Comparative Education

comparative education studies are useful to policy makers because they allow the ‘adaptation’ of best educational practice, but there are problems because what works in one culture may not be so successful in another!

Comparative education studies involve comparing aspects of one nation’s education system with another and analysing the reasons for similarities and differences within those systems.

Typical motives for doing a cross national comparative studies of education systems would be to find out why some countries get better overall outcomes (in terms of qualifications) for their pupils, or why some countries have better outcomes for disadvantaged students, and thus better equality of educational opportunity.

Comparative education studies have become increasingly popular in recent years and are one response to the increasing interest in education globally, as evidenced by the PISA testing regime which publishes comparisons of student performance in standardised international tests.

Why compare education systems…?

Comparative education studies are themselves part of the globalisation of education and there are different reasons why actors may wish to compare education systems.

Probably the most obvious is the pragmatic aim to improve education policy – this is where policy makers in one country will employ researchers to study aspects of education systems in another country to see what works well with the intention of adapting or even just copying those aspects for use in their home country.

Such studies may be done by policy makers in post-industrial countries hoping to maintain their competitiveness in a fast changing global economy, or by developing countries hoping to use education to modernise quickly.

One specific phenomena which has led to recent increase in this kind of practical study is ‘PISA shock’ – where countries have found their positions in the PISA league tables to be lower than expected, which can spur them on to conduct research into the education systems of countries higher up the league tables looking for ways to improve their own systems.

Besides pragmatic reasons for comparative education studies some researchers also do purely academic studies, just to develop a deeper understanding of how education systems interact with other institutions within a society – purely focused on theory building and with no intention of applying findings at a policy level.

Bartram (2018) notes that international comparisons of education are increasingly motivated by economic and political reasons rather than purely theoretical motives.

Problems with comparing national education systems

Educational practices need to be considered in the context of the local culture.

It may not be possible to simply lift aspects of one education system and apply it to another and get improved results, because educational practices which ‘fit’ the culture in one country might not fit the national or local cultures of another.

For example, in Western countries educators have introduced more collaborative learning in recent decades (such as more group work) and this has led to improved performance for most students, but this may not work as well in some Asian cultures which are more sensitive to ‘public image’, and in such cultures more individualised ‘sit down and be quiet learning may get better outcomes for students.

You also have to think about WHO is doing the comparisons and applying the (potential) policy changes. Often such research studies are dominated by western experts who may well regard western models of education as superior to traditional indigenous, community based models which may be regarded as inferior.

There is actually a long history of this, stretching back to colonial times when Western powers used their education systems a means of subjugating indigenous people in their colonies, but even after independence new states were coerced into accepting Western education systems as a condition to receive international development aid (Nguyen-Phuong Mai, 2019).

It is simply not the case that Western practices can be transplanted and fitted into local indigenous cultures with easy success, and in many cases countries and local cultures simply don’t want this kind of education, as is the case in many Islamic countries for example.

There is also a problem with comparing results obtained from international tests such as the PISA tests: for those countries appearing near the bottom of the international league tables it is easy to blame their education systems for their poor performance, but this simply may not be the case – it could be a range of other factors such as the prevailing wider economic problems in those countries.

In fact, there is some research (Pasl Sahlberg, 2015) that shows that neoliberal marketised education systems which preference parental choice do not yield better educational performance, even though this has been the dominant educational ideology of the last 40 years.

Signposting and Relevance to A-Level Sociology

The material above is most relevant to the sociology of education module, developing the theme of the relationship between globalisation and education.

Sources

Barlett and Burton (2021): Introduction to Education Studies, fifth edition

Online Education Trends

Increasing numbers of people are making use of online learning platforms to educate themselves, but getting representative data on online learning is a challenge!

Online education has expanded rapidly with the rise of the internet and in 2022 there are a huge variety of websites and learning platforms that people are making use of to learn about a huge range of topics.

Online learning ranges from the very formal to the very informal, and it is much easier to collect valid statistics on the extent of formal online learning compared to informal online learning, because the former have hard data on the number of student enrolments and degree of engagement for example, data which might not exist for the more informal learning that takes place online.

Examples of formal online learning include universities putting their courses online, workplaces running online training courses and courses run through online learning platforms such as Coursera.

Informal learning is much more difficult to measure at it involves people hacking together an education using whatever free sources they can fund – by using YouTube videos to learn new skills for example.

Gathering data on the extent of online learning is complicated by the fact that there isn’t a clear boundary between using the internet for education and using it for entertainment, not to say, of course, that education can’t in itself be entertaining.

In this post I gather together some data which gives us an insight into the nature and extent of both formal and informal online learning in the world today, taking a global focus.

My reason for doing this is to demonstrate how significant online learning is in relation to formal education in schools, colleges and universities. I don’t believe a sociology of education should ignore these trends in online learning simply because online learning plays an increasingly significant role in many people’s lives, especially in people’s adult lives.

I also focus on the problems of collecting valid data on the extent of online learning in 2022.

Formal and informal online learning

Ranging from the formal to the informal, four basic types of online learning include….

