Category Archives: Neoliberalism

The Corporate Takeover of Education? Pearson’s Rapidly Expanding Control of UK Qualifications

Amidst the other aspects of the privatisation of education (Marketisation, Academies, Free Schools, Apprenticeships, Tuition Fees etc.) you may have missed this aspect!

Pearson PLC is a FTSE 100 company worth nearly £10 billion with sales of £4.9 billion and a £720 million profit in 2014, whose best-known subsidiary is Britain’s largest exam board, Edexcel, which generates a a profit of £60 million a year.

Over the last five years Pearson PLC has aggressively expanded its control of Britain’s qualifications and assessment market.

Between 2008/09 and 2012/13 its share of the GCSE market increased from 21% to 30%

Pearsons GCSE

 

Its share of ‘other qualifications’ has increased from 5% to 28%

Pearsons other table

Pearsons other

However, Pearson’s share of the smaller A level market decreased slightly from 25% to 23%.

Pearsons A level

Despite the shrinking in the A level market, taken together this means that Pearson PLC now sets the examination standards for almost 30% of qualifications undertaken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (1).

NB – There is more expansion planned! In its 2014 annual report Pearson PLC clearly states a desire to further expand its role in the UK education further, by getting more involved in such areas as the development of blended and virtual schools (e.g. Connections Education); and schools improvement programmes (e.g. through the Pearson’s School Model), and the use of ICT is central to all of this (2), although to date progress in these other areas seems to have not been as rapid as with its takeover of the qualifications market.

(1)http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20141031163546/http://ofqual.gov.uk/standards/statistics/annual-qualification-market-report-england-wales-northern-ireland/

(2)https://www.pearson.com/ar2014.html

TTIP – Putting Profit before People

The government is about to sign up to a treaty which will would allow companies like Sports Direct (just a random example) to sue a future government for increasing the minimum wage, if introducing such a policy damaged corporate profits.

The treaty’s called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – And it’s seems to be primarily about shafting the 300 or so million citizens of European countries so that Transnational Corporations can make even more profit.

CORP

 

Having clicked around a few web sites which try to summarise what the TTIP is, I think I’ve done a better job below – down to just FIVE KEY POINTS… (Handily for anyone studying Global Development, this also reads like a ‘what is neoliberalism’ check llist).

1. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a free trade treaty currently being negotiated – in secret – between the European Union and the USA.

2.  The main goal of TTIP is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the  Atlantic.

3. These ‘barriers’ are basically social and environmental protections currently enforced through the laws of various nation states within Europe and include the following:

  • labour rights (e.g. Minimum wages, holiday pay, public sector pensions)
  • food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs),
  • regulations on the use of toxic chemicals
  • digital privacy laws
  • new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

4.  TTIP also seeks to create new markets by opening up public services  to competition from transnational corporations, threatening to introduce a further wave of privatizations in key sectors, health and education.

5. Most worrying of all, TTIP seeks to grant foreign investors a new right to sue sovereign governments in front of ad hoc arbitration tribunals for loss of profits resulting from public policy decisions.

So here we go again – a further wave of neoliberalisation, given that it looks like many Nation States in Europe are about to agree to a set of international rules which put Corporate profits before the well-being of their citizens.

Of course you’ve probably never heard of this treaty, it’s firmly off the news agenda, even though, right now, your democratic rights are being undermined and this treaty will almost certainly mean that you are worse off in the future in terms of your labour rights, environmental protection, and quality of public services.

If you want to sign a petition to get Vince Cable to fix or scrap the deal then click here

This post is mainly summarised from this nice document – TTIP – A Charter for Deregulation, an Attack on Jobs and an End to Democracy

Work in Low Pay, No Pay Britain

In this latest Thinking Allowed podcast on ‘Low pay, no pay’ Britain Laurie Taylor talks to the sociologist, Tracy Shildrick, about her prize winning study of individuals and families who are living in or near poverty. The research was conducted in Teesside, North East England, and focuses on the men and women who’ve fallen out of old working class communities and must now cope with drastically reduced opportunities for standard employment. To my mind, this is a good in-dept illustration of what life is really like for a section of the Precariat (although Shildrick would be more cautious).

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The research is based on the book (published in 2012) – Poverty and insecurity Life in low-pay, no-pay Britain by Tracy Shildrick

This book explores how men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced and where people exist without predictability or security in their lives, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many.

Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment.

Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women this research challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain.

Below is a summary of the main points of the podcast

  • The low-pay no-pay cycle is much more common than long-term unemployment. Most people intreviewed were committed to work, even though the jobs they did were not ‘comfortable’ jobs. This was one of their most consistent findings…. which in part explains why these people go back time and time again. This of course is the opposite to what we here in the media about people ‘languishing on benefits’.
  • It is not a guarantee that taking up employment will mean an individual is going to better off than on benefits. Most people were ashamed at having to claim benefits.
  • Jobs typically did not last long enough to take workers away from poverty.
  • In work-poverty is – 66% of poverty live in households were at least one person is in-work.
  • The types of work include factory jobs, bars, customer service, often run through agencies.
  • For the people interviewed these type of jobs are not stepping stones to something better – they get one foot on the rung of the ladder, get knocked off, and have to climb back on again.
  • Shildrick is not convinced that the term ‘Precariat’ is accurate enough to describe adequately the experience of all people who are sometimes put into this category. She argues that the experiences of the people she interviewed are different to those of a graduate working for a few years in similar jobs (although the people she interviewed do seem to fit into the definition of the Precariat used by the GBCS below)
  • In response to the idea that better training is the solution to helping people in these jobs, Shildrick suggests we need to look at the bigger picture – society needs these jobs – we need to think ahout how to reward them more appropriately.

Shildrick suggests that it is ultimately employers who have the power to help people out of this cycle. Unfortunately, the trend seems to be of employers being increasingly inflexible while demanding that employees be more flexible.

Links –

1. This seems to be a good in-dept illustration of what life is really like for a section of the Precariat

2. Also a nice illustration of the effects of living in liquid-modernity – The reality is actually bleaker for them than the above research might suggest – As Zygmunt Bauman reminds us (in Liquid Modernity)- ‘The bottom category are the easeist to replace, and  now they are disposabe and so that there is no point in entering into long term commitments with their work colleagues…..  this is a natural response to a flexibilised labour market. This leads to a decline in moral, as those who are left after one round of downsizing wait for the next blow of the axe.

Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781847429100#sthash.8EnqVw5J.dpuf
Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781847429100#sthash.8EnqVw5J.dpuf
Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781847429100#sthash.8EnqVw5J.dpuf

C.V. building – another individualised ‘solution’ to systemic contradictions

As part of our college tutorial programme I was recently required to show my students this ‘monster guide to writing a C.V.’

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I’ve been reading way to much Bauman recently to not subject this to some Baumanesque analysis, and from this perspective, writing a C.V. appears as a strategy for ‘middling people’ to avoid becoming ‘surplus people’ (or ‘waste’ to use another of Bauman’s terms).

A summary of the Advice in the Monster C.V. video with Baumanesque commentary

1. The purpose of the CV – ‘Your CV should tell a propsective employer why you’re the ideal canditate to invest time and money in….Essentially it’s a sale’s brochure, pinpointing the unique selling points which make you stand out from the crowd’

This is a nice illustration of how individuals have to turn themselves into commodoties, and market themselves. Bauman says in Consuming Life: ‘People today are…. ‘enticed, nudged or forced to promote an attractive and desirable commodity, and so to try as hard as they can, and using the best means at their disposal, to enhance the market value of the goods they sell. And the commodity they are prompted to put on the market, promote and sell are themselves. The activity in which all of them are engaged (whether by choice, necessity, or most commonly both) is marketing. The test they need to pass in order to be admitted to the social prizes they covet demands them to recast themselves as commodities: that is, as products capable of catching the attention and attracting demand and customers’. (who in this case are the employers.)

