FreshEd – Year in Review – with Susan Robertson and Roger Dale

Susan Robertson and Roger Dale, co-editors of the journal Globalisation, Societies, and Education, speak to Will Brehm to reflect on the year in research and point to future directions.

In their conversation, they discuss a range of issues facing education, including: the limitations of mobility studies, the increase of migration worldwide, the rise of populism and anti-globalization movements, the role of trade deals in education, and the Hayekian world in which we find ourselves where individuals — not societies or governments — are at the centre of social imaginaries and how this relates to educational privatisation, private debt, and the discourse of choice.

Susan Robertson is Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of Cambridge (Contact:; and Roger Dale is Professor of Education at the University of Bristol (Contact: Both Susan and Roger are members of the research network Globalisation, Education and Social Futures.

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Conference on Validation of Non Formal and Informal Learning: A Report by Nam Peri

Lifelong Learning, validation of non formal skills, migrant integration into education and labour markets, stakeholder dilemmas, funding and mechanisms to monitor employability: all these topics came together at a conference organized by CEDEFOP the European centre for vocational education and training, in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki on 28-29 November, 2016. With a wet, cold weather as a backdrop, over 200 delegates from over 30 countries discussed and debated the imperatives of non formal education pathways under the theme of “how to make learning visible”?

The conference stood out in two ways. The diversity of thought and anecdotes that seem to emerge through the working groups juxtaposed with individual country contexts and their limitations of funding and mechanisms; and secondly, the voices of policymakers, varied in their pace and extent of credentialising non formal learning outcomes, yet positioning the effort of validation as a desired direction across the EU. In short multiple contradictions jostling to move in a single direction.

At the Sessions

The opening sessions by Mara Brugia, Deputy Director of CEDEFOP emphasized the competencies, skills and knowledge becoming the currency of employment, and a re-engineered role of existing institutions that can play a role in validation of non formal skills. Mara also underlined the individual being put in the centre of the conversation, particularly when the formal systems are not completely equipped to absorb or interpret indigenous or tacit knowledge. This becomes problematic from multiple stakeholders’ viewpoint and requires a prioritization and convergence, the very idea for this kind of conference.

Ana Carla Pereira of the European Commission refreshed the European Council recommendations on Non-Formal and Informal Learning of 2012 and signposted the way forward for meeting the deadline of 2018, by which EU member states should have validated experience into qualifications. She posed 4 questions under the banner WHY should we make learning more visible?

  • Reaching the same or equivalent standards of qualifications for non formal learning, as obtained through formal education
  • An increased awareness through information and guidance available to individuals as well as organisations
  • Providing a currency value on the labour market for skills acquired through non formal means
  • A “focus” on disadvantaged groups and individuals, through skill audits that might expose mechanisms to improve, include and strengthen.

CEDEFOP’s research teams presented the two-decade history of validation in Europe, with an update on the 2016 European inventory of non formal and informal skills. The snapshot of the presentation shows the lag in the efforts required across almost all parameters seen in the pale pink bar graphs: Arrangements, Information and guidance, link to NQF, Standards equivalence, Quality Assurance, Professional Development, Credits and Skill Audits.


You can find the guidelines and inventory here.

Four Parallel sessions engaged participants through a workshop mode, on validation of key user groups. For over three hours, two key questions from each individual bubbled up through discussions into several themes.


On the second day, a non-European perspective on validation was presented by Canada and New Zealand. The latter highlighted the assimilation of indigenous learning mechanisms and a co-existence of such learning ecosystems with formal efforts. A panel representing stakeholder groups from policy, civil society and UNESCO’s Institute of Lifelong Learning, responded to categorized questions from groups of participants.