  • The rise of virtual schools offering formally recognised national curriculums.
  • The rise of online digital learning platforms such as Udemy
  • The increase in independent people offering education and training on YouTube and other channels
  • The increase in ordinary people sharing their stories, experiences and life-experiments, and the increased interest in people consuming these.

An Overview of Global Online Learning

According to Global Market Insights (1) the value of the global e-learning market was over $315 billion in 2021.

70% of demand for online learning comes from the U.S.A and Europe (3)

Coursera’s statistics (6) show us that America has the most online learners, followed by India, and we can see that online learning is truly a global phenomenon!

80% of employers use online learning platforms…

Virtual Schools

America leads the way in virtual schools and in 2019-20, 40 there were 477 full-time virtual schools that enrolled 332,379 students, and 306 blended schools that enrolled 152,530 students (2).

NB as I understand it these are schools offering an officially recognised curriculum leading to formal exams, so this is a very formal type of online education.

Online learning platforms

Elearning Industry (8) lists 893 online learning platforms as of December 2022, unfortunately there is no data on how many courses are offered across these platforms or how many people are making use of them.

If you do a Google Search for ‘how many learning platforms are there’ Google returns search results for blogs outlining the ‘best’ platforms, not necessarily those with the most users, for example Thinkific (9) provides 10 of the best which include LinkdIn learning, Coursera and Udemy.

So if you want to find out how many people are making use of online learning platforms, you need to look at the stats from the individual platforms (and there may be overlap, some people enrolled on a Coursera course are also going to be doing a Udemy Courses!).

I don’t have time to trawl through almost 900 online learning platforms to collect the data but to look two of the biggest:

In 2021 Coursera had 92 million registered learners and 189 million enrolments (4)

In 2022 Udemy had 52 million learners and 213 000 courses (5)

So two of the largest platforms have 150 million people currently enrolled on their courses, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that across all learning platforms it’s likely that there are several hundred million people globally doing some kind of formally structured course on such platforms.

Learning Management Systems

Learner Management Systems are back end solutions for managing learners’ data while Online Learning Platforms are front-end packages.

I’m not analysing use of online Learner Management Systems (LMSs) here because pretty much every school, college and university will make use of an LMS to manage their learners’ data.

Educational blogs and vlogs

Many blogs and vlogs are educational, it is very difficult to get statistics on how many exist because many accounts include content which is both educational and purely for entertainment.

There must be well over a million ‘high quality’ educational videos on YouTube alone, produced by institutions such as the BBC and TED, the latest data i could find from 2015 put the figure at 700 000 videos on YouTubeEdu (10), so today there must be many more.

Educational content can range from the academic to videos designed to help people figure out ‘how to present themselves online’ as in the picture below…

TBH I’m not sure how I’d even go about designing a methodology to quantify the number of educational blogs and vlogs online, let alone the number of people consuming them.

Suffice to say, there are A LOT!

One thing I have learned from researching this is that online learning via blogs and vlogs is something of a fragmented and overwhelming experience!

Ted talks

TED (Technology Education and Design) is worth a special mention as many of the talks are relevant to sociology. The TED channel hosts thousands of videos, its YouTube channel has over 22 million subscribers and the most popular talk by Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity has 22 million views.

The problem with global statistics on elearning!

Even formal online learning is difficult to measure as there is no body monitoring the total number of online learners (as far as I am aware), and manually trawling through almost 1000 online learning platforms would take a long time.

Most of the available global statistics come from private companies who themselves offer online learning services. The first problem with this is that there can be a barrier in the form of a significant pay wall (7), another possible problem is with the validity of the data because these companies may use methods of data collection which deliberately exaggerate the extent of online learning: doing so makes it seem like institutions should invest more in online learning to keep up with an inevitable trend.

As to informal learning it is very difficult to measure how many educational blogs and vlogs there are simply because there is so much educational content out there!

Hence what we know about the nature and extent of online learning in 2023 is based on samples of those companies that do publish data, and there is no way this is representative of all online learning!

Sources

(1) Global Market Insights – E-learning market trends.

(2) National Education Policy Centre – Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2021.

(3) Upskillwise – Online Learning Statistics

(4) Coursera 2021 report.

(5) Udemy – About Udemy.

To do

(6) World Economic Forum – charts on global e-learning

(7) For example the Gartner Report apparently contains some data on online learning but I can’t access it because it is so expensive!

(8) Elearning Industry

(9) Thinkific – Top 10 online learning platforms.

(10) Wikipedia entry on YouTube and education.

Signposting

This material is meant as an update to the sociology of education.

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com

The 2022 World Cup and LGBTQ rights

The 2022 football world cup in Qatar has caused controversy because Qatar does not recognise same sex marriage or civil partnerships whereas European nation states tend to do so.

To my mind this year’s world cup has been overshadowed by politics and it’s shone a light on how little global consensus there is over the issue of LGBTQ rights.

LGBT rights in Qatar

(Or lack of them!)

