Marketisation of adult education and its consequences

kvinna med surfplatta framför grupp av människor

Though adult education in Sweden is a heavily marketised school form, it distinguishes itself from many other school systems through its organization. Where many western school systems are organized around free school choice and vouchers, Swedish municipal adult education is instead organized around tendering based procurement, with municipalities as responsible organizers.

Municipalities can decide whether or not to procure adult education and thus quasi-markets emerge only in those municipalities that do so. Where many school systems revolve around students’ free voice, in MAE it is the municipality, rather than the student, that becomes the customer “purchasing” education. Competition between providers mainly occurs during the procurement process, rather than being a continuous contest such as that which takes place between independent and public schools in compulsory and upper secondary school education. The procurement process ends when those providers who are expected to deliver the best quality for the best prize, are awarded contracts. The competing contractors can be large educational companies owned by the state, private educational companies, municipalities, folk high schools or study associations.

Although the procurement process is limited in time, the outcome is decisive for teachers as well as for students. If a provider loses in the next procurement process, they might have to close down or reduce the number of employees. Thus, the conditions for work and for study are rather unstable. A lost contract means in many cases that a teacher has to look for another job, or that the student must continue their studies with another educational provider. The short-term contracts of usually two years contribute further to insecure conditions.

Further, this system does not revolve around the students’ free choice. Here, each Swedish municipality owns the right and responsibility to decide what courses should be available to students, where students should study and who has priority in getting in. Possibilities to choose are often limited for the adult student. .

The aim of our project is to investigate and analyze how the organization of adult education, through a tendering based procurement system might influence teachers’ work and profession. We conduct our research through ethnographic work in two municipalities with varied grades of procurement in MAE. We follow the work of teaching within both public as well as private providers.

Funding: Linköping University

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