From the Sessions

There are, from my perspective, two key takeaways from the sessions. The first is an understanding of the international contours of Non Formal Education in the discourses of contemporary education. Secondly, from my current work in the vocational and non formal education, I raised the questions repeatedly in the discussions that gave me some clues, not answers. How much of the non formal mechanisms that have stayed strong in indigenous environments, should we validate or credentialise? Is a full credentialisation the only path to offering a respectful livelihood existence to practitioners who may not be current beneficiaries of the skill regimes? Are these “south skills”?

Beyond the Sessions

Thessaloniki: A city that is steeped in history, all the way to the years of Aristotle. The Philosopher lived not far from here, and was mentor to, amongst others, Alexander the Great. The city with its seafront promenade would have been great on a good-weather day. But alas, it was not to be! The 4degrees was just a tad better than Bristol! So much for the Greek sunshine.


A colleague at the conference and I braved the rain in the evening to go look for an Indian dinner. The only restaurant, in the vicinity of the Hagia Sofia (yes, there is one in Thessaloniki too) took us on a journey of strangering – the art of asking directions from passing strangers. But we soon gave up and reluctantly allowed google maps to come to our rescue. The colourful restaurant tucked away deep in an alley off the main street did not disappoint on the gastronomic scale. It was named Nargis, after a famous actress of yesteryears’ Bollywood.


Thessaloniki at night, with its iconic Tower seen on the far left.

Editor’s note: Narasimham (Nam) Peri is a doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, where he is researching frameworks relating to knowledge production in traditional industries, work-based and workplace learning, TVET and livelihood alternatives to post-compulsory education. Email:

2nd International Conference on CPE – 25 and 26 August 2016 @GSoE University of Bristol

This is a reminder about the approaching abstract submission deadline for the Second International Conference on Cultural Political Economy (CPE)which will be held on 25 and 26 August 2016 in Bristol, UK.

This year’s theme is Putting Culture in its Place in Political Economy

The conference will be hosted by the Centre for Globalisation, Education & Social FuturesGraduate School of Education, University of Bristol.

It builds on the highly successful event held at the University of Lancaster in 2015 hosted by Bob Jessop and Ngai-Ling Sum in partnership with Lancaster’s Cultural Political Economy Research Centre (CPERC). The conference is an important part of the ongoing development of a theoretical and empirical engagement with Cultural Political Economy. Continue reading

NEW BOOK – Accelerating Academia: The Changing Structure of Academic Time by Filip Vostal

We are pleased to announce that Dr Flip Vostal – a former member of the Centre for Globalisation, Education & Social Futures – has recently published an excellent book on the temporal colonisation of the academic lifeworld:

The era of a ‘slow-paced’ academia characterized by leisurely tempos of research and pedagogy has gone. Academia is now an intensely social site, and the boundaries between capitalist dynamics and academic life have become blurred. Academic workloads are increasing as academics have to deal with an ever-growing number of tasks, information, obligations, texts, procedures and connections. Yet the time available for carrying out these activities remains relatively constant, and even seems to be decreasing. Simultaneously, the ‘will to accelerate’ has emerged as a significant cultural and structural force in knowledge production, propelled by competitiveness and the drive for excellence. Filip Vostal examines the changing character of academic time, and questions the nature of this acceleration. Without challenging its negative implications, Vostal argues that we cannot fully understand this phenomenon unless we scrutinize its positive dimensions, and ask why people opt for acceleration, and how and why the compulsion to accelerate features in higher education policy discourse.NE

Critical Acclaim:

“This is an impressive debut, achieving both depth and breadth in the sociological understanding of today’s fast academia. Theoretically, Vostal engages productively with the leading commentators on social acceleration, whilst also offering a strong empirical dimension. Throughout, the author provides astute assessments of what is new and what is not, what is bad and what might not be so bad after all, in the speeding-up of university life. The closing analysis of the nature and future of sociology itself in this context is insightful and thought-provoking.” – Gregor McLennan, University of Bristol, UK

For further information about this publication, please visit the publisher’s website at

About the author:

