Conceptualising the liberal ideal: the discursive construction of education in the promotion of international development 2000 – 2020

Wash, Ian (2022) Conceptualising the liberal ideal: the discursive construction of education in the promotion of international development 2000 – 2020. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis advances our understanding of the ideational drivers behind international education policy of the new millennium by taking an interpretive approach to the key policy documents. Discourse analysis is used to examine the main policy reports produced by the most influential bodies in this field, notably the World Bank and UN agencies, between 2000 and 2020. It finds that international education policy was discursively constructed as a grand narrative about the vision, process and outcomes of education in the promotion of international development. Yet the thesis argues that the dominant liberal model informing policy practices in this field was compromised by an overly simplistic one-size-fits-all approach to constructing the challenges and finding solutions in international education. To be specific, the analysis finds that the international policy realm was dominated by thinking grounded in economic liberalism.

This study questions the assumed harmony within the liberal model of international education, probing its broader notions of human perfectibility and liberal economic ideals associated with narrower market concerns. For the analysis reveals a grand narrative operating around a series of theoretically informed debates: over the vision of education as an economic or a social good; concerning the relative benefits of marketisation as opposed to humanisation in the process; and on outcomes, over whether the policies put in place rendered education a commodity or enabled the progressive realisation of the right to education. The liberal theory of international education is constituted by reference to the former pole of each of these binaries, whereas the latter is associated with critical perspectives on the liberal education model. It is this liberal model that underpins the international education policy practices examined in this study, the assumptions of which are deserving of much scrutiny and critical reflection. Applying a discursive approach to official reports and speeches lays bare the beliefs behind the liberal education model that these policy documents are associated with. In turn, this allows for a critical assessment of the liberal theory of international education, the assumptions behind which are considered flawed and urgently in need of attention.

Through a detailed analysis of the liberal education model, the thesis delivers a series of theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions: it helps us establish the case for taking a discursive approach to public and foreign policy research; it presents a unique interpretive discourse analytical method for investigating public policy dilemmas thereby showcasing the value of discourse analysis for international relations research; it identifies the weaknesses and possible solutions to seemingly intractable issues in international education, namely the challenges of providing equal access to high quality learning in poor countries amid economic and market-based tensions concealed within the liberal education model; and, it highlights policy recommendations to improve human wellbeing and security in less prosperous nations. The thesis concludes by considering how contemporary international education policy responses to Covid-19 have tended to reinforce trends identified between 2000 and 2020 towards a more liberal market economy model of education. More specifically, that responses to online learning have tended to support the interests of global education tech companies thus bolstering the prevailing aspects of the education model aligned with economic liberalism.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Pupavac, Vanessa
Burns, Tony
Keywords: International education, International development, Political discourse analysis
Subjects: J Political science > JZ International relations
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Politics and International Relations
Item ID: 70014
Depositing User: Wash, Ian
Date Deposited: 31 Dec 2022 04:40
Last Modified: 31 Dec 2022 04:40

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