Globalisation and Education – Part One

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Globalisation and Education


Part One

  • Introduction: The Nature of Globalisation: Summary
  • Globalisation and Education Policies: General
  • Globalisation Political Parties and Ideologies

Part Two

  • Globalisation, Education Policy and Quasi-Marketisation
  • Quasi-Marketisation, Endogenous Privatisation and Exogenous Privatisation
  • Vocational Education

Part Three

  • Globalisation and International Comparisons of Educational Effectiveness: Tests: PISA, TIMMS and PIRLS

Part Four

  • Globalisation, Immigration and Education
  • Education and the Prevent Strategy
  • Coronavirus, The State and Globalisation

Part Five

·      Globalisation and Education Policies: Some Summary Criticisms


  • Introduction: The Nature of Globalisation: Summary




In set of resources, I provide an introductory discussion on the nature of globalisation before concentrating in more detail on the possible effects of globalisation on the English education system. For more detail on the nature of globalisation you may obviously consult your textbooks and you may also find these video resources useful.


The first 3 video links cover the Nature of Globalisation and the final 3 video links summarise the relationships between Globalisation and Education.

Click here for The Sociology Guy on Globalisation

Click here for Professor Robert Van Krieken on Globalisation

Click here for A Runaway World [1999 Reith Lectures on Globalisation by Anthony Giddens]

Click here for Alexandra Sugden’s video on Globalisation and Education

Click here for Kate Flatley’s discussion of Globalisation and Education Policy

Click here for the Sociology Guy’s examination answer  on  Globalisation and Education





In Part One of the resource the key question is:

When UK Governments introduced strategies based around the quasi-marketisation and privatisation of education in England to what extent was this due to the real constraints associated with globalisation and to what extent due to UK Governments’ own ideological preferences for neoliberal education policies?

Globalisation is a complex multi-dimensional concept involving inter-related economic, cultural, political and environmental aspects. In this document I shall outline very briefly some of the aspects of globalisation before concentrating in more detail on the relationships between globalisation and developments in English education policies.

1.    It is necessary to locate the process of globalisation within the overall context of world history. On this basis Luke Martell notes that the countries of the world have been interconnected in some ways for hundreds of years but that elements of “proto-globalisation” developed in the era of early modernity [1500-1800]. The beginnings of real globalisation arose in the modern period from 1800 onwards and the process accelerated in the second half of the c20th and especially in the last 40-50 years. It has also been argued that especially following the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-9 and the accession to the USA Presidency of Donald Trump in 2016 that trend toward increased globalisation could go into reverse and such views have strengthened because of the current global pandemic which can be expected to significantly disrupt global supply chains. Click here for an article [2017] in which these possibilities are addressed in some detail.

2.     Apparently the word “Globalisation” first appeared ii a dictionary in 1961 and my short definition is that it is:  ”a process which began in the C19th and then accelerated   especially in the last 40-50 years  whereby the  countries of the world have become increasingly economically, culturally and politically  interdependent and individuals have become increasingly aware of themselves as global citizens facing global issues demanding global responses.“  Obviously other short definitions are available

3.    Globalisation is facilitated via cheaper transport facilities involving the construction and use of huge container ships and improvement in techniques of mass communication because of the development of the internet. Currency dealers now switch huge amounts of capital between financial centres in a matter of seconds while the Internet facilitates the easy world -wide advertisement of goods and services. TV programmes including significant sports events and pop stars can reach a “world- wide” audience although internet access does remain limited among poorer people in the developing world.

4.    The economic aspects of globalisation include the growth of international trade, the increased mobility of capital, the increased mobility of labour and the growth of transnational corporations.

5.    The cultural aspects of globalisation include the opportunities for individuals to benefit from the growth of multiculturalism which has beneficially increased the diversity of music and drama, of cultural tastes, of food and styles of dress. However, it has also been argued that globalisation has resulted in the imposition of western cultural tastes in other parts of the world although many theorists emphasise the hybridisation of cultural tastes. It is argued that multiculturalism brings significant benefits in terms of diversity and choice, but it has also been noted that in some cases the increasing existence of different cultural values within societies has resulted in increasing social tensions. It has also been argued that globalisation has contributed in various ways to the growth of international terrorism.

6.    The political aspects of globalisation   involve consideration of the extent to which the growth of international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, The World Bank, the World Trade Organisation, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation may have reduced the powers of individual Nation States to determine their own government policies.

7.    These inter-related aspects of globalisation may be studied from differing perspectives. There are disputes among Hyperglobalists, Sceptics, and Transformationalists as to the factual empirical content of the globalisation process, but the process has also been discussed from differing ideological perspectives. Please note that I can provide only a summary of these perspectives here.

