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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's changing (?) discourse on higher education Hunter, Carrie Patricia


The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has been influential in domestic education policy. Its education discourse has been condemned as neoliberal by critical scholars. However, OECD has been reforming, there is evidence that dominant political economy may be shifting, and there have been recent discursive shifts in some OECD policy fields toward a more inclusive liberalism. This dissertation contributes to scholarly debate in higher education by offering a thematic and critical examination of OECD higher education discourse in terms of its liberal character. It offers a detailed description of OECD and a review of the changing political economy so the discourse can be understood against OECD’s structures and history and shifting dominant economic paradigms. It makes explicit the tenets of neoliberalism and alternate paradigms such as Keynesianism and inclusive liberalism, and compares these tenets to recurrent themes, assumptions, constructions and values in four large higher education projects published by OECD between 1996 and 2012. In this way, the study documents and describes and details the features of the discourse in a way not previously available. This study illustrates how contexts presented in the texts frame the projects and limit policy imagination. The dissertation paints a complex picture of OECD higher education discourse. This includes a strong concern for equity that might qualify the discourse as inclusive-liberal. The concept of equity is, however, often limited to opportunity to develop employability and the expectation that social mobility will result. Inconsistent with research in other OECD social policy fields, this study reports rollout neoliberalism: an entrenchment of neoliberal features. This dissertation proposes that this entrenchment is facilitated by constructing the concept of the Knowledge Based Economy in a neoliberal supply-sided way and by presenting it as a key framing context. In doing so, it strengthens assumptions of neoliberal economic doctrine and resists paradigm shifts away from neoliberalism. These features specifically include a reliance on market mechanisms through competition, privatization, devolution of State responsibility and the responsibilization of the individual.

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