2. The content of the C.V. – ‘Your contact details so a prospective employer can contact you immediately; a paragraph that captures the attention of your reader and entices them to find out more about you, but don’t cram this with too much information; a bullet-pointed list of your work experience and qualifications so that an employer can match your skills to those of the job specification; your ‘key skills’ such as IT packages you’ve used, and the level you’ve achieved.’

This is a supreme example of the process of Individualisation – In Liquid Modernity, Bauman defines the process of Individualisation as follows…. how one lives today becomes a biographical solution to system contradictions – risks and contradictions go on being socially produced; it is just the duty and the necessity to cope with them which are being individualised. He goes on to say that we…. ‘are now expected to find individual solutions to our problems ….. gone is the ideal of the just society. No longer are we to solve our problems collectively through Politics (with a capital P) but it is put upon us to look to ourselves.’

3. A final word of warning – ‘Spelling and typographical erroz (lol!) – any errors are your responsibility and are one of the first things employers use to weed out weaker candidates.’

The above two process go on in a culture of fear and anxiety – To quote Bauman (LM) ‘The modernising impulse means the compulsive critique of reality, and the privatisation of that impluse means compulsive self-critique, and perpetual self-disafection. It means that we look harder and harder at how I can improve myself.’ In another section of LM – ‘Individualisation consists of charging actors with the responsibility for performing that task and for the consequences (also the side effects) of their actions.’ – If we fail in this system it is because of our poor spelling

Of course what the C.V. doesn’t remind us of are the systemic contradictions that make C.V. writing a necessity for anyone wishing to play the game of climbing the career ladder…

For such a reminder, we can again turn to Bauman – who reminds us that society is still ‘obsessed with modernising, with creative destruction… but in its liquid modern phase the drive to privatisation and deregualation have lead to even more phasing out, cutting out, merging, downsizing and dismantling’…. Today Capital moves from place to place, enterprise to enterprise, quicker than ever, and this means that capital is freer than ever to pick and choose its labour force from any part of the world…. which means decreasing job security and increasing competition, which sets the context for the necessity of constructing a ‘C.V, and career-biography’ (a cviography?) – A C.V. becomes a necessity to achieve a decent job.

Furthermore, something which the video fails to mention … ‘The New Capitalism has a strong preference among employers for free-floating, unattached, flexible, ‘generalist’ and ultimately disposable employees’ – this means that that C.V. you’ve just spent the last two weeks ‘perfecting’ isn’t perfect, it’ll be out of date by this time next year and will need updating!

However, as Bauman says in ‘Liquid Modern Challenges to Education’ the C.V. and the educational history it summarises are no guarantee of a good a job:

‘Nothing has prepared them for the arrival of the hard, uninviting and inhospitable new world of downgrading of grades, devaluation of earned merits, doors shown and locked, volatility of jobs and stubbornness of joblessness, transience of prospects and durability of defeats; of a new world of stillborn projects and frustrated hopes and of chances ever more conspicuous by their absence. Today, the throngs of the seduced are turning wholesale, and almost overnight, into the crowds of the frustrated.

For the first time in living memory, the whole class of graduates faces a high probability, almost the certainty, of ad-hoc, temporary, insecure and part-time jobs, unpaid “trainee” pseudo-jobs deceitfully re-branded “practices” − all considerably below their acquired skills and eons below the level of their expectations; or of a stretch of unemployment lasting longer than it’ll take for the next class of graduates to add their names to the already uncannily long job-centres waiting lists.’

Of course a sixth form college like mine would never subject its students to this type of analysis… that would just kill aspiration. Instead of wasting time pondering this fruitless line of analysis further, students are advised to dismiss immediately any thoughts that there may be any grain of truth in such an analysis.

Instead , you are advised to go engage in voluntary work, do D of E, learn the saxophone take up gymnastics, set up a debating society, establish your own mini-enterprise (make sure it’s a good one!), learn Greek, brush up on your IT skills, read all of the major works of English Literature written between 1831 and 1869, and basically work 26 hours a day to make sure you get 4 A*s… Well go on then, get going.. it’s ALL DOWN TO YOU!