8.    Hyperglobalists writing in the 1980s agreed that globalisation is occurring and that it is a fairly recent phenomenon. The key aspects of globalisation involve the expansion of international trade, the rise of multinational corporations, increasing international capital movements driven by computerisation and the recognition that some issues such as war and peace, world economic stability and terrorism are global issue which are beyond the control of national governments and require international organisations such as the U.N., the I M F and the World Bank to deal with them. The setting up of these organisations results in a loss of national sovereignty which is reduced also because of the influence of multinational corporations and international capital markets over national governments’ economic policies

9.    Many hyperglobalists such as K. Ohmae lend support to the neoliberal view that globalisation is beneficial because it promotes increased economic efficiency, rising living standards, reduced world poverty, cultural diversity and world peace.

10.Sceptics are sceptical of the hyperglobalist view. In the Sceptic view [ exemplified for example by Paul Hirst and Kenneth Thompson] the extent of globalisation should certainly not be overstated and that it is more useful to see the world in terms of increasing international connections between nation states rather than in terms of globalising tendencies which reduce the significance of nation states. According to the sceptics the head offices of many multinational corporations are located primarily in specific countries and so cannot be regarded as truly transnational corporations. Although the power of states may be declining some states are more powerful than others and these more powerful states [especially the USA] can exercise some control over the activities of multinational corporations and over the activities of international organisations. Also nation states continue to exercise a major influence over the lives of their own citizens  through, for example , taxation and social policies Sceptics tend to be ideologically closer to social democracy  than to neoliberalism which leads them to argue that neoliberal policies have contributed to the growth of international inequality and that it remains perfectly possible for states to exercise their own autonomy and to introduce social democratic policies rather than to accept without question the trend toward global neoliberalism.

11. Transformationalists take a position which is intermediate between the positions of the Hyperglobalists and the Sceptics. They do believe that there has been a stronger trend toward globalisation from perhaps the 1960s onwards which has significantly influenced domestic and international political developments. Multinational [or transnational?] corporations have become more powerful and international organisations have played an increasing role in attempts to resolve international problems but some national states [most notably the USA and Northern European states and increasingly China] remain power and, rather than having lost sovereignty, these states may be seen as having pooled sovereignty to deal with the problems which they face.  Also, for transformationalists the future is uncertain: the process of globalisation may accelerate but it may develop in a more neoliberal or a more social democratic direction or it may in fact be reversed.

12.It has been widely argued that in practice in the last 40 years or so the development of international politics has been dominated by the ideology of neoliberalism especially in the USA and the UK but also because of the imposition of policies based upon the so-called Washington Consensus on the economies of the Global South and the opening of Russia and Eastern Europe to market forces following the collapse of “Communism”.

13.  In the New Right approach to politics as espoused from the 1980s especially by the governments of Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan it is argued that a combination of neoliberal and neo-conservative policies [with neoliberalism as the dominant aspect] can best promote economic prosperity, equality of opportunity and individual freedom. Low taxation, privatisation, deregulation and reduced government spending [especially on social security] are essential to ensure the economic competitiveness which is increasingly necessary in the globalised economy if living standards are to be maintained and improved and rising world living standards and the reduction of world poverty are presented as evidence of the success of the globalisation process based on neoliberal principles

14..Although Labour Governments  under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown  introduced  some moderate social democratic  programmes which according to some critics  diverged only slightly  from neoliberal policies more radical social democrats have argued  that more egalitarian policies  involving higher levels of taxation and of government spending policies can promote economic efficiency and social justice  and that there is no necessary reason why individual countries operating in a context of global neoliberalism  need necessarily introduce neoliberal policies themselves ism themselves and that is perfectly possible for the globalisation process itself to be redirected in a more social democratic direction.

15.  There are also so-called Alt-Globalisers who include Marxists, Anarchists. Radical Social Democrats, Feminists and Green Theorists who agree that globalisation is occurring but that believe that it must somehow be diverted from its current neoliberal path. This is a view which is taken also by the eminent economist Joseph Stiglitz although he recommends a return to moderate social democratic globalisation rather than the radical alternatives of the Alt Globalisers. [See Joseph Stiglitz Globalisation and its discontents.]

16.Also, some governments might be described as anti-globalisers which resist the globalisation process, for example on the basis on national populism or religious fundamentalism. In the USA Donald Trump and his supporters have claimed that the operation of globalised free trade has operated to the disadvantage of workers in American manufacturing industries who have lost their jobs due to increased competition from foreign imports and that a tougher and more protectionist approach to trade policy was necessary which would reverse the trend to increased globalisation and protect manufacturing jobs in the USA  Meanwhile throughout much of the Middle East there has been opposition on religious fundamentalist grounds to the export of some western cultural values and, of course ,to  the invasion of Iraq.

It follows from the above that the globalisation process could in principle take several forms: it could be organised primarily in accordance with neoliberal principles or with social democratic principles or with radical egalitarian principles as supported by alt-globalisation movements.

