manufactured goods, extended to include social, cultural, and education “production” evident in the many branch campuses of Western universities in developing parts of the world. The less benign view, from an international perspective, regards globalization as the dominance of Western nations over much of the rest of the world in which the human and material resources of the developing world are used to feed Western economic development, resulting in greater exploitation, a growing gap between rich and poor nations (Bourguinon 2015), and in the spread of a world “culture” predicated upon Western, mostly American, values and norms.

Implications for nations and their sovereignty vary from accounts that globalization is eroding and fragmenting nations’ political integrity, to those who argue that global connections are not historically unprecedented and that the greater international intensity reinforces or even strengthens State powers, and finally to those who regard globalization as a new set of economic, political, and social circumstances that are transforming the nature of the State. Many negative effects of globalization include structural unemployment, social exclusion, increased urban and national insecurity, and the proliferation of drug and weapons trafficking (Held 2004). These changes are accompanied by higher levels of human migration, asylum seekers, refugees and displaced persons, as well as labor migration and higher degrees of multiculturalism in part caused by the rise of international and transnational corporations, branch operations in foreign countries, and, in the case of education, larger numbers of foreign students from transitional and developing countries to Western university systems.

The nature of national and international structures is changing with the emergence of transnational governing bodies (e.g., the EU) and the increase in intergovernmental organizations and international non-governmental organizations, many of which have strong policy making influence such as the World Trade Organization, the OECD through establishing international standards and rankings, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, all of which have influenced the cultural and educational sectors of countries through the spread of neoliberalism (Hoogvelt 2001). Transnational regional bodies also have influence like the GCC, APEC, ASEAN, etc. and the emergence of cosmopolitan law out of twentieth-century international law developments. Globalized neoliberalism also shapes social institutions through its structural and operational formal rules that use Western principles and standards. These developments are reshaping national powers, policy making, governance structures, and organizational practices (Burbules and Torres 2000). Social institutions, including the educational sector, are also affected by increasing militarization and securitization as actors in the research and development of systems and as sites of surveillance are linked through multilateral arrangements and increasing export markets.

The Western Educational Critique

The Western critique of neoliberalism focuses mostly on the impact of neoliberalism on their own educational systems examining how corporate capitalism and its competitive free market model has changed the nature, role, and aims of higher education to a handmaiden of the politico-economic sector as a source of economic strategy development, first explored in depth by Slaughter and Leslie in Academic Capitalism. For many jurisdictions, higher education is intended to assist in the transition from a manufacturing to a “knowledge” economy. Effects of neoliberalism on universities are associated with market practices as they are applied to a reshaping of the institution: rational management; performance assessment (often quantitative and positivistic) that is not adapted to university teaching and scholarship; and deregulation, which has been applied to raising tuition levels in more regulated environments and allowing for a greater range of private universities and online services. These include the increasing commercialization and commodification of education, changing roles of faculty, through proletarianization, from semi-independent professionals into employees with an entrepreneurial character, in competition with one another (e.g., through bonuses), the privatization of scientific and technical research, removing barriers to university-industry alliances through changes in legislation and government policy, change of curriculum into an emphasis on labor preparation in programs and courses, and the increasing role of think tanks and institutes with a strong capitalist focus that are used to research and justify the neoliberalization of the educational sector by governments (Burbules and Torres 2000). From a Weberian perspective, disenchantment is well underway in this model, contributing to an even tighter “iron cage” modernization, and in Habermasean terms, it is a further and more comprehensive technical rationalization of the university, in other words, a further colonization of lifeworld by system.

These initiatives have been accomplished through the proliferation of “Centres of Excellence” and science parks to host university-industry collaboration, the use of patents to privatize knowledge (where intellectual property policies in some universities require the assignment of the patent to the university and not individuals), and a shift from foundational and primary discipline programs to applied studies, marketable product development, and a constant emphasis on innovation oriented towards the economic sector. Universities also have been transformed into revenue-generation machines, one effect of which is the commitment of significant university resources in attracting a lucrative foreign student recruitment, where disciplines like engineering and sciences are heavily dependent and an importance placed on faculty and university time and resources spent on marketing activities and spin-off firms.

The main problems associated with this transformation of higher education is a concern about academic freedom and the capacity for civil society activism, increasing student numbers with declining funds, the emergence of technologies in the form of networks that bind the university to “triple helixes” of university-industry-state linkages, including the military-intelligence-industrial complex. Of importance to the university as an institution is its declining role as a distinctive institution to protect and promote intrinsically-valued knowledge, free intellectual inquiry, and the community of scholars, with its own collegial governance system. Universities are increasingly being restructured to operate under university administrations that are built on a Chief Executive Officer model rather than as a scholarly leader who is first among equals. Universities now have divisions that structured to pursue the private sector, do market modeling, and which are staffed with people who are recruited from industry without the values, sensibilities, and social interaction knowledge of higher education organizations, changes that deeply transform organizational culture. The stresses and strains of these factors have also increased the intensity of organizational politics and conflict leading to a widespread phenomenon of academic mobbing. At the same time, the scholarly actors in this process are not wholly victims of an externally imposed change, but many themselves are complicit, ontologically complicit in Heideggerian and Merleau-Pontyian terms, or strategic game players in Bourdieuian terms.

