Comparative and International Education Group University of Newcastle (CIEGUN) brings together a critical mass of established comparative researchers exploring

Comparative and International Education GroupCIEGUN

About us

Comparative and International Education Group University of Newcastle (CIEGUN) brings together a critical mass of established comparative researchers exploring global educational policies and alternatives for contemporary times.

Programme Leader: Dr Tom Griffiths
Chief Investigators: Dr Zsuzsa Millei, Dr Stephanie Bengtsson, Dr Nisha Thapliyal , A/Prof Linda Newman

Challenging dominant policy paradigms: Enacting social justice

Our programmatic focus is developed through inter-related research spokes, across geographical regions, educational sectors, and time periods, with a consistent focus on policy critique, the exploration of socially just alternatives, and interventions that systematically incorporate subaltern voices. We build on our established international collaborations, to enhance the dissemination, recognition and impact of the research as an integral part of the proposed intervention in global policy debates. Our programme of research rests on an acknowledgement of the heightened levels of global uncertainty and instability in which policy challenges emerge, and the heightened potential for such interventions in this context to influence the shape of the future world-system.

Significance of the program

To impact positively on global futures it is vital to examine the global flow of good practice educational policies that attend to problems associated with contemporary uncertainties and risks, and to scrutinise policy challenges and alternatives with a decisive aim to intervene. This research programme provides this essential response through critical analyses and comparisons of key case-studies using innovative theoretical and methodological frameworks of comparative and international education. The programme builds capacity for the establishment of a centre of excellence for international educational research in the current global renaissance of this field that requires comparative understandings of educational phenomena.

The Context

  • Global resurgence of comparative and international research, driven by the ongoing development of globalization theorising and processes; and the expansion of comparative data and policy trend of ranking / benchmarking / comparing systems cross-nationally.
  • Established tradition of the CIE field drawing on research disciplines across the social sciences.
  • Major and ongoing public debates about educational 'policy transfer' as a global phenomenon.
  • Established and developing collaborations amongst CIEGUN members covering a range of geographical areas of the globe, across temporal and multi-scalar dimensions, and working in multiple languages.
CIEGUN's Programmatic Research Question
How do subaltern / subordinate readings of educational policy challenge dominant paradigms, such as neoliberalism, and present alternatives?
SPOKE: First, speak no harm: Improving education aid effectiveness by rethinking policy language
SPOKE LEADER: Stephanie Bengtsson
RESEARCH QUESTION: How does the language/terminology used by global education aid policymakers shape the ways in which subalterns targeted by their policies are viewed, and consequently impact how those policies are implemented 'on the ground' and how future policies are made?
Bengtsson's spoke is particularly interested in the "aid-ophone" community, whose members have formed inter-agency groups around and as a result of international agreements and goals, and who thus share a certain vocabulary and discourse related to humanitarian assistance and development (Bengtsson, 2011). It builds on the premise that language has "constitutive power", and that, as such, the humanitarian imperative to 'first, do no harm' is impossible for aid professionals to follow unless they first speak no harm (Mehan, 1997, p.250). Inherent to this project is the recognition "that knowledge is socially constructed and shaped by relations of power" and thus looks at a community that has more control over the "knowledge" around aid than those who are actually meant to benefit from the aid interventions (Vavrus & Seghers, 2010, p.77). Exploring what is traditionally seen as a homogeneous elite level in this way has been termed "studying up" by Nader (2002, p.284). This project will contribute to the scholarship on critical discourse analysis within comparative education, and is motivated by the hitherto untapped potential for linguistic change to bring about meaningful shifts in aid practice.
SPOKE: From naming to claiming: Subaltern struggles for the Right to Education
SPOKE LEADER:Nisha Thapliyal
RESEARCH QUESTION:How does Education Rights advocacy by social movements and other forms of collective mobilization support education for social justice, sustainable development, and radical democracy?
Thapliyal's spoke of research examines competing discourses of education rights in India and Brazil using feminist, critical, and post-colonial conceptualizations of the relationship between social movements for education and the state in deeply stratified, capitalist societies (Mohanty 1984; Alvarez, Dagnino & Escobar 1990). In this conceptual framework, education as well as rights-based approaches to development, is understood to be contested and contradictory terrain wherein exists the potential to reproduce or challenge and transform extant social hierarchies. Research methodologies employed in this project are shaped by feminist and critical scholarship about policy analysis and social movement research; specifically methodologies shaped by critical ethnography and participatory action research (Kincheloe & McLaren, 1994).
SPOKE: Education in / for the capitalist world-system in transition
SPOKE LEADER: Tom Griffiths
RESEARCH QUESTION: How can systems of education be constructed in ways that prepare citizens with the knowledge, capacities and dispositions to respond to the crisis of the contemporary capitalist world-economy and influence the construction of an alternative world-system?
Griffiths' spoke examines policy from two contexts in the periphery and semi-periphery of the world-economy (Cuba and Venezuela) developing overt socialist political projects, with education to support (to varying degrees) alternative conceptualisations of development, democracy, and the means to achieve these. This spoke will explore the 'subaltern' nature of these educational projects in these terms, and assess their potential contribution to a wider anti-systemic social movement challenging the fundamental logic of the existing world-system and ideas of development. This spoke will include subaltern readings of policy in the core (Australia) historically within a radical education movement. The research plan here is focused on elaborating the theoretical and methodological case for world-systems analysis (WSA) in comparative research. This will include compiling empirical data examining the secular trends of the world-economy and how they are experienced in different locations, coupled with investigation of challenges to established educational policy in these contexts through a WSA lens. It will also set out a case for the inclusion of WSA within the fields of critical pedagogy and post-colonial studies.
SPOKE: A comparative study of policy shaping: The cases of Australia and Hungary – practice entrenchment or resistance to ideology?
SPOKE LEADER: Zsuzsa Millei
RESEARCH QUESTION: How far do local and well institutionalised educational discourse-practices withstand or change when they meet with broader ideologies, such as socialism and neoliberalism?
Millei's spoke compares curricula/policy at three levels (Adamson & Morris, 2007), by focusing on Hungarian (EU context) and Australian (1) early childhood policy intentions (2) policy action/curriculum documents and (3) resourced curricula/guidelines from 1971 until today. This research makes explicit the ways in which actors shaped these documents through the implementation phases (due to contexts and actor's agency and interests) and altered how concepts are understood and logics are constructed in these documents. The research aims to unearth ways in which readers of policies resisted the official ideology/political rationality of socialism and neoliberalism. The analysis will focus on particular concepts, such as 'work', 'care', 'learning', 'child-centred', 'the child', 'community', and 'participation'. The analysis compares policy/curricula at three levels (intention, curriculum, resources) within and between the two contexts (Hungary and Australia) and from two methodological angles: 1, phenomenographic analysis that will produce concept maps that show associations and concept environments in different documents / times / cases; 2, examination of "policy rationalities or policy why(s)" (Fimyar, 2010, p. 62) to account for logic/rationality shifts and/or mis/alignments with stated ideology/rationality. The findings will demonstrate the ways in which local actors skilfully resist flows of governing discourses (diffuse/not concentrated/not directional) and will also have implications to contribute to globalization studies and its methodologies.
SPOKE: A comparative study of policy shaping: The cases of Australia and Hungary – practice entrenchment or resistance to ideology?
SPOKE: Knowledge exchange for pedagogical and community change
SPOKE LEADER: Linda Newman
RESEARCH QUESTION: How does teacher and community participation enable, challenge and constrain pedagogical change and community building and how do these benefit educators, children, families and communities?
Newman's spoke explores how through re-envisioning pedagogical leadership and by creating enabling learning environments, teachers, parents, children and communities re-interpret, enact and resist educational policies in Chile, Australia and South Africa. Newman's interest is in the challenges to policy provided by participants acting at ground-level (Freire, 1992) and the relationships between policy and practice. The theoretical foundations of her work lie in socio-cultural theories (Vygotsky, 1978; Woodrow & Newman, 2011) and is underpinned by the explicit goal of re-positioning adults and children as active agents in learning encounters where learning is co-constructed within social, cultural and historical contexts (UWS, 2011). Methods currently in use and informed by these theoretical approaches include Participatory Action Research (Furlong & Oancea, 2005), visual methods such as photovoice (Pink, 2001), and ecologically informed environmental (early childhood literacy environment) rating scales.