In practice in  the era of globalisation the governments of several advanced economies have been in the hands of political leaders and parties  who endorse either  a New Right interpretation of politics of a mildly Social Democratic, "Third Way"  interpretation in which some support for New Right policies is tempered by support also for moderate social democratic policies designed to some extent to offset the growth of economic inequality which appears to be a consequence of the wholesale introduction of New Right policies.

In the UK Conservative and Coalition and to some extent Labour Governments have believed that domestic policies based upon New Right principles can best guarantee economic prosperity, equality of opportunity and individual liberty and that a globalisation process based on neoliberal principles can best foster these objectives across the globe. They claim also that neoliberal globalisation does impose constraints on domestic economic and social policies but that if governments respond to these constraints with appropriate neoliberal policies   economic progress with social stability can be maintained.

These views are open to criticism.

Firstly, as noted above there are disputes as to the overall scope of globalisation from both Sceptics and Transformationalists.

Secondly, there are arguments from more radical Social Democrats, Marxists, Anarchists, Feminists and Green theorists who   recognise the increased interdependence of the world economy but argue that the high costs of globalisation derive from the neoliberal version of globalisation currently in operation and that alternative policies can be and must be introduced designed to build a world based on equality, non-domination, and ecological consciousness.

Thirdly it is argued that the constraints imposed on domestic governments by neoliberal globalisation are in fact far weaker than has been claimed by hyperglobalists in general and by neoliberal governments in particular and that when neoliberal governments emphasise [disingenuously according to their critics] the power of these constraints they are doing so to justify policies which they themselves favour for ideological reasons.


We may accept that the globalisation process does impose a need for educational reform if countries are to improve their competitiveness within the globalised world economy. To improve their competitiveness countries must: Increase the overall efficiency of their education systems; prioritise the expansion of Higher Education; provide for effective vocational education partly via the expansion of Further Education. Also, globalisation is likely to result in increased immigration which means that via the education system facilities must be provided for many new immigrants to learn English and in general to develop their capacities to the full.

However, there are also considerable variations in government education policies as between countries such as the USA and the UK on the one hand and some of the Scandinavian economies on the other and given the existence of devolution in the UK, there are also some significant policy differences [including in the field of education] among England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

This suggests that despite some constraints of globalisation governments may also have some freedom of manoeuvre regarding policy-making so that when governments do indeed introduce neoliberal -inspired policies they may do so partly because of the constraints of globalisation but partly also because of their own ideological commitment to these policies.

Thus, when we seek to analyse the effects of globalisation on UK education policies it is difficult to disentangle the effects of globalisation and the effects of ideological preferences of governments themselves which takes us back to the question raised at the beginning of this resource.

When UK Governments introduced strategies based around the quasi-marketisation and privatisation of education in England to what extent was this due to the real constraints associated with globalisation and to what extent due to UK Governments’ own ideological preferences for neoliberal education policies?

As we shall see [and as you perhaps already know] a key feature of recent English education policy is the growth of quasi marketisation and privatisation of education.

Does this derive [a] from the process of globalisation per se?

                            [b] from the process of specifically neoliberal globalisation?

                           [c] from the responses of UK governments supportive of neoliberalism to the process of neoliberal globalisation?

Globalisation and Education Policies: General.

It has long been recognised that one very important function of formal education systems is to prepare students for future employment and policies such as secondary school comprehensivisation and the expansion of Higher Education in the 1960s and 1970s were designed to improve the effectiveness of the future labour force s well as to increase equality of educational opportunity which itself would also lead to increased economic efficiency

However, from the 1970s onwards successive Conservative [1979-1997], Labour [1997-2010], Coalition [2010-2015] and Conservative Government [2015--] have stated that the processes of globalisation have made it increasingly necessary for education policies to foster increased economic efficiency [although as mentioned above it has also been argued that the educational policies adopted have also to a considerable extent reflected the ideological preferences of the governments concerned.]

Thus, it was emphasised that globalisation has resulted in the expansion of international trade leading to the substantial relocation of manufacturing industry from advanced capitalist countries such as the UK to the Global South where labour costs are much lower and this, coupled with increased labour productivity in the advanced capitalist countries, has led to a process of de-industrialisation involving the decline of manufacturing employment especially in unskilled and semi-skilled occupations. Successive UK governments have therefore argued that if employment prospects and living standards are to be maintained more students must be educated and trained for future employment for the more highly skilled occupations within manufacturing and within the expanding service industries such as banking, insurance, and leisure industries.

Essentially it was being argued that both domestic and international economic trends have resulted in a shift from Fordism to Post-Fordism and that it is essential that the education system must be reformed to correspond to this new post-Fordist economic situation. This would necessitate changes in the organisation of the overall school system, increases in the industrial and commercial relevance of the school curriculum, increased opportunities for industrial training and increasing access to Higher Education. That reforms of the UK education were necessary has been further emphasised because of the sometimes relatively low ranking of the UK in PISA tests although some limitations of these tests have also been recognised. [Click here for some information from the BBC on the most recent PISA tests and see Part Three for further discussion of these tests.]

