The globalisation of education

three examples of the globalisation are: PISA tests and league tables, international companies providing education services in more than one country, private schools and universities expanding into more than one country.

Last Updated on November 14, 2022 by Karl Thompson

The globalisation of education refers to how a ‘global system’ of education is emerging, beyond the level of individual countries. Three examples of this are:

  1. PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.
  2. International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.
  3. Private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students.
  4. The rise of online learning and digital education.

Below I will briefly consider each of these aspects of the globalisation of education in more depth, applying some sociological perspectives to provide some analytical depth.

PISA International Tests

PISA stands for the Programme for International Student Assessment which conducts standardised tests in dozens of different countries every three years in reading and literacy, maths and sciences and produces league tables which rank countries based on the average student performance.

These tests are conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which is a global organisation aiming to promote peace, prosperity and equality of opportunity.

From a New Right/ neoliberal perspective the publication of league tables should encourage competition between countries as those countries nearer the bottom should not want to be down there and so adapt their education policies in order to improve their outcomes.

It should also promote comparative education research on the part of policy makers as they seek to investigate what it is about the education systems of high performing countries that makes them come at the top of the league tables.

The results of such cross national investigations could then be applied on a national basis, although to be successful policies may have to be adapted to fit local cultures.

International Companies and the Globalisation of Education

International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.

One example of this is where companies such as Apple and Microsoft provide educational software to schools all over the world.

A second example is International exam boards providing assessment services and text books to different countries.

From a neoliberal perspective, this makes sense as these companies are efficient and in a better position to provide such services than especially governments in poorer countries (who tend to lack money).

From a Marxist perspective, this is a process of mainly Western companies gaining power and control over the education systems of poorer countries.

Private Schools and Universities setting up abroad

Private schools and universities from the UK are increasingly moving towards attracting more students from abroad and also setting up outposts in foreign countries.

According to a recent article in the Economist Britains’ 136 universities now have 39 campuses abroad educating 26 000 students, so these are very much global institutions.

From a neoliberal perspective this is very good for the UK education sector, it increases profits and more money flows into the UK.

From a Marxist perspective, looked at globally, these institutions only really benefit the elite, they do nothing for the poor, so this will just perpetuate global inequality.

Digital Education and Globalisation

Digital education has seen phenomenal growth over the last two decades, not only that coming from formal educational establishments such as universities which have restricted access for fee paying students but also much cheaper offerings from organisations such as Udemy and free to view educational services such as TED talks.

These online learning platforms are inherently global rather than national or local in nature simply because they can be access from anyone anywhere in the world who has access to a smartphone, and enough money in the case of paid-for courses.

The globalisation of education: analysis

There are certainly some moves towards education becoming more global, but it is not clear what kind of globalisation this is.

The people and institutions pushing the globalisation of education – the OECD, global companies such as Apple and Google, Universities and online learning platforms – these would probably be global optimists seeing this process as benefitting everyone – for example people in developing countries can benefit from access to free educational resources via Udemy and TED talks.

Global pessimists however might be more sceptical seeing the globalisation of education as more about the spread of Western market ideologies into the developing world.

It’s also worth being critical about how genuinely global education is – it is still nation states who maintain education systems through taxes and shape the national curriculums, for example.


The material above is relevant primarily to the education topic within A-level Sociology, the specification for which explicitly states students need to know about the relationship between globalisation and education.

You might also like to consider this post on how globalisation more generally has affected education in the UK, and how education policy has responded to this.

Sources / Find out More

You might like to explore the wonderful world of PISA in more depth!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: