In many societies, (higher) education has been equated with a form of professional formation whose focus lies on the requirements of enterprises. At the same time, a reduced individual dividend for education (that is, a decreasing value of titles and degrees because of an increasing level of education throughout the whole society) has become observable. To what extent are opportunities in the labor market dependent on education and (to what extent) has this connection loosened during the last decades? Besides university studies, which alternative routes are likely to lead to a successful career? How are the factors of inter-generational inequality, on the one hand, and education and the labor market, on the other, intertwined?
In some regions, non-state actors have had a long (colonial) tradition in the education system. Currently, probably due to failures of government-run infrastructures, a variety of new actors (business-oriented and non-profit, national and international) are coming into play. In some countries, the balance of public and private investment in the educational sector is tilted to an extent that is criticized as risking a devaluation of the national educational system. Can we observe (regional or even global) trends toward a hierarchization, privatization and commercialization of education for both the elites and the masses? How do liberalization discourses in other fields of society impact upon these developments and the corresponding norms and values? What is the role of religious entities in the educational sector?
Regions outside Europe are often attested a higher level of social heterogeneity and inequality on various axes. But even in Western Europe, social change and processes of migration have generated a greater degree of social diversity during the last decades. Which interdependencies, if any, can be traced between social heterogeneity and ideas/systems of education? In which contexts has education facilitated the empowerment of marginalized subjects and groups? How do students from different social backgrounds make use of educational opportunities? What role do habitus and practices of assessment within the educational institutions play? What influence do gender and class inequalities or other factors of social discrimination have on the accessibility of (higher) education? What experience do we have with affirmative action and quotas? When does education become a cause of social mobilization? Do the poor receive a different form of education?
The question of which forms of knowledge are recognized as education – or in German “Bildung” – can be fundamentally contested. Therefore, the process that renders certain forms of knowledge education while excluding others needs to be problematized as an arena of (implicit) political struggle and as a way of wielding social power. Moreover, many regions outside Europe have been affected by colonial pasts. This panel seeks to address the complex topic of global knowledge asymmetries, by asking questions such as: What is the relationship between indigenous knowledge/education and external influences? To what extent have colonial legislation, the associated institutional structures and ideas of education, elite, etc. been impacting on (post-) colonial systems of education? What influence does the formation of the (nation-) state and subsequent politico-economic developments have on ideas and practices of inequality and education?
Education is sometimes thought of as the means of reducing structural inequalities within and across societies. Nevertheless, access to education itself can be distributed in unequal ways, contingent on the very structures it is supposed to even out. A historical perspective reveals that educational opportunities were often tailored to the social background or gender of the students. Sometimes, such differentiations have been institutionalized as parallel strands within education systems, which can result in the exclusion of certain groups from mainstream education and subsequent career opportunities. This opening panel seeks to address general questions and concepts with a view to the relationship among inequality, education and social power, such as: When and how do structures of education work in favor, and when do they work against social mobility? How are issues of inequality and education dealt with in different countries and regions, which topics are considered crucial and which actors are involved in the debate?