Filip Vostal’s work combines two areas of research: first, the examination and evaluation of claims by some contemporary social and political theorists (such as Hartmut Rosa, John Tomlinson, William Scheuerman, Robert Hassan) declaring that technological acceleration, the speed of social change, accelerated ‘pace of living’ and cultural speed-up are central to the temporal dynamic of modernity. Specific attention is paid to the semantics of acceleration and to how, and with what effects the discursive constructions of acceleration (as a promise, as a threat, as a motive) manifest themselves and interact. Without denying its oppressive and negative features, Filip also explores positive attributes of acceleration experience. At the same time, he seeks to critique the increasingly popular counter-weight to modern speed-up: ideology of slowness.

Second, Filip is interested in sociology of science, broadly conceived. In particular, concentrating on the concerns outlined above, he looks at the shifting socio-economic role of the university and scientific institutions and analyzes associated changes in academic life. Specifically then, he investigates how academic time transforms – and to what extent it is possible to say that it ‘accelerates’ – as a result of marketization, managerialism and audit culture: trends that increasingly characterize the contemporary university.

Filip defended his PhD dissertation in March 2013 at the University of Bristol. He was supervised by Gregor McLennan and Susan Robertson and examined by John Holmwood and John Downer. His work has been published in the European Journal of Social Theory and Time & Society.


Our book on global regionalims and higher education receives excellent reviews

Global Regionalisms and Higher Education: Projects, Processes, Politics

Edited by Susan L. Robertson, University of Bristol, UK, Kris Olds, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, Roger Dale and Que Anh Dang, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, UK

Extent: c 352 pp
Hardback Price: £90.00 Online: £81.00
Publication Date: September 2016
ISBN: 978 1 78471 234 1
For more information, please visit the publisher’s website at

Critical Acclaim 

‘Between the ever-open possibilities of the global space, and the nation-state with its still seemingly irreducible hold on territory and imagination, lies the region. In higher education there are many kinds of region. This is by far the best book on regional developments, and one of the first two or three books we must now turn to in order to understand global higher education—it provides an invaluable geo-spatial lens that complements analyses based on political economy and culture.’ – Simon Marginson, ESRC/HEFCE Centre for Global Higher Education and University College London, UK

‘This is an outstanding book that brings sharp analytical focus to the regionalisation of higher education rather than subsuming it under the broader rubric of transnational education. It brings a critical perspective to regional higher education that understand it as political and cultural projects – albeit contested – that produce new cartographies of higher education governance. It asks: who drives these projects, what interest do they serve, who are the governed and the governors in these systems of governance. This is essential reading for any interested in the future of higher education.’– Kanishka Jayasuriya, Murdoch University, Australia.

‘Regional supra-national organizations such as the European Union, NAFTA and ASEAN are not only integrated through formalagreements between member states. As this collection of studies of higher education convincingly shows, the knowledge-based services economy fueling much global economic growth is becoming dependent on higher-education collaborative projects at the regional scale. These projects transcends the bounds of the state-to-state compacts as such and point to the increasingly regional future of this entire sector.’ – John Agnew, University of California, Los Angeles, US

‘In an age of complex multilateralism, regionalist strategies and regionalisation, processes need to feature much more prominently in academic research literatures. Global Regionalisms and Higher Education is exemplary in its understanding of this key point. It provides a comprehensive, lucid, illuminating and engaging study of the diverse ways in which education systems, policies and politics are embroiled in processes of region-building, and their significance for theory and practice. Significantly enriching our understanding of what it means to ‘regionalise’ education, Robertson et al have delivered what deserves to be recognised as a turning point in the sociology of globalisation, regional integration, social policy and education.’ – Nicola Yeates, The Open University, UK

¡Buena suerte! to Hazel Price for her fieldwork in Latin America

IMG_0410GESF PhD student Hazel Price is setting off on the second leg of her doctoral fieldwork today.

This trip will take her to Chile and Bolivia for 3 ½ months researching processes of region building and constructions of quality assurance in Latin American Higher Education.