  • Sexual acts between men can be punished with prison sentences of between one and three years, and flogging.
  • Muslims can be sentenced to death for having sex with another man, but this is because extra-marital sex is sanctionable by death and the state doesn’t recognise same sex marriage.
  • Trans women can be imprisoned for ‘impersonating a woman’ and forcibly de-transitioned while in jail.
  • Campaigning for LGBTQ rights is also legal in Qatar

The 2022 World Cup and the LGBTQ debate

Initially the Qatari authorities said they would allow the display of LGBTQ imagery at world cup games, but just before the tournament began they said they would be forcibly removing any spectators displaying such symbols, such as the Rainbow Flat.

This is line with announcements from the authorities that gay and trans football fans should respect the norms of Qatari culture while in public, and should hide their sexuality when in public by showing no signs of public affection.

FIFA also announced that any players displaying support for LGBTQ rights, such as by wearing rainbow armbands, would be fined.

There have been reports of some hotels refusing to allow same sex couples to stay as well as eye witness accounts of police brutality against gay people.

No global consensus on LGBTQ rights

Qatar’s failure to recognise the basic human rights of LGBT people to freedom of expression is clearly against the The United Nations Position on Human Rights, in violation of International Human Rights Law.

However, there is NOT universal agreement at the level of nation states on LGBTQ rights. In fact we are nowhere near achieving a global consensus around this issue.

According to the Human Rights Campaign same sex marriage is only legal in 32 countries, meaning that Qatar is actually in the global majority, while the various activists from the various European Nations who have been championing LGBTQ rights during the World Cup are from countries in the global minority over this issue.

Most European countries have full equal recognition of same-sex marriage but the majority of countries do not recognise this and many, like Qatar, enforce harsh punishments for adults who same-sex consensual sex.

‘Enlightened’ European states have long ignored human rights abuses abroad

The difficult question is how should European nations deal with the majority of countries who don’t respect the sexual preferences of LGBTQ people?

At the moment the policy is to basically ignore what we would define as human rights abuses and carry on trading with countries such as Qatar. To be blunt, economic relations trump universal human rights around sexuality and sexual identity.

To my mind FIFA giving the 2022 World Cup to Qatar isn’t particularly unusual, it’s merely a more overt recognition of the way most Nation States (who are represented by FIFA) deal with countries who abuse human rights – we welcome them as part of the international community and ignore their abuses.

I mean the World Cup was in Russia in 2018 after all, and Russia doesn’t recognise equal rights for LGBTQ people either and most European countries actively trade with China and other well known human rights abusers.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

Personally I do think Western European nations are more enlightened than countries who are intolerant of LGBTQ rights, primarily because I believe in freedom of expression and don’t recognise religious authority of any kind.

But is this just me being a modernist dinosaur and out of sync with our relativistic postmodern times?

And so for me the global situation on LGBTQ rights which the World Cup has shone a light on is throughly depressing as it shows we are nowhere near progressing towards a global consensus on this issue – there is no global culture in this regard, in fact the issue is very divisive.

It’s also a reminder of the extent to which nation states put economic relations above individual human rights, and reminds us of the immense power of nation states in this regard, they seem to be at total liberty to ignore UN conventions on human rights with absolutely no consequence!

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com

The cost of living crisis – was it always inevitable? 

is the cost of living crisis caused by a growing global middle class pushing up the price of scarce resources?

It’s possible that the current cost of living crisis in the UK is due to a long term trend of a growing middle class increasing demand for scarce natural resources, which pushes their prices up, further compounded by an increase in wages and thus cost of production as developing countries have become richer since the 1960s.

While this is clearly positive development, we in the UK have not invested sufficiently in the kind of technologies which could have helped us live more efficiently and thus protected us against the current short term shocks which have led to spikes in the cost of energy, raw materials and food.

The cost of living crises: a long term trend?

The UK government’s line on the cost of living crisis is that it’s driven by the post-pandemic squeeze on supply chains, and the war in Ukraine restricting the supply of raw materials, food and energy. 

And the government can’t admit this but there’s a lot of objective data that suggests the current crisis has been made slightly worse by BREXIT making it more difficult for British Business to trade with Europe. 

However I think there’s something more fundamental going on – in that even without the above three mega-events – we’d still be seeing an increase in the cost of living in the UK – all these events have done is rapidly accelerate a trend that was always inevitable given the trajectory of our high-consumption global development over the last several decades. (Moreover at least two of the above events are symptoms of that same economic trajectory).

The prices of energy, food, and the raw materials we need to keep our industries going, build our houses with and make the stuff we all want, are determined in a global economic system of demand and supply. 

This is just basic economics – the more demand there is for goods, the more the prices of those goods increase, and the less supply there is of those goods, again, the more the prices increase. 

A Growing Global Middle Class

Over the past several decades developing countries have become wealthier – in population terms the main drivers for this are China, India and also countries in South America – and we’ve seen a massive increase in the middle classes in those countries. 

Research by PEW (1) has found that in 1975 the global middle class numbered 1 billion, by 2006 it numbered 2 billion and by 2015 there were 3 billion people in the global middle classes. 25% of these live in advanced economies and 40% live in the BRIC nations: Brazil, Russia, India and China, with the rest living in other countries. 

