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Education Crisis

Education Crisis



Since the globalization of the neoliberal economic model began during the 1980s, higher education systems have entered a phase of accelerated mercantilization throughout much of Latin America. If the first post-Soviet decade was marked by the new social movements as the main expression of opposition to late capitalism, the second saw uneven but often more prominent student uprisings. The capitalist crisis begun in 2008—variously interpreted as a global financial crisis, a structural or cyclical crisis, or exhaustion of the prevailing model—has accelerated protest. By 2010 secondary or university students had risen en masse against aspects of the neoliberal system in Chile, France and Greece (all 2006); the U.S. (California, 2009); Italy, England and Puerto Rico (2010); and finally, in the context of the Arab Spring, in several countries in the Middle East, starting with Tunisia and Algeria (2010). It is no coincidence that Chile—the world’s first country to adopt the “Chicago Boys” doctrine—has from 2011 been shaken by the largest student mobilizations since the 1960s, contesting the effects of the near-complete privatization of the education system.

Under the promise of democratization of access for the masses to higher education, governments and education corporations on a worldwide scale have transformed an area which was a state responsibility for much of the Twentieth century into one more frontier for the expansion of corporate capital and accumulation of private profit. As the product of neoliberal demands, the expansion of higher education has been accompanied by a transformation of the way the university and other higher education institutions define themselves and justify their existence. In this process, the liberal idea of the university as a space open to free intellectual debate with emphasis on autonomy, research, and contributing to the intellectual and moral formation of the nation has been assailed by market demands which prioritize productivity and performance indicators.

​The meanings and practices associated with this paradigm shift in higher education have permeated the diverse political-economic regions of the planet and have been instrumentalized by governments of both right and left. This has been particularly evident in Latin America, where such policies have combined privatization and government control. In Brazil, for instance, under the same argument of expansion and massification of higher education’s reach, policies quite different in appearance but not necessarily in consequences were tried by the administrations of presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Instead of promoting the expansion of higher education combining increased privatization with the drastic reduction of the salaries of academic staff and functionaries, and of the maintenance funds of public institutions—as did Cardoso—Lula promoted privatization while also investing in public higher education. Although statistically his government has funded private education even more than his predecessor, Lula’s government protected itself politically with the creation of new public institutions of higher education and the expansion of existing vacancies. But it has rendered such institutions increasingly less autonomous and subject to ever-increasing state control.

The aim of this special issue is to investigate how neoliberalism has transformed the university in Latin America, and concurrent expressions of resistance to this process. In brief: what kind of university has neoliberalism produced, or does it intend to produce? For whom, with whom and for what purposes?

We invite articles that present national or comparative studies panoramically and those that reflect on the new university structure, intellectual mission (e.g., curriculum, research) and/or culture in political, economic, ethnographic or historical perspective.

Topics which are particularly welcome, although not intended to preclude others, are:

  • The conditions of knowledge production under neoliberal policy and practice in Latin America.
  • The university as a new frontier of global capitalism (for example, via for-profit higher education, including on-line course delivery, corporate research agendas, student loans).
  • The instrumentalization of public universities by governments and the state, including transformation into an instrument for policy legitimation and implementation.
  • University autonomy under the pressures of state, national and international sponsoring agencies (Ford, Mellon, Rockefeller, IAF, CNPq, CAPES, etc.), and the effect of those agencies in defining research agendas and reshaping university curriculum.
  • The significance of new modalities of partnership between the public and private sectors.
  • Expanded higher education – democratization or massification? Transformation or reproduction of social hierarchies?
  • Neoliberalism, social inequalities and the university – the effect on university access of social disparities in public and private primary and secondary education; affirmative policies for marginalised or disadvantaged student groups (the poor, black and indigenous peoples.), including responsiveness to their particular intellectual and cultural needs.
  • Student and staff resistance movements; university reform movements; students and anti-neoliberal movements.
  • Universities as political actors including concepts of citizenship and relationship with student and popular movements.
  • The university in countries with anti-neoliberal governments.

Please submit inquiries about possible submissions to the issue editors:

Bernadete Beserra (

Robert Austin (

Rémi Lavergne (

Instructions for manuscript submission are available on the LAP website:

​Deadline for submission of articles: 30 September 2015


First Published in (Go here for Portuguese version)



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