The World Wealth Report 2013

 

The World Wealth Report reports on trends in the wealth of HNWIs – Or High Net Wealth Individuals. These are individuals with $1million or more in investable assets. You have to sign up to be able to download the report, but its free. (Thankyee for the crust kind sirs, doffs cap…) 

Between 2011-12, the richest 12 million people in the world gained an extra 4.2 trillion dollars of wealth between them – Their total wealth is now $46.2 billion, up from $42 billion in 2011. Thats a tidy $350 000 each extra on average, and according to the predictions below that trend is set to continue…

wealth1

Of course it gets bleaker… the averages above disguise the fact that the richest Ultra High Net Wealth Individuals increased their overal wealth more than the mere ‘millionnaires next door’… the proportional increases may well be the same, but of course a 10% gain on $50 million means you gain more than if you’d gained 10% on a mere $1 million.

wealth4

 

And bleaker… The richest 12 million may have got 10% richer on average, but this is on the back of a mere 2.2% GDP growth rate, so their wealth is growing nearly five times the rate of real global wealth (although somehow I’m sure that’s not a fair comparison?!)

wealth5

 

And even bleaker… according to the World Bank’s GNI data (not the same as wealth I know) –  GNI only increased from around 70 to 71.4 trillion dollars, which is less than 1%, so most of this wealth increse doesn’t seem to be rooted in the production of tangible goods and services.

No doubt there are different ways of interpreting what this data actually means, comments welcome!

 

In case you prefer a word-based summary – the 2013 report notes the following…

  • Between 2011 to 2012 The world’s HNWI population increased by 9.2% to reach 12.0 million, after remaining flat in 2011.
  • In the same period, The aggregate investable wealth increased 10.0% to US$46.2 trillion, after declining slightly in 2011.
  • ƒHNWI wealth in 2012 represented a new level of strength, going well past the historical high of US$42.7 trillion set in 2010.
  • Relatively stronger growth rates in higher wealth bands4 (US$5 million or more) led the growth of overall investable wealth globally.
  • All of this is despite a decline in the rate of world GDP growth to 2.2% last year.

 

 

Some Thoughts on Renata Salecl’s The Paradox of Choice….

In this RSA Animate, Professor Renata Salecl explores the paralysing anxiety and dissatisfaction surrounding limitless choice


Summary

Especially since the collapse of Communism, more people have tended to associate increasing freedom of choice with positive social change, however, psychologists have found that too much choice has negative consequences

  1. It can lead to feelings of anxiety
  2. It can pacify us as we are frozen in indecisiveness

Why does choice lead to anxiety?

Firstly, Because our choices are not simply an individual action: when we make a choice we are thinking about how others will judge us on the basis of  those choices and the critieria we used to make those choices, so choice is social. To illustrate this she used an example of someone who agonises over a wine choice in a restaurant – too expensive = showing off, too cheap = skinflint and so the range of actual choices narrows to something in the middle.

Secondly, because we are always trying to make an ideal choice – Switching partners or electricity bills for example

Thirdly, choice always involves loss: when we make a choice, we lose the possibility of another.

Another process at work in a society obsessed with choice is that we look at our own lives and know that they are mundane compared to the fantastic lives of those who have made the ‘right choices’ which are presented to us in the media (mainly through celebrity culture where people get famous for just being rather than doing). But we do not state how mundane our own lives actually are, we keep quiet because we feel  a sense of shame, a sense of personal responsibility for our own failures – We think that if we fail it is our fault, our fault for making the wrong choices.

This all goes back to Capitalism cashing in on the idea that anyone can make it, anyone can become a self-made man (despite the fact that. structurally, this is impossible), and today this same idea is perpetuated through the ideology of choice, both in terms of consumption, and in every aspects of our lives (‘I should be free to choose my job/ partner/ sexuality/ etc.’).