Brookings (2) put the size of the global middle class at 3.8 BN in 2018, the point at which there were equal middle class and rich consumers relative to those classified as poor and vulnerable. 

This is a huge success story for global development – with literally billions of people being lifted out of poverty and into relative affluence but this has also meant a huge increase in demand on the limited global resource base – on energy, food, and various raw materials. 

We now have billions of more consumers demanding those resources that only a few decades ago a scant billion living mainly in affluent Europe and America could afford.  

Just one indicator of this is the increase in demand for beef since the 1960s (3) – a very inefficient use of land per calories –  but nonetheless something that consumers clearly want to eat more of as their incomes increase…

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, in the post-colonial era, it used to be the case that the raw materials we used to import, and increasingly the finished products (clothes, cars, and increasingly tech gadgets) we imported were cheap because of ‘our’ relative wealth and ‘their’ relative poverty – we benefited not only from being the only ones able to afford cars and consumer durables (low demand on raw materials = cheap resources) but also their cheap labour due to the relative differences in wealth between developed and less developed countries. 

But now that many of those once poor countries aren’t so poor, we’ve got the double-whammy of more demand on those limited global resources and having to pay higher wages to the people in China (mainly China) who want to earn enough to buy the very same products they are making. 

So I think what we are seeing now is basically just a more crowded marketplace, more demand for limited resources, more demand for higher wages, and thus higher prices for basic products. 

Of course it’s not just the free market that determines these prices (there is no such thing as a purely free market) – the power of Nation States also comes into play – as they try to use policy-led coercion or brute force to secure cheap resources for their populations – according to David Harvey this is what the illegal U.S. War in Iraq was about – all about oil – and it’s probably what Putin’s war in Ukraine is about – Ukraine has lots of natural resources and it’s a bread-basket – as Putin sees it (probably) that is massive region full of natural resources that he wants to secure for Russia rather than those resources being sold (on the ‘free’ market to European countries. 

And this also explains why ‘enlightened’ states in Europe and America are prepared to put up with human rights abuses in Qatar and Saudi-Arabia – they have huge oil reserves to put it bluntly and death sentences for gay people isn’t going to over ride the perceived importance of maintaining access to that of so precious resource – and oil of course isn’t only necessary to keep our cars on the road it’s also necessary to keep our military machines operating – so these unsavoury relationships are about maintaining both economic and military power. 

Extraction of Profit from the U.K. over Investment?

Now to my mind we could, as a nation, have secured ourselves against this inevitable cost of living crisis driven ultimately by resource scarcity in the context of an increasingly wealthy global population, but we didn’t. 

Instead we as consumers have squandered a decent portion of our wealth on consumer frivolities (holidays, throw away clothes, meals out etc. etc.), take on more debt than we needed to in order fund high-consumption lifestyles, and just generally been very wasteful.

Moreover, the global companies who have worked to bring us these products have extracted huge amounts of profit out of the country which is now sitting in tax havens, and, as a form of capital, is used by mainly the top 10% of global population, especially the top 1% to maintain their power and comfortable lifestyles, rather than being invested back into sustainable solutions for a sensible-consumption global future (more of that later). 

A good example of how profit and capital has been used by the wealthy to benefit themselves rather than societies is the property boom in London – with billions of pounds being spent on investment properties to secure a nice lifestyle in a vibrant global city which has pushed the cost of housing up astronomically so that now even young professionals have to spend half their income just to rent a room in a shared house. And London isn’t the only city this has been happening in either. 

Granted some of our wealth has gone to fund education, health and pensions, but these are creaking, and these could have been much better funded. (The average person in the UK is much better off in this regard than the average person in the U.S.) 

So after several decades of (granted successful) development we’ve now got a super rich global elite who are sitting on piles of money, which is perversely contributing to rising prices itself (in the form of property price increases) and four decades of underinvestment in those technologies which could have if not averted the current cost of living crisis certainly helped to lessen its impact. 

The Cost of Living Crises could Have been Avoided!

Just think what all of those trillions of extracted wealth could have done if invested in ultra-energy efficient infrastructure, local energy production (yes, sorry, solar and wind if combined with efficiency can go a LONG way to securing our energy needs!) and local sustainable food production – we’d be much more resilient to the kind of global market shocks we’ve seen since the Pandemic!  

Final thoughts/ Disclaimers

NB this is just a working theory, but TLDR – we were always going to have a cost of living crisis in the U.K at some point! 

P.S. also keep this in mind – the top 10% of people in the UK are in a much better position to weather this current cost of living crisis, the top 1% won’t even feel it at all! 

P.P.S when thinking about policy solutions to the Cost of Living Crisis – remember this – the Tory party (especially Rishi Sunak whose wife is the daughter of the CEO of one of India’s largest tech companies) have a global perspective – gleaming extreme teeth-whitened smile aside, good old Rish is probably  NOT thinking primarily about the well-being of the average British-bound person in the U.K. – he is more likely to be thinking about what’s good for him and his extensive network of global elite colleagues (the top 0.01% in his case).