SPOKE: Childhood and children in a 'global society': contesting policy imaginaries from spaces of everyday life

SPOKE LEADER: Zsuzsa Millei


Current Australian policy landscapes often refer to our current context as a 'global society' (e.g. Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians). Thus imagery mobilizes education to respond to expectations and challenges that this context presents (e.g. Australia in the Asian Century). Education institutions set out to prepare 'global citizens' from early childhood education to universities and assign educational outcomes or graduate attributes to fit this imaginary. The notion of 'global citizen' is usually interpreted in educational policy as a future economic entrepreneur who pursues employment across geographical borders. The notion of 'world citizen' is understood as both a member of a nation and of humanity in a shared world. Another variant of this discourse, the 'cosmopolitan citizen', is construed with an outlook on a global present and future, is a citizen of the globe, has international education, is highly adaptable to cultural differences, and is concerned with sustainability and social justice based on an ethics to humanity. This imagery powerfully shapes notions of childhood and regulate children's conduct, present and futures. Despite the abundance of 'global citizen' discourses in educational policy and curriculum, little attention has been paid in research so far to how 'global society', which I define here as intensified speed and density of interconnections among people and places,reconfigure notions of childhood in spaces of everyday life. Moreover, even less we understand how children construct their understanding about living in this interconnected world as they consume global ideas and things, and travel physically or virtually through the media or Internet forums. The aims of this project therefore to understand children's place-making projects and notions of childhood in a hyper-connected world.

  • Facilitate the development of case-studies (spokes), utilising critical and post-structural theoretical frameworks in the analysis of these cases, and the alternatives within them, across temporal and multi-scalar levels
  • Explore case-studies at multiple levels of analysis, including analyses of policy as articulated and promoted by government, transnational agencies, Aid agencies, NGOs, and social movements
  • Challenge established dichotomies and associated non-productive debates (e.g. structure / agency; global / local; determinism / free will; reform / revolution) in educational policy formulation and analyses, in favour of more nuanced (temporal and locational) and comprehensive studies
  • Elaborate critical readings of dominant educational policies, drawing on and through subordinate understandings, policies and practices, to demonstrate how these present viable alternatives for contemporary contexts
  • Promote interventionist or engaged academic work under contemporary conditions – impacting on policy debate, formulation and implementation and promoting social transformation