Exporting educational marketization: Swedish policy retailers on the move

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We’re happy to welcome Linda Rönnberg from the University of Umeå to give a lecture as part of the SPSS Social Policy seminar series.

Discussant: Anna Pultar, PhD student Social Policy


14th of March 2016
4-5.30 pm

room 1.204, 7 Bristo Square



The Swedish education system is increasingly viewed as being dominated by marketization. A series of reforms implemented in the 1990s turned the Swedish school system into ‘one of the world’s most liberal public education systems’ (Blomqvist, 2004, p. 148; Lundahl et. al., 2013). Swedish parents are free to choose any school for their child free of charge, public as well as tax-funded so-called free schools. The independent education providers are allowed to extract profit. As a result, for-profit school chains have flourished and they have also gone abroad to sell and market their services. Swedish school chains now operate globally (see for example examples in England, USA and India). We are facing a situation in which ‘despite its neglect in the policy transfer literature, business is now directly engaged with education policy in a number of different ways (…) [that] erase national boundaries’ (Ball, 2012, p. 11).

This study focuses on the undertakings of actors in the borderless flow of education policy by focusing on how a number of Swedish policy retailers market policy ideas about free schools and their own related commercialized services. The aim is to map and explore the connections, movements, and exchanges of a selection of Swedish education policy retailers in the transnational transactions of policy ideas and services. This study highlights how the original free-school architects in the domestic arena later travelled as ‘transnational missionaries,’ and the results empirically show how policy retailers move from the domestic to global arenas along transnational trade routes. These actors embody particular forms of knowledge and experience from department ministerial work and party politics, which blends with work in public relations and various edu-businesses. Mobilization and public exposure of policy-advocacy networks are important when these policy retailers are carrying, influencing and (trans)forming the growing global edu-business . The study points to the importance of mapping and exploring commercial policy retailers’ actions, moves, and embeddedness within networks domestically and globally, and argues that this holds implications for our understanding of contemporary educational policymaking and ultimately for democracy.

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