From the perspective of the global elite, an increasing cost of living in the UK is not necessarily bad for them because they are globally mobile – they can base themselves in different countries to avoid the worst excesses of economic crises as they move around the globe, while the average UK citizen is ‘doomed to be local’ and suffer at the hands of Rishi’s piecemeal policies, which IMO are just about enough to give him a chance of being voted back into power in a few years, good old Rish!  

Signposting and sources

This is an overdue personal rant relevant to the Global Development option, part of the A-level in Sociology specification

Sources

  1. PEW: How a growing global middle class could help save the world’s economy
  2. Brookings: A global tipping point
  3. Our World in Data

COP 27 – A Sociological Analysis

COP 27 – where 198 nations met to discuss climate change and agreed to do very little about it!

36 000 people representing 198 nations, companies, international organisations and civil society met in Egypt in November 2022 to try and agree further commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slow down global warming, but little progress was made.

This post summarises the outcomes and applies some sociological concepts to this contemporary event.

What is COP 27?

Cop stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’ who meet to discuss actions to combat climate change under the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. In 2022 this was attended by representatives of 198 countries and several other representative from companies, international organisations and civil society groups.

2022 was the 27th international meeting on Climate Change since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, this year it was held in Egypt and was attended by 35 000 people.

Paris 2015

The 2015 COP meeting in Paris was especially signficant because this was the first time countries agreed to try and reduce global warming to within 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels by the year 2030.

Nationally Determined Contributions

Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs are fundamental to reducing global emissions and keeping the rate of global warming in check. They are specific country agreements which contain policy measures countries are prepared to implement to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Countries are supposed to publish these regularly, but only 24 had published revised NDCs since the previous COP meeting in Glasgow in 2021 and only 54 countries have long-term plans for reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Main Outcomes of COP 27

The main outcomes of Cop 27 were:

  • The creation of a loss and damage fund to compensate developing countries for the disproportionate damage they have suffered from climate change caused primarily by developed countries which have been the main beneficiaries of the wealth generated by the industrial revolution. However there are no details of who is going to contribute, when, to what organisations or how much money is involved.
  • Countries failed to agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to hit the 1.5 degree increase by 2020 target, although in the last year a few countries have got more ambitious and so now we are on target to only increase out emissions by 10% rather than 13%.
  • Countries failed to commit to phasing out all fossil fuels, although they recommitted to phasing out the use of coal which had been introduced as part of Cop 26 in Glasgow.
  • There was a commitment to scale up the use of low emission energy, although gas might be redefined as low emission because it’s less toxic than goal and oil.
  • There was a recommitment by developed countries to provide $100 billion in funding to developing countries to help them adapt to climate change by funding projects such as sea defences and reforestation. However only $20 billion in funding has been provided since this was first agreed in 2021 and this year some countries tried to remove this commitment.
  • There are plans in place to restructure the World Bank so that it can provide funding to developing countries to help them adapt to climate change.
  • Copy 27 recognised that there might be ‘tipping point’s as the climate warms – once we get above a certain temperature things might get rapidly worse as climate change doesn’t happen in a smooth and linear fashion. They also recognised that climate change has a negative impact on people’s health which is a basic human right.

Criticisms of COP 27

Great Thunberg didn’t attend COP 27 because she accused the attendees of Greenwashing which is where governments use the international conference to make it appear like they are doing something about Climate Change but in reality they are not.

If you look back at the ‘achievements’ above you can clearly see that while these commitments are dressed up as ‘progress’ in reality very little has been achieved since Paris in 2015.

More radical climate activists such as Great Thunberg and organisations such as 350.0rg believe that we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels much ore rapidly and that it is possible to transition to fully renewable energy supplies such as solar and wind much sooner than 2030, but there just isn’t the political will to do so.

350.0rg’s demands.

Sociology applied to COP 27

COP 27 is an example of globalisation in action as this is one of the largest international meetings in history, attended by representatives of nearly every country on earth.

There is very little substance to any of the actions agreed upon at COP 27 and specific progress towards reducing our reliance on fossil fuels remains extremely limited. This suggests that if there is any kind of consensus at the level of national governments (or nation states) then that consensus is to do relatively little about getting global warming under control by 2030.

Nation States seem more committed on prioritising economic growth and poverty alleviation and setting up resilience funds to help poor countries deal with the negative effects of climate change, rather than a radical shift away from fossil fuels, suggesting support for the Marxist view that nation states are in alliance with the polluting fossil fuel companies.

There is a considerable portion of civil society (i.e. ordinary people) who think governments aren’t doing enough fast enough to combat global warming and climate change. For example Just Stop Oil have been active recently shutting down motorways, mainly representing the young rather than the old, and another organisation is 350.0rg who believe that a much faster transition to renewable energy is possible!

Anthony Giddens has said that Nation States are too small to deal with global problems – maybe we are seeing that here – while some nation states have committed to reducing emissions, most have not, and there’s not very much the committed states can do to force the others into following suit!

Signposting

The environment and development is one of the topics within the Global Development option on the AQA’s A-level sociology specification.

