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Adult Education at Auction: On Tendering-Based Procurement and Valuation in Swedish Municipal Adult Education

Diana Holmqvist (2022)

PhD thesis. Linköping: University of Linkööping. Open access.

Abstract. Our understanding of adult education’s purpose and value is linked to how we think ‘good’ education should be organised and provided. This thesis explores the interplay between organisation and values by looking at how conceptualisations and valuations of adult education are affected when private providers become involved in public education.

For this purpose, the study draws on the example of Swedish municipal adult education (MAE). On the one hand, Swedish adult education is organised to compensate for structural inequalities and mitigate barriers to participation in education for citizens. On the other hand, private providers are allowed to make profits from their involvement in public education. Sweden’s combined commitment to universal welfare and the market make this a particularly interesting case to examine. Mainly contracted through tendering-based procurement, for-profit companies (and to a lesser extent non-public organisations) now service almost half of all MAE course participants. The thesis explores how municipalities construct the value and purpose of MAE when placing orders with private providers, and how teachers working in MAE reflect upon the purpose and value of MAE.

Drawing on empirical data from both procurements and interviews, the study shows that municipalities use tendering-based procurement to shape the public-private partnership and promote different values. On a national level, this creates a heterogenous landscape of adult education provision and valuations. Furthermore, the study shows that there are tensions between MAE teachers’ professional self-conceptualisations and the realities put forth by policy or constructed in the procurement process. Analysing how teachers navigate these tensions, the study shows that teachers work to resist reformation, while they also become complicit in enforcing values promoted through policy and procurement.

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