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Title: The EU's European semester : soft power and knowledge in the governing of education
Author: Eeva, Katri
ISNI:       0000 0004 7971 5809
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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This doctoral thesis examines the governing of education through a case of a policy instrument, the European Semester (ES), as an instance of the exercise of soft power in European policy-making in education. It explores how the ES was developed within the European Union (EU) in the aftermath of the 2008-09 economic crisis, in order to bring national education policy into a closer alignment with economic demands and thus to create growth and jobs. The thesis examines the ES as an example of soft power which draws on increasing standardisation and steering of policy by the European Commission (EC). Soft power, it is suggested, operates through comparison, data and knowledge production and the selection of experts who 'build' European standards. In exploring the role of knowledge in soft power, the thesis engages with contemporary debates on Europeanisation and how it is best understood, as well as with developments in the study of the governing of education. Here, both Europeanisation and governing are understood as horizontal rather than top-down processes open to meditation and translation, rather than the rule-bound actions of institutions and structures. Soft power builds convergence and stability in Europe through the development of important benchmarks, for example, the Country-Specific Recommendations (CSR) in the ES, and through persuasive policy discourses that align education more closely with economic recovery. A case study of Finland provides an example of the ways in which national policy actors and networks of experts are involved in domestic and European policy formation, responding to and seeking to influence the ES. A social constructivist perspective is adopted in order to capture the role of policy actors in interpreting and making meaning within the European space. This is coupled with discourse analysis of policy documents and interviews with key policy actors that reveal the attempted development of persuasive and enticing text, combined with target-setting and benchmarking in the ES. The data analysis highlights the responses of policy actors to the ES showing how the instrument shapes the consciousness and action of policy actors, and also how the policy actors shape the instrument. The key findings of the research are that policy actors form new 'governing elites' that are increasingly technocratic and knowledge-based, and who operate through networks. They use discourse to normalise and legitimise policy through referencing knowledge as a governing resource. The CSRs are a platform for the EC and member states to meditate and translate policy content through 'borderline' recommendations which mobilise the socio-economising discourse that responds to the pressures for standardisation in the EU 2020 Strategy while allowing for national agendas. The main contribution of the thesis is the argument that soft power is sufficiently effective in itself to render that hard sanctions are unnecessary because peer pressure to comply with soft power is attractive to member states. The thesis contributes to scholarship through this conclusion and through offering an alternative lens for researching European education governance.
Supervisor: Ozga, Jennifer ; Elliott, Velda Sponsor: Niilo Helander Foundation ; Emil Aaltonen Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available