Sources

UK Parliament: House of Lords Library: COP 27 Progress and Outcomes

The Guardian: What are they key outcomes of COP 27 climate agreement?

United Nations: COP 27

Why Did Liz Truss’ Budget do so Much Damage…?

The Tory U-turn on its disastrous tax-cutting mini budget demonstrates how little power the British government has in relation to the forces of economic globalisation

Liz Truss and then then chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced a mini-budget on September 23rd 2022 which outlined tens of billions of pounds of tax cuts:

  • corporation tax was to be cut from 25% to 19%
  • the basic rate of income tax from 20% to 19%,
  • while the top 45% rate of income tax was also to be slashed for the extreme minority of higher income earners. 

At the same time the budget also committed the government to an increasing in spending to fund the energy-price cap which also ran into several billions of pounds annually for two years.

This package of tax cuts amounted to a planned reduction in government income of £45 billion, and the budget included no mention of how this shortfall was to be funded.

The extreme negative market reaction to Truss’ Mini-budget

The financial markets reacted immediately and violently to the Tory mini-budget with the interest rates on government bonds increasing rapidly.

For example, the 30 year bond rate increased from 4% to 5% – this is the amount of interest the UK government pays on its debt, meaning the UK government would have to pay a lot more going forwards.

The value of the pound also fell relative to the dollar and other currencies meaning it would be more expensive for businesses and individuals to buy imports.

What are government bonds?

Bonds are government backed loans – the government issues bonds when it wants to raise money to pay for various investments – and they promise to pay interest to whoever buys these bonds.

Bonds range from short term (3 years) to the very long term – over 60 years and the interest rates on bonds vary according to primarily three factors:

  • national interest rates – higher interest rates = higher interest payments (obviously!)
  • inflation – higher inflation is correlated with higher interest rates so the same pattern as above
  • a country’s credit rating – if a country is deemed to be at a higher risk of defaulting on its bonds, its credit rating drops and the interest payments go up.

The total value of UK government bonds, (in other words UK government debt) is at time of writing in October 2022 $2.6 trillion. (Also see source 1 below, for the latest UK Government data)

And huge debt also means huge annual interest payments, and so when bond rates increased by even just 1% as a result of the tragic Tory mini-budget, this means the UK government has to find tens of billions more every year just to service the interest on that debt, and this means less of our tax money going on public services.

The extent of government debt and why the Tory mini budget was so harmful

Even before the tragic mini-budget announcement Britain’s annual deficit stood at 2.3% of Britain’s GDP (according to latest government figures that’s £2.3 trillion) and so Britain was already spending approximately £50 more EVERY YEAR than it was bringing in in tax receipts.  

The Tory mini-budget increase that deficit by around another £50 billion, meaning the total annual deficit would have been £100 billion, EVERY YEAR and the budget laid out no specific information about where that extra £100 billion was going to come from.  

These policies would have had the further effect of feeding inflation, which had already been creeping up, and increasing interest rates which would have increased the cost of government borrowing while at the same time undermining the capacity of the government to pay the yield (interest rate) on its bonds.

Essentially the markets (i.e. the pension funds, countries and other companies who held UK Bonds (or debt)) looked at the Tory’s economic plan and said ‘there’s no way this is sustainable – you’re committing to running a national deficit of £100 billion a year with no indication of how you’re going to pay for it, which means you’re going to be less likely to pay back our debt, or the interest on our bonds’.

These policies which have since been reversed in a U-turn only two weeks after they were first announced (which completely undermines Liz Truss’ credibility as a leader and neoliberal economics more generally)

The Tory U-Turn

Shortly after the original mini-budget Liz Truss sacked her chancellor and appointed Jeremy Hunt in his place.

On Monday 19th of October, less than one month after the announcement of the original mini budget, Jeremy Hunt announced the scrapping of nearly all the measures outlined in that original budget, in what was the biggest U-turn in British economic history.

As it stands there will be no tax cuts after all and the energy price cap guarantee will only hold until April 2023, rather than a year after that as had been the case in the original disaster budget.

Relevance to A-level sociology

In my experience most A-level sociology students have very little understanding of economics, but personally I think every student needs at least a basic level of understanding of national economics, taxation, public spending, the sheer scale of national debt, interest rates and inflation.

Without an understanding of these basic economic concepts students are missing out on a deeper understanding of how economic structures and the ‘macro’ picture affect social life at a more personal level.

This material is most relevant to the Global Development module to illustrate how important economic globalisation is!

What this case study demonstrates is just how far the power of the British Government (and ANY government for that matter) has declined in relation to international bond markets and ratings agencies, because they are so massively in debt.

Britain owes so much money that it can now no longer do anything which undermines its capacity to repay that debt which is largely held by international financial corporations.

In this case the markets forced the UK to abandon its plans to cut taxes, and one might reasonably expect this means that the government would not be able to increase public spending either – because that would put a similar level of strain on the government’s capacity to pay back its enormous amount debt.

Interestingly one of the things Jeremy Hunt said in his ‘biggest U turn in political history’ speech was that….

