Some months ago, in the permanent seminar on Educación Superior Estatal de la Universidad de Chile y del Consorcio de Universidades del Estado de Chile (CUECH) (State Higher Education at Universidad de Chile and the Consortium ofChilean State Universities), Professor Brian Pusser dealt with “Challenges of State higher education in the twenty-first century: State, civilian society, and university as a public sphere.” Professor Pusser is a Professor at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia (USA), and one of his main research areas is related to models of higher education. This text is an edited version of his lecture, in which he dealt with the role of the State, global policies on education, and the increasing privatization of higher education.
Translated by Alfonsina Doddis, Department of Linguistics of the Universidad de Chile /Photo by Alejandra Fuenzalida
During the past 40 years, global economy has made an impact on higher education. For a very long period of time, public non-profit institutions have had as their mission to contribute to the public interest/to public interests and to the construction of the State. But this situation has been replaced by an educational development led on the basis of marketlogic, which can be characterized by a significant reduction of state investment, an increase in privatization, and thus, in inequality.
In this presentation, I will tackle the way this process has affected higher education, always taking into consideration that access to it and success in it are related to secondary school education and to other educational elements. In addition, I will refer to different types of institutions, acknowledging that higher education all over the world arose from civilian society in negotiation with local authorities. Therefore, higher education has been an area in which the State has played a fundamental role.
Universities are political institutions. This does not mean that they have become politicized or that they are ideological institutions. I refer to their organizational and financial dimension and to the regulation in the political sphere, mediated by the State. That is the reason for my stating that universities are political entities.
Likewise, it is important to clarify that public policies on higher education develop in a global context. For instance, in South Africa, the State has to take into account inequality, apartheid, access; in Western Europe there is pressure exerted by rules imposed specially by the United States. Whereas, in the United States, registration andtuition fees are high and students become heavily indebted; in China, the State tries to strike a balance between higher education and social and economic changes. In this international context, nowadays in Chile there are discussions concerning access, free university fees, and the role of the State and the civilian society in higher education.
This is a worldwide phenomenon. In different countries there are debates about the role of the State or about the best system and the purpose of higher education. There are also questions concerning inequality, professional development, research production, labour force training, economic development, creation of new knowledge, and the preservation of historical areas of knowledge.
A general characteristic of this discussion is the mixture of private and public assets in higher education. This means that there is a need to consider those things that cannot be produced in markets but that citizens demand. That is, how much education is to be given and how to give it. It is precisely here where countries must define their priorities in relation to their historical, political and economic contexts.
The State in education
It is in these contexts where the interest in situating the role of the State in the pursuit of the aims of higher education arises. Ideology and interests characterize this discussion about the State, since the actions that may be taken are characterized by a political disposition tothe State. For instance, in the United States, the idea of going on decreasing the State’s role is usually promotedin terms of reducing subsidies and other contributions. Thus, in the United States there has been a sustained increase inregistration and tuition fees in the past 40 years. On the contrary, there is the case of Scandinavian countries where there are high subsidy levels, and low registration fees and free tuition fees.
The relationship between registrationand tuition fees is very complex and it involves a tension between educational and tax policies because there must be an answer to the question, who pays, who benefitsand who should pay?
The decisions that the State takes concerning higher education have repercussions for public policy outcomes. Not only in relation to subsidy for institutions but also to accreditation, degree of state governance and to the legitimacy of the system infront of society.
Higher education is crucial to the development of a nation and State decisions bring consequences. In the United States, for-profit universities have increased since 1995 thanks to the political support to these neoliberal laws. Public financing was established to guarantee loans to students who study at profit-making institutions and these institutions were given privileged treatment concerning their governance. In addition, these institutions have allies in the political arena and the media.
In order to decide on this type of supportto private institutions, there should be a technical and political justification, because it is not clear why the State does not differentiate between a private and a public institution. It is not only a subsidy matter, because the State with its policies also shapesthe behaviour of institutions transforming their practices and character.
IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System), the most outstanding higher education database at federal level, establishes a typology on the basis of institutional control: public universities controlled by the State, private non-profit universities controlled by the civilian society, and private profit-making universities controlled by the civilian society, but with market characteristics. This typology operating in the United States is not based on earnings, students’ qualities or academic outcomes but on the form of governance or regulation. This is a very important guide to understanding the range of institutions in the United States. Besides, it is worth considering that there are many private non-profit institutions that are admirable in terms of their prestige and quality.
The State should be empowered, since it is obliged to provide essential rights to the community. One of them is the right to decent education, established in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Anyway, this does not imply that all states give priority to education in the same way.
For some states, private education has come about due to the lack of availability to provide education and thus it has helped to meet the demand. This has generated tension with relation to the private education regulation. Due to a decision in educational policy, in some countries private institutions are under the direction of state -public- boards in which there are state representatives for this regulation process. In many countries the number of private higher education institutions is higher than the number of state universities. Considering political economy, the states can offer to subsidize private institutions, but the State has to control them. A subsidiary view of the State has been part of educational policies for a very long time.
Privatization of education
Private education has widely increased in the world and the main reason is that the demand for higher educationhas exceeded the capacity of the existing state institutions for meeting it. But it is usually forgotten that states are under pressure to reduce costs and they cannot invest to, precisely, absorb this demand. Many states have allowed the growth of private institutions, providing them with very high subsidies. This phenomenon has been more common in Latin America and Asia. This type of institutions focuson high demand labour markets, health, information technology and business. In general, they have much higher enrolment and tuition fees than state universities.
In this context, private higher education institutions have specific objectives to maximize their outcomes. They have different demands, structures and responsibilities when compared to state institutions. For this reason, when the State promotes registration at private universities, it is investing inan educational project which is different from one that would be promoted if the State decides to invest in state universities. That is, investmentprovision does not yield the same educational outcomes if the investment goes to a private or a state institution.
For example, when for-profit universities were allowed in the United States, there was a promise, a revolution in higher education would happen, but this promise has not been fulfilled. There are low levels at the end of university studies, high levels of indebtedness and little entrepreneurship, when it was assumed that competence would favour innovation. The central argument for these outcomes is profit. The practical distinction between state and private universities is profit-making. This is also a challenge for non-profit private institutions which want to compete in the market. For-profit universities want to raise registration, earnings, and returns, exerting pressure on non-profit educational institutions that do not want to meet those objectives for being successful in the higher education system.
Ideologies and market forces are nowadays so powerful that they have dominated political culture in general and they emerge in the civilian society sector that is concerned with education. These market policies are shapingthe curriculum, the type of research and knowledge that are produced at universities. It is important to consider the way in which these forces line up in society. In this respect, I suggest paying more attention to the role of accreditation and to the target of educational public resources.
As a result of the pressure to diminish the role of the State in higher education, many public institutions have increased registration and tuition fees. Several Latin American countries have been affected by these policies, bringing about high levels of indebtedness on the students’ part and motivating student demonstrations and protests from other civilian society actors.
Many social movements promoted by students have improved the higher education context and have had an impact on the national political contexts. For instance, in the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders, present pre-candidate to the Presidency, has promised free higher education. In Chile and in the world, these social movements have led to political debates that promote reducing educational inequality.
The role of the public university
Public universities are important toforcesocial advances. All over the world public universities and access to them should matter. National public systems have a bearing on social, cultural, political, and economic contexts
The university, besides, can be regarded as a place for the creation and conservation of the public sphere. A place in which different viewpoints can be expressed, where intellectual and social issues can be addressed and brought up with some degree of autonomy. A place where the demands of the civilian society, of the State or of the institutions themselves are attended to. This is essential for the welfare of the universities and also for the society as a whole.
I would like to end by stating that the university is the most important place in a nation, where people support their discussionswith arguments, where they criticize what is taken for granted, and defy established assumptions.
It can be a romantic view of the university, but the university should always be a place that we care very much about on account of its intellectual potentialities and its contributions to society. The university is a sphere to also produce new ways to do politics. Because of this, discussions should be held about what can possibly be done in education to preserve public universities taking into account their enormous impact on society.