To round off, Salecl draws on Freud to point out that Capitalism, a system that ‘progresseses’ through ever faster changes, and through making us work longer hours, and through turning us into consumers, creates subjects who at some point come to think that they are in control of their own lives… But they understand this control through ‘consumption’, and at some point they start consuming themselves – which is why there is so much Bulemia and workaholism, so much addiction, in society…

Finally, Salecl argues that the ideology of choice prevents social change.. because when we mistakenly think we are in charge of our own destinies, when things go wrong, this turns to self-criticism and strategies for making our lives better or just coping.

Brief comment –

Some nice ideas here that bring together themes from Giddens (addiction) and Bauman (individualisation, and I even get a smattering of Jamison’s postmodernism as the cultural logic of late capitalism… but TBH I don’t actually see that much that’s actually new!

The growing power of corporations?

In the last seven years the revenues and profits of the world’s largest corporations have grown at twice the rate of the GNI of the world’s largest economies (and a lot faster than the flat-lining Euro economies.)

NB – There’s no actual analysis here (yet) – make of it what you will!

  2005 2011/12 %change
Total GNI top 5 economies $23.8 trillion $34.7 trillion 45%
Total Revenue top 5 global companies $1.3 trillion $2.4 trillion 85%
% of revenue as % of total GNI of top five countries 5.4% 6.9% 1.5%
Total Profit top 10 companies $151 billion $295 billion 95%

See below for the evidence base – I’m aware of the problems of comparing Revenue/ profits with GNI as a measure of ‘Corporate power’ in relation to Nation State power, but I’m not actually doing that here, am I – I’m doing a historical comparison… 

Global 500 Companies by Revenue in 2012

  1. Royal Dutch Shell – $485 billion
  2. Exxon-Mobile – $452 billion
  3. Wall-Mart – $446 billion
  4. BP. $386 billion
  5. Sinopec Group – $375 billion
Total Revenue of Top five Global Companies 2012 = $2.14 Trillion

The Most Profitable Companies in the world 2011

  1. Gazprom – $44 billion
  2. Exxon-Mobile – $41 billion
  3. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China – $32 billion
  4. Shell – $30 billion
  5. Chevron – $26 billion
  6. China Construction Bank – $26 billion
  7. Apple – $25 Billion
  8. BP. – $25 Billion
  9. BHP Billiton – $23 billion
  10. Microsoft – $23 Billion
Total Profit 2005 for top 10 companies = $295 billion
Let’s look at the same figures for 2005 (Revenue on left, profit on right)
1 Wal-Mart Stores 287,989.0 10,267.0
2 BP 285,059.0 15,371.0
3 Exxon Mobil 270,772.0 25,330.0
4 Royal Dutch/Shell Group 268,690.0 18,183.0
5 General Motors 193,517.0 2,805.0
6 DaimlerChrysler 176,687.5 3,067.1
7 Toyota Motor 172,616.3 10,898.2
8 Ford Motor 172,233.0 3,487.0
9 General Electric 152,866.0 16,819.0
10 Total 152,609.5 11,955.0
Revenue for top 5 companies in 2005 = $1.30 trillion

Profit for top 10 companies  = $151 billion (Roughly – you’ll need to go to the top 100 list on the link above!)

Profits of top ten companies change in 7 years –

  • 2005 – $151 billion
  • 2007 – $295 billion
  • Change = 95%

Revenue of top five global companies change in 7 years –

  • 2005 – $1.3 trillion
  • 2007 – $2.4 trillion
  • Growth = 85%
  1. USA – 12 – 15 trillion
  2. China 2.24 trillion – 7.30 trillion
  3. Japan 4.6 -6.0 trillion
  4. Germany 2.79 – 3.63 trillion
  5. France 2.17 – 2.82 trillion
  6. Brazil 856 bn  – 2.42 trillion
  7. UK 2.38 – 2.4 trillion (Thanks George, you f******* twatt)
  8. Italy 1.78  -2.18 trillion
  9. India 828bn  -1.83 trillion
  10. Canada -1.11 -1.70 trillion
Total increase GNI – Top five economies 2005 compared to 2011 –
  • 2005 – 23.8 Trillion
  • 2007 – 34.7 Trillion
  • Growth – 45%
  • (Growth top ten = 62%)