The Non-Western Educational Critique

The globalization of Western education has resulted in a transmobility of scholars and the creation of branch or off-shore campuses, some through affiliation agreements, and “liaison” offices in foreign countries (although the last has raised concerns about free access to Western science and technology). These developments also contribute to fierce competition among Western universities in “penetrating” foreign educational markets.

There are many issues for non-Western countries in the globalization of Western educational programs, practices, and teaching staff modeled on a neoliberal agenda. The influence of corporate capitalist mentality creates many of the same commercializing and commodifying effects; however, there are also some differences in degree if not kind (Bauman 1998). In many developing and transitional countries, there is a low level of public funds invested in building a higher-education capacity, both forcing even public universities to operate as revenue-generating enterprises with few resources to invest in the building, libraries, laboratories, and highly qualified academic staff necessary in quality education but also creating an unregulated market-place in which business operators with no higher education experience set up inexpensive operations expecting to receive a return on investment in a short turn-around time.

One of these is the assumption, on the part of Western organizations and many in developing countries, that their values and practices are a norm to which developing countries must strive, regardless of the institutional arrangements in the country, legal and political system, and economic system. This effect is part of a general homogenization of culture occurring under globalization – a “world culture” (and neo-institutionalist) model based predominantly on American norms as a global ideal (Bauman 1998; Spring 2014; Zajda 2005). One example is the “knowledge” society model that is predicated upon transferring manual labor activities to the developing world while reserving “knowledge work” for the West, a model that often developing countries adopt without an understanding of its logic and without national capacity to change from a necessary production economic sector to that of a knowledge-based one. One feature of this is using “benchmarking” from Western universities in evaluating a developing country still in an institution- and nation-building mode and which has different social patterns and culture, and which also may have very different security requirements. These principles are enforced through credentialing instruments like accreditation that privilege Western knowledge, structures, and roles, requiring that non-Western educational systems conform to a unified neoliberal model (Burbules and Torres 2000; Saad-Filho and Johnston 2004) in order to qualify, not only through so-called “quality assurance” regimes but also in enforcing Western curricular models and intellectual traditions, which, under neoliberalism favor positivistic knowledge traditions over many critical and interpretive ones. These features are also part of a “world systems” perspective that examines “core” global zones like the USA, the EU, and Japan who attempt to legitimize their power and domination of “periphery” nations by actively inculcating its values into them (Appelbaum and Robinson 2005; Spring 2014).

Contrastingly, a postcolonial critique views globalized education as a cultural imperialist vehicle for imposing economic and political agendas on other nations by wealthy nations to increase their power and privilege (Appelbaum and Robinson 2005; Hoogvelt 2001). These practices constitute a new form of colonialism from that of nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century forms through IGOs, multinational corporations, trade, and globalized education through corporate publishing, research and professional organizations, and international testing. A related critique is that of culturalist theory which takes an equality position that all nations can benefit from borrowing and lending educational values and practices and emphasizes local borrowers rather than externally imposed education (Appelbaum and Robinson 2005; Spring 2014).

There are also underlying values that are contrary to many systems of thought and belief, not wholly those from outside the West: a materialist orientation that follows from a consumerist view of the world; secularization; a progressivist fallacy that Western, more particularly American, development is inherently superior; an antihistorical disposition that excludes shared traditions and beliefs, for example, the reliance of several Western intellectuals traditions on classic Islamic scholarship through a number of transmissions into Europe; and a dualistic view of the world (instead of, for example, a dialectic view of human history) – the “clash of civilizations” concept that permeates much more than just security and political oppositions that have spawned negative stereotyping and overgeneralizations about Islamic values and standards of social practice, the role of women, etc. One of the consequences of importing foreign curriculum and professional training is a loss of culture by affecting negatively cultural and national identity formation, for example, in providing leadership models that are contrary valuationally from many Western models (Zajda 2005). All of these effects can be seen as cultural imperialism (Appelbaum and Robinson 2005). Even though supporters of globalization see it as a force of democratization internationally tend to ignore democratic features of other systems, for example, the representative and consultative practices of Islamic administration inherent in its leadership model, or even many European configurations of democracy, assuming often that American-style democracy is a “default” position.

The main areas of critique include the impact on institutions in home countries where it began, in other developed countries where it migrated to, and the developing world where it serves as a recolonizing force. It is also associated with the rise of multinational and transnational corporations and the increasing role for international organizations like the OECD and UNESCO in spreading globalization, for example, the IMF and the World Bank through conditions attached to loans requiring the adoption of neoliberal-type austerity measures (Hoogvelt 2001). This is accompanied by an increasing political influence by foreign powers and multi- and transnational corporations over politics in developing countries, and direct influence in shaping educational policies and practices.

One of the major problems, not only for developing countries but also for Western countries most involved in globalization is the way in which it privileges education predicated upon market values and the forms of managerialism that come with it, over both a traditional Western university ethos and that of other rich and deep traditions of the developing world. For many critics, business-style management and efficiency models are diametrically opposed to the life of the mind, of the humanistic development of the human being, the pursuit of knowledge of intrinsic value, and even the quality of education itself.



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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Royal University for WomenRiffaBahrain