Commodification is a non-issue in the northern countries. But being unaware of its descent and unprepared for its effects will have severe consequences that will be much harder to fix than prevent. Elisabeth Gehrke writes that the Nordic countries and the student unions especially have to wake up NOW.
Commodification is the process in which education goes from being a human right with many purposes to being a good to be traded on a market for profit with a sole purpose to benefit the economy. Commodification is a problem if you believe higher education has more purposes than serving the economy. What do the Nordic countries believe? I honestly can’t say.
The problem in northern Europe is that the Nordic countries tend to treat issues such as tuition fees as technical issues. The countries have somehow forgotten about commodification. If you believe that education serves multiple purposes including preparing us students to be truly responsible citizens, then issues such as tuition fees are not technical. Failing to see the role of education in society and actively taking a stand is nothing short of a political failure.
Many of the political parties in the Nordic countries have even gone so far as to copy paste the education policy profiles from the OECD as their own education policy. This as if they where somehow suited to every ideological context. The Swedish Liberal Party, which is part of a right wing coalition, has based their policy on them. So has the labour coalition government in Denmark. The OECDs’ recommendations are not in fact neutral policy. There is no such thing as neutral policy.
Some finish parliamentarians recently had their own little uprising calling for tuition fees for non-EEA students for the purpose of “creating a market” and “capitalising off Finlands’ reputation”. These types of reforms are usually the first wave of commodification. One second you are just talking about “competing on the global market”, the next you are England 2.0 and can kiss your equal society goodbye.
No matter how much forces like The Economist want it to seem like fiscal conservatism is the only reason for the current success of the Nordic countries. That is just not the case. Aiming for equality and the educational system of these countries has been at the heart of that success.
We have to remember that success is fleeting and that the crisis we are in is not just an economic but also a crisis of values and of vision. The Nordic countries need to wake up and become less complacent, lazy and ignorant in their policymaking. Or else one day they will wake up to that success having slipped right out of their hands and with no one to blame but themselves.