Her data collection will primarily be comprised of semi-structured interviews with policy makers, quality assurance technicians and academics, which will be incorporated into critical comparative case studies following a Critical Cultural Political Economy approach.

Editor’s Note: Hazel Price is an ESRC funded doctoral student in the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol and a member of the Centre for Globalisation, Education & Social Futures. Her research investigates the multi-scalar making of quality assurance policies in Higher Education in Latin America and interactions with processes of regional integration.

Santander Success! 2 GESF members win grants

What a week for GESF!!  Aliandra Barlete and María Guerrero Farias’s  have both won competitive Santander student grants of £2000 each to help undertake their fieldwork in Latin America.  We’re thrilled for them, and they rightly are also pleased with the outcome. Finding the resources to do research fieldwork can be challenging for anyone, and particularly students. Santander recognises this, and has made available a competitive fund to be managed by the University of Bristol to help overcome this.

So here’s what they are up to…..

Aliandra Barlete’s doctoral research is on the shifting ‘Cultural Political Economy of Higher Education in Mercosur’.

” Aliandra’s doctoral research intends to offer new insights into the ongoing project for regional integration in higher education within Latin America. The main objective of the study is to analyse how the symbolic and material dynamics in higher education are being developed through the relationship between higher education systems carried out under the regional agreements in HE, as they are reflected in, and mediated by, Mercosur. Mercosur stands for the Southern Common Market, a regional trade agreement established by the Treaty of Assunción in 1991, of which Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay and Venezuela are (currently) full members. Supported by the theoretical approach of cultural political economy to explore region-building (Robertson et al., 2016), Aliandra will employ the a critical realist ontological stance to build a historical investigation though the use of a retroductory logic of explanation (Danermark et al, 2002; Sayer, 2010) into the region’s ongoing engagement with, and development of, HE at the regional and national system levels”.

Ali passport

What is great about this Santander grant is that the financial support from will enable the collection of primary data from actors from Mercosur and its member states, as well as from academic experts in the region, which will be essential for the analysis of the Mercosur’s shifting geometry dynamics and changes over time, with focus on what reasons and under which conditions and external factors propel changes, when, why and with what outcomes (for whom), this study will shed new light into region building in Latin America. The field work will take place from September to November 2016, and she will be sharing updates with the GESF community about her experience from Latin America.

María Guerrero Farias’s doctoral project is focused on ‘Citizenship and Education in Post-Conflict Colombia’

“María’s project seeks to understand how students and teachers in Bogotá, Colombia enact particular kinds of citizenships. Her aim is to materialize attitudes and discourses around citizenship that permeate daily life in schools and reproduce discourses. In order to grasp a better understanding of structures, power dynamics, voices and enactments. She will combine a variety of ethnographic methods to collect information from a public and a private school. Observations inside classrooms as well as outside will provide evidence of the formal and informal ways in which teachers develop citizenship competencies in students, if they do, and how students carry them out. In order to complement the information gathered through observations, she will undertake semi-structured interviews to some actors within the schools. Finally, María will be using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), which is interested in the distribution of power and social inequalities. Discourse analysis and visual analysis techniques will be employed to examine documents such as legislation, school’s policies and school’s curricula. These analyses will enable her to discover official and implicit understandings of citizenship, as well as its consequences for the consolidation of a fairer country.”

IMG_20160309_090913614 school

The Santander Travel Grant will allow María to visit Colombia and engage with schools to understand the enactments of citizenship. She will be soon sharing with GESF all of her findings.

Well done both…..we’re really proud of you!


