Review: How Global Capital is Remaking International Education

The full title is … How Global Capital is Remaking International Education: The Emergence of Transnational Education Corporations.

In this Springer Brief publication from 2019, Hyejin Kim considers the impact of corporate interests in the international education sector. Kim focuses on how private equity groups such as Transnational Education Corporations (TECs) have shaped the international education scene. Examples include how they capitalize on educational reforms, influence government policy, economize education, expand as an add on to other business interests (e.g. property development), and so on. Kim’s critique focuses on three or four major TECs, with the author having spent time working within the sector in admissions, marketing and as a managing director.

The book would be of interest to international educators, consultants and particularly those in international education management. It briefly charts the rise of international schools and explains how education reforms in Europe led to an expansion of the int schools market along with the development of an ‘international education sector’. It moves on to discussing the origins of international school groups (and TECs), explaining why they represent a shrewd investment (mainly that ‘education as a sector of business activity seems insensitive to economic cycles’ p68). Kim also gives clear examples of how these corporations play a role in educational policy and planning, and the way in which they have procured the term ‘global’ for marketing purposes, offering consumers a sense of luxury consumption, homogenization and social stratification. The brief ends with a summary of concerns and implications related to the current state of the int ed sector.

The book is full of interesting (and supported) facts about reforms, TECs, marketing in education and lots more. Dan Taylor (Apps Events) also read it recently, and shared a nice thread about what he’d learnt from the book (see here).

I also found loads of interesting tidbits of info, such as which international school curricula are for-profit, how corporations find loopholes to help them gain a foothold in the int ed scene, which TECs specialize in acquiring existing schools rather than building new ones (and why), and an interesting point on whether branding an international school is a good move. Generally, this is an engaging 100 pages which address an extremely under-researched field of education.

However, Kim’s damning evaluation of the international school sector is one-sided and fairly limited. There is a sense throughout the book that the lens has been focused on TECs solely so Kim can critique neoliberalism and suggest that these profit-driven corporations seem to have little regard for their consumers. This is only a short resource but the author’s rather blinkered view seems predictable and over-egged.

Kim choses to ignore educational performance, and fleets over philanthropy from large TECs. The author seems to take a negative stance on attempts to provide holistic education at tiered levels to make it more widely accessible (without expanding on the concept), and makes fairly unsupported remarks about how global education might distance learners from their local culture. Kim also makes dated claims about how international schools are often bubbles shielded from the outside world. The author’s suggestion that international schools homogenize learning fails to critique alternatives, which might be a national education system angled just as much to an economic code of education or one focused heavily on cultural transmission which, mirroring Kim’s critique of global citizenship, may be similarly undemocratic. Besides that, the suggestion that as schools opt for a familiar and recognized curriculum (such as IB) this makes the services they provide uniform is a convenient generalization.

The suggestion is very much that international school groups act without restraint and accountability, manipulating governments in some ‘innocuous corner’ of the globe. They spout aspiration, talk to consumers in riddles using unanchored terms like ‘international’ or loose slogans like ‘global citizenship’, and reel them in with flash facilities along with other imaginary bells and whistles like being part of a global network, whatever that means.

What Kim could have done to explore this is to research more agents/actors. The facts about TECs are certainly valuable and at times eye-opening, but overall they tell us very little about the inner workings of international schools. This book plays on the fact that the experiences of parents-cum-consumers, learners, teachers, senior leaders, and other agents haven’t been adequately investigated (to date). It is almost (again) convenient that they are beyond the scope of the book, giving the author license to pad out facts with their own subjective views based on experience in the sector. The business side of the sector, that is.

Overall

A critical snapshot of an emerging market within education, mostly ignoring the education bit.

3.5/5

Cover image: @JacquesPx

4 comments

  1. I hadn’t heard of this let alone read it, so I’m grateful for you bringing it to my attention and for the review.

    “Kim’s damning evaluation of the international school sector is one-sided and fairly limited”

    This seems to be the perennial problem with this kind of stance on education.

    As someone watching from the sidelines, it feels always as if you’re trapped in an endless loop of a post-modern rendering of Scooby Doo.

    Where in Scooby Doo the gang, usually Velma if I remember rightly, pulls off the mask to uncover the creepy janitor / fun house manager / motel owner etc., volumes such as this one pull off the mask to reveal neoliberarlism.

    But as with Scooby Doo, anyone over the age of about 5 already knows not only that the monster is a man in a mask, but who the man in the mask is.

    I suppose in fairness to Kim, beginning your title with “How Global Capital … ” is a pretty clear statement of the conclusion that’s going to be reached before you even get past the front cover.

    But it does seem to be a consistently mean and melodramatic image and one that, as you rightly point out, passes over a lot of crucial questions in silence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, agree! The title was a dead giveaway. I just wish some of these authors would stop taking easy potshots and dig a little deeper at times.
      You are absolutely right with the Scooby Dooism. I nearly referred to it in the post as making out TECs were a pantomime villain.
      What’s annoying is, at heart, I want to agree with much of what Kim says regarding the ambiguous or coercive operations of TECs. Ironically, I imagine the publishers felt the same yet thought ‘you know, there’s a market for this viewpoint…’
      The PGCEi course I’m completing offered more balance on this topic, and there were occasions when I was shaking my head thinking ‘you’ve cherry picked research/made assumptions here’. One example is how the author suggests the notion of ‘international’ or ‘global’ is loose or ambiguous. Kims suggestion comes from her experience of working in admissions and marketing. However, many PGCEi trained teachers will be familiar with research into international/global mindedness and the pros/cons/tensions of helping learners develop such perspectives or sensitivities. This is why, I guess, triangulating data/research is so important, otherwise so much gets missed.

      Like

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