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The dynamics of human capital and the world of work

Towards a common market in contemporary tertiary education

Author - Aidan Kenny


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13 A final comment

The content, substance and extent of the higher education policy modernisation agenda within Europe and Ireland over the last two decades have been substantial. Inherent in this multi-level policy context is a new logic of reform based on quantifiable outcomes, measurability mechanisms, market dynamics and reconstructing knowledge as a form of ‘capital’. The contemporary nation-state is not only a producer of education and training policy, it consumes policy from other nation-states and elite think-tanks. It endeavours to negotiate its policy instruments onto the agenda of international consortia. The contemporary education and training policy narrative has become an ‘elaborate code’,[20] a form and mechanism for formal communication between nation-states and other interested parties, a ‘global policyspeak’.[21] The evidence of this policyspeak can be easily explored by comparing the electronic text artefacts that nation-state’s departments and ‘supranational organisations’[22] utilise to present information to the ‘consumer/citizen’, via the World Wide Web.

Within this growing policy narrative there is a forceful drive and substantial ‘discourse’[23] relating to tertiary education, principally proclaiming the benefits of the commodification of knowledge within the economic imperative, and focusing on maintaining competitive advantage by the creation of new knowledge.[25] are embedded in this new knowledge agenda embodied in the conceptual premise of ‘human capital’.[26] The hard currency of this new knowledge is the examination transcript.[27][. This formal record of achievement is given official recognition and hierarchical value through national qualification frameworks and meta-frameworks. These frameworks combined with other policy[28] instruments aid the liberalisation process and marketability of human capital.

Contemporary nation-states provide substantial resources towards the promotion and marketing of their education and training system in the endeavour to gain a slice of the lucrative international student market. International trading and commerce in human capital is not confined to the student market, high-skilled workers are viewed as valuable human resource assets. Within this new knowledge policy agenda, the praxis of knowledge provision is facilitated by commonality of function, modality, time and space. Knowledge is codified by deconstructing course content into quantifiable small chunks of meaningful knowledge units. This new knowledge production, knowledge transfer, knowledge assessment, accreditation and utility are monitored by the quality regime. With this policy framework knowledge production can occur outside of the formal education and training structures. Practical work and life experiences are formally legitimised.

While this new rationality of knowledge production advances at both macro and micro levels who is listening to the lone voice of actors in the field, who express reservations on the traditional grounds of ethics, morals, values and pedagogy? Education and training systems evolved from traditional praxis. Is there now a risk that the drive for modernisation will leave society adrift without any anchorage to traditions and heritage? While change is a given in the process of adaptation and the evolutionary process of societal development, it is both the speed of policy change and the seemingly distance of policy development from actual practice that is most worrying. Practitioners are busy carrying out their duties and responsibilities in relation to their students and discipline domains. They do not seem to have the time or appropriate opportunities to engaging fully in policy development offering counter discourses as alternative options. New policy development is located in the domains of powerful committees and interest groups that have the resources to employ teams of consultants to formulate the future directions of tertiary education and training.

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