Editor’s Note:  Susan L. Robertson is  Professor of Sociology of Education in the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. Her research is concerned with the changing nature of education as a result of transformations in the wider global, regional and local economies and societies, and the changing scales on which ideas, power and politics is negotiated. Contact:

In pictures: GESF at CIES 2016

Congratulation to GESF Members: Professor Roger Dale, Que Anh Dang and Janja Komljenovic on their compelling contributions to the 60th Annual Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) in Vancouver earlier this week. They have presented a series of papers on regionalism and market-making, as well as convening panels on the significance of ‘civilisation’ in comparative education research, and on markets and trade in education. Here are a few imagines from their sessions.

For more information about their contributions to this year’s CIES conference, please visit:


Tore Sorensen presents a paper on OECD TALIS at NERA 2016

Tore Bernt Sorensen – doctoral researcher in Centre for Globalisation, Education & Social Futures, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol – will present a paper on the role of the state in global education policy at the 44th Congress of the Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA) 2016.

This year’s Congress will take place in Helsinki on 9-11 March, and the papers will focus on the theme: Social Justice, Equality and Solidarity in Education? For more information about NERA 2016, please visit

Tore will present the following paper:

The state in the global educational policy field: Finland, England and the OECD TALIS programme

This paper discusses the changing roles of state authorities in the global educational policy field. The paper compares the engagement of state authorities in Finland and England in relation to the OECD programme Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), one of the most ambitious efforts so far to launch a global debate on the role of school teachers and leaders in knowledge societies. Finland and England both participated in the second round, TALIS 2013. TALIS is coordinated by the OECD and engages a range of policy actors with overlapping horizons of action, such as the European Commission, teacher unions, private enterprises, and state authorities.

Drawing on critical realism, the paper combines literature review and critical discourse analysis of policy actors’ practical argumentation, on the basis of an empirical material consisting of policy documents and 20 theory-laden realist interviews. The interviews were conducted between September 2014 to September 2015 with policy actors engaged in TALIS. The paper analyses the practical argumentation of Finnish and English state authorities for taking part in TALIS, considering the institutional trajectories of the Finnish and English school systems and the associated roles of state authorities in ensuring notions of social justice and equality. Moreover, the argumentations of Finnish and English state authorities are discussed in relation to those of other policy actors engaging with TALIS.

The paper highlights the complex pluri-scalar nature of the TALIS programme. TALIS contributes to the creation of a common space of measurement for the purpose of unifying and administering education systems on an international scale. However, the diversity of policy actors engaged in TALIS is not easily reconciled with the “one-size-fits-all” human capital theory endorsed by the OECD. In this respect, the practical argumentation of state authorities in Finland and England suggest that they chose to take part in TALIS 2013 for different reasons linked to their domestic school policy contexts. These state authorities insist that participation in programmes like TALIS does not challenge the fundamentally national character of education systems and the associated institutional arrangements for teachers. Yet, the paper argues that this argumentation cannot stand alone. The TALIS debate on teachers is framed by the historical influence of the US government on OECD’s indicator development as well as the strong working partnership between OECD and the European Commission. The discussion of what the thickening of the global educational policy field means for the role of state authorities in education governance should consider such gradual and long-term developments.

Main references:

Fairclough, I. & N. Fairclough (2012). Political Discourse Analysis: A method for advanced students. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Lingard, B., & Rawolle, S. (2011). New scalar politics: Implications for education policy. Comparative Education, 47(4), 489-502.

Nóvoa, A., & Yariv-Mashal, T. (2003). Comparative Research in Education: A Mode of Governance or a Historical Journey? Comparative Education, 39(4), 423-438.


For more details about his research, you can contact Tore directly at:

Tore’s attendance at the conference has been made possible thanks to funding from the University of Bristol Alumni Foundation.

GESF Members at CIES 2016


We are pleased to announce that the Centre for Globalisation Education & Social Futures is sending a strong contingent to next month’s 60th Annual Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) in Vancouver. During the 5-day event from the 7th – 11th March, 2016, GESF members will present a series of individual papers on regionalism and market-making, as well as convening panels on the significance of ‘civilisation’ in comparative education research, and on markets and trade in education.

IMG_0946 Continue reading