“Governments can’t prevent market stability but they can manage the situation so that people don’t suffer – in terms of rising prices, mortgages and pensions”.

As a final word I also think maybe it illustrates the looming division between the old and the young… pension funds hold huge amounts of UK bonds and so these moves have been another strategy to protect the old while the young will pick up the costs again, as there are public spending cuts coming.

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P and O’s Sacking of 800 Workers – Broad Support for the Marxist Perspective on Globalisation?

P and O Ferries recently sacked 800 UK workers by video conference call. Workers were literally told in a video call from the boss of P and O, lasting less than 5 minutes and with no prior warning, that their employment was being terminated with immediate effect.

You can watch the boss of P and O sacking the 800 workers in the video below (note is old white maleness, typical profile!)

The 800 UK workers, all having been paid minimum wage have been replaced with primarily overseas workers from countries such as India, allegedly being paid as little as £1.80 an hour, employed via a third party, meaning they are agency workers rather than being employed directly by P and O.

Some of the sacked workers had been with the company for several years, a few for over a decade, suddenly made unemployed, and the replacement agency workers were shipped in by bus on the same day, some of them having been put up in a hotel the night before.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is a sad example of how global companies such as DP WORLD (The parent company of P and O) can simply sack more expensive workers and hire cheaper workers from other countries when their profits take a hit, as has been the case since the Covid Pandemic led to a drastic decrease in revenues for travel companies.

This kind of action is probably easier for ferry companies who can choose to register (‘flag’) their boats in a number of countries, and thus effectively pick the legislation which they want their employment laws to fall under.

Clearly P and Os legal advisors had informed the company that they could sack these British workers with immediate effect, even though British Labour laws they need to consult with Unions BEFORE sacking so many workers, which they hadn’t done.

This event is a sad reminder of Zygmunt Bauman’s quote that ‘when the rich pursue their goals, the poor pay the price’ – in this case the company is trying to save money to maintain its profitability and so it sacks more highly paid workers in the UK (although ferry employees aren’t particularly highly paid) and then employs poorer people to do exactly the same jobs, meanwhile the British tax payer is left to foot the bill of these newly unemployed people.

I doubt very much if the newly employed Ferry workers will have employment conditions anywhere near as good as the sacked British workers.

This seems to suggest that Marxism is still relevant today, offering broad support for the Marxist view of globalisation – that global companies can operate between countries, seeking to take advantage of those with the slackest labour laws, and in this case it’s clearly Britain with it’s relatively high standards of protection for workers that has lost out!

China’s Anti-Privatisation and Anti-Global Education Policy Changes

China recently banned for-profit tutoring after school for 5-15 year olds. This means that private companies who charge parents for tutoring their children can no longer operate.

This news is very relevant to both the sociology of education and the topic of globalisation.

The ‘banning’ of foreign companies is part of a broader Chinese-strategy to reduce homework for 5-15 year olds in order to make school less stressful and give children a more balanced childhood.

New guidance from the central Chinese Communist Party says that no homework should be give to children in grades 1 and 2, with only 90 minutes a day being given to those in the later years of their schooling.

The guidance also states that schools and parents should take steps to ensure that children are not spending too long on their electronic devices, they are getting some physical exercise and they should promote their mental well-being.

Private tutoring can still take place but it has to be run by non-profit companies with a physical base in China.

The changes mean that many foreign education companies who ran online zoom-based tutorial lessons have had to shut down.

NB some parents are already getting around these measures by employing live-in tutors!

Sociological Analysis and Relevance to A-level Sociology

At first glance this looks like China finally developing a more child-centred approach to education, like has been the case in Britain for decades, and especially the last 20 years, where safeguarding policies are extremely well established.

This looks like what me might call ‘social progress’ as China moves away from its ‘extreme’ education system – with its very long hours for children in school and with most (75% in 2016) children doing further study after school and at weekends.

Another possible reason behind these changes is China’s Ageing population – after years of policies which restricted the numbers of children families could have (such as the one-child policy) China now has a rapidly ageing population, but people are no longer choosing to have lots of children because they are expensive, partly because of parents having to spend so much money on tutoring due to the highly competitive education system.

By strictly limiting the amount of private tutoring and banning for-profit tutoring altogether, this should reduce the cost of having children and possibly encourage parents to have more children!

This is also an example of reversing the privatisation of education – the Chinese State has made it a lot more difficult for private foreign companies to operate in China – they now have to register through a non-profit Chinese company with a physical base in China. It’s not an outright ban, but has already meant many foreign companies just given up on China.

This also seems to be an example of a reversal of the globalisation of education…with China to restrict access to foreign education companies, preventing money flowing from wealthy Chinese parents out to foreign companies, and is an example of protectionism by stealth.

In the same vein, this is also an example of a move away from neoliberalism.

Find out More/ Sources

China Briefing (2021): Regulatory Clarity After China Bans For Profit Tutoring in Core Education.

Reuters (2021) China Bans Private Tutors from Given Online Classes

Why is China Cracking down on Private Schools?