Globalisation Political Parties and Ideologies

As already mentioned, the Conservative Governments of Margaret Thatcher [1979-90] were heavily influenced by New Right ideology although it has sometimes been argued that this commitment may have softened a little during the Premiership of John Major [1990-97]. New Right ideology contains two broad elements: Neo-Liberalism and Neo-Conservatism which are to some extent complementary but to some extent contradictory. Essentially Neo-Liberalism involves a commitment to the market mechanism while Neo-Conservative involves a commitment to a strong state and to traditional attitudes and values. Thus, the political theorist Andrew Gamble summarises New Right ideology as a commitment to the free economy and the strong state.

It is pointed out, however, that all governments face considerable practical constraints and that such constraints forced the governments of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to act, to some extent, pragmatically rather than entirely in accordance with neoliberal ideology. This has led some analysts to claim that these governments cannot reasonably be described as neoliberal governments and that the term “neoliberalism” is too vague to be useful and amounts, in some cases, to little more than a term of abuse used by the Left to denigrate the Right or used by radical socialists to denigrate New Labour .

Alternatively, however, it can be argued that used as an abstract theoretical term, neoliberalism might be used as a benchmark against which to assess the policies of governments and in this view the policies of the Reagan and Thatcher Governments would be seen as influenced by neoliberal ideology but not entirely determined by it.  You might like to discuss this article with your teachers  and decide the extent to which you agree with it….. or not

Also, if you would like study Neoliberalism in considerably more detail, I recommend Neoliberalism by Damien Cahill and Martijn Konings [2017].  You can download a review of this book here.



·           The New Right, Neo- Liberalism and Neo-Conservatism: A Checklist

  Dimensions of Neo- Liberalism

·        Support for Individual Freedom

·        Support for the Market Mechanism and the Private Sector

·        Support for Economic Inequality combined with Equality of Opportunity

·        Against Socialism

·        Against the Post-War Consensus

o   Support for lower levels of government spending and lower rates of taxation

o   Support for Monetarist rather than Keynesian methods of macroeconomic management.

o   Support for privatisation as an alternative to nationalisation

o   Support for deregulation of the private sector of the economy although it should be noted that privatisation has also resulted in some re-regulation of the industries privatised via organisations such as OFWAT and OFGAS.

o   Support for lower levels of spending on welfare

o   Support for the privatisation of welfare services

o   Support for Private Health care and Private Education

o   Support for "Quasi-Markets in State Health and Education services

o   Supporting the reduction of local government autonomy

o   Click here for a very useful article on neo-liberal attitudes to EU membership

o   Supporting the reduction of "excessive" trade union power





Dimensions of Neo-Conservatism

·        Support for Traditional Sources of Authority

        • Support for the State
        • Support for strong, punitive approaches to law and order
        • Support for "traditional approaches to morality
        • Support for the "traditional family"
        • Support for "traditional" approaches to education
        • Support for "national culture" rather than multi-culturalism
        • A tendency to Euroscepticism



The policies of Labour Governments [1997-2010] have reflected a commitment to a moderate version of social democracy (sometimes referred to as "the Third Way") which incorporates the acceptance of some neo-liberal principles combined with some moderate social democratic reforms such as the Sure Start programme and the Educational Maintenance Allowance. Whereas some have argued that Labour have modernised the ideology of social democracy in accordance with changes in economic and political conditions more critical analysts have claimed that Labour have essentially accepted key New Right principles which would undermine prospects for social justice and economic equality

The Coalition Government of 2010-2015 retained commitment to New Right ideology but also, perhaps due to the influence of the Liberal Democrats, introduced a Pupil Premium designed to help disadvantaged students and this policy has been continued by subsequent Conservative Governments although the Sure Start Programme has been scaled down.

More recently during her brief Premiership Theresa May expressed strong support for increasing the number of State Grammar Schools and also introduced plans to concentrate resources in geographical areas where social mobility is particularly low although it may be fair to say Theresa Mays plans for education were marginalised by the loss of the overall Conservative Majority in the 2017 General Election and  by the need to focus upon Brexit negotiations which eventually led to Theresa May's resignation as PM.  An initial critical assessment of the Opportunity areas programme is provided here

Subsequent Conservative Governments of 2019-2021 have been preoccupied with Brexit and subsequently with COVID 19 but you may Click here for a detailed article on Conservative education policy 2015-2020

Successive UK Government responses to globalisation or what some have described as global neoliberalism have involved the increased quasi-marketisation and privatisation of education These policies are discussed in Part Two of this resource