See this post on a ‘Chinese School Experiment‘ done in the UK for an insight into how ‘extreme’ Chinese education can be.

An end to U.S. Nation Building, but what does that mean?

A criticism of ‘optimist’ views of globalisation

Along with the withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Afghanistan last week, President Biden also announced an end to ‘Nation Building’ as part of its foreign policy.

This topic should be of interest to anyone studying globalisation and global development, as this policy shift will have global implications.

What does and end to Nation Building Mean?

Broadly speaking and end to nation building means the U.S. will no longer be invading foreign countries and keeping troops and advisers stationed in those countries for the long term with the intention of establishing ‘liberal democratic’ (sceptics might say pro-American )governments.

This is what the U.S. tried to do with Iraq and Afghanistan following the September 11th 2021 bombings, but now it seems that the case of Afghanistan has firmly put paid to the idea that America can successfully intervene and help to engineer ‘regime change’. If can’t do so after 20 years, it seems unlikely staying around any longer would have made any difference, especially when the Taliban took power so swiftly following news of the U.S. withdrawal.

So what does this mean in terms of globalisation?

This is certainly evidence against so called ‘optimist’ views of globalisation – America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan suggests its power globally is in decline, and it has less capacity now than ever to ‘export Western models of democracy abroad’.

However global pessimists might remind us that this won’t necessarily mean an end to U.S. military involvement in the region, or elsewhere in the world – it could just mean a shift to more covert forms of drone strikes on militants, and more chaos abroad, meted out from a distance by the United States.

Just about the only thing that is certain is this makes the world an even more uncertain an unpredictable place than ever!

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What is Global Britain?

AQA A level sociology revision resources | Revisesociology.com

What will be Britain’s post-Brexit role in the world?

Does leaving the EU mean we are now free to forge more truly ‘global relationship’ with other countries and regions in other parts of the world?

This is an important question for students studying the A-level option in Global Development and should be of general interest to any student studying globalisation.

The Integrated Review

In March 2021 the UK Government published what has become known as the ‘Integrated Review‘ which considered what Britains’ post-Brexit role in the world might be in the future.

The full title was the natty: ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’.

Boris Johnson and other pro-Brexit politicians are necessarily optimistic about the capacity of the Britain to still be influential in global politics, and take a leading role in the areas of climate change, science and technology and diplomacy, but how realistic are these goals?

World leaders in Science and Technology

The development of Covid-Vaccines has demonstrated that Britain is the world leader in genetic sequencing and the development of new vaccines, and we are world leaders in the life-sciences more generally.

However, ironically, a lot of our funding for scientific research has been cut now we have left the EU and the British government isn’t going to make up the short fall.

And besides life-sciences there is serious competition from other countries in most other fields of science and technology.

So while we have our ‘niche’ at the moment, this future role is far from guaranteed.

Climate Change

Britain is hosting COP26 in Glasgow in November, and the integrated review puts tackling climate change at the top of its priorities list.

Britain has a reasonably good track record on reducing emissions and could be well placed to bring other countries on board in more global efforts to deal with climate change.

International Aid

We are still one of the largest aid donors in the world, but the government recently announced it was cutting the aid budget from 0.7% of GPD to 0.5% of GPD, and this will have immediate consequences in the countries whose aid budgets are reduced.

It seems like a terrible time to have cut the aid budget if we wish to have a credible claim to this being one of our main roles in the world.

We have also recently forged a partnership with Indian companies who manufacture our vaccines in India

A world leader in diplomacy

The report points out that Britain is one of the best connected nations on earth – it has a seat in every global institution and strong diplomatic ties with many other countries.

There is scope for the UK to become a world leader in settling conflict and solving global problems.

Although this is maybe a bit vague?

Human Rights

Britain has long been a haven for those seeking refuge from oppressive regimes (at least ever since after colonialism when Britain was the oppressive regime) and IF we were to shun China and Russia we could take on a role as a defender of civil liberties, although the government’s draconian response to Covid-19 suggests we are a long way off being a model in this regard.

Foreign Policy as a response to China

Analysis has suggested that the whole of the Integrated Review is a response to China’s increasing power.

It seems that the general gist is to forge better relations with China and acknowledge they exist – hence the current 20 000 mile round trip being made by

HOWEVER, foreign policy in the future seems to be more about fostering relations with other powerful countries and leaving China (and Russia) on the other side of the equation.

We are actively pursing more commercial ties with India for example, and huge numbers of Indian students are increasingly coming to study in UK Universities, while decreasingly so from China.

We also invited India, South Korea and Australia to the G7 meeting we hosted in June 2021 and there is talk of expanding this to the G10.

Too little focus on Europe?

it’s worth noting that the report only has 10 lines devoted to Europe, and we’re probably going to have to spend a lot more effort than this dealing with our neighbours in the future!

Sign Posting

While this isn’t the most obvious topic for students of A-level sociology it’s worth considering as part of studying globalisation – probably most relevant to ‘political globalisation‘, and hopefully this post gives you few ideas of how Britain’s role is changing globally.

Sources

This post is mainly a summary of this analysis Podcast from BBC radio 4.

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