Knowledge Policies in the Hungarian Integrated Education Case Study

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Our research results imply that instead of asking how policy-makers influence the conditions of knowledge production, it seems more revealing to discuss the strategies of social scientists and policy-makers to cooperate and share knowledge in a co-constructive process. We argue that this relationship cannot be described with the traditional commander-supplier knowledge economy order, but rather as co-dependence in which the negotiating partners collectively shape the content of the contract and the construction of policy problems.

Trust in terms of political reliability is a substantial issue in the selection of researchers. Most of the scientific knowledge utilised was produced by a tight network of social scientists, dominantly sociologists and educational economists. These actors consider themselves scientist and secure their position in the academic sphere, but among them, a handful of sociologists and economists carry out surveys closely linked to the policy process. Research-commands are often negotiated between experts and policy makers, and experts hold a strong position in negotiations. Thus it is more precise to state that knowledge production is politically motivated rather than politically influenced: for the core team of researcher-experts, advising policy is a question of researcher identity and political conviction. They effectively exploit their position to gain state funding for research, secure their positions as experts and contribute to the public discussion about the policy (restrictedly from the position of researcher-experts). In the process of co-constructing knowledge, narratives of missing knowledge play a central role. Throughout the PA, it was repeatedly pronounced publically that the state and social science do not possess the necessary knowledge on the segregation level and patterns of the education system.

1. From traditional models to a process of co-construction

A) Main actors

The academia: the PA was initially based on the education segregation research finidngs produced by academic actors located in diverse positions. The academic actors who belong to the SDS community (sociologists, psychologists and economists of education) can be clearly delineated based on their research interests and public activities. The topic of the commanded studies is negotiated in an informal bargaining process in which academics who are in daily contact with the decision-makers offer their knowledge and public stance for the policy (conferences, dissemination events and media appearances), in return, decision makers ensure public funding for policy-related research projects. Academic research institutes remained the centre of knowledge production, and from 2007 on, gained targeted EU funding for carrying out development oriented research projects (Kézdi and Surányi, 2008; Kertesi and Kézdi, 2009). Fundamental research funded by the national science research funds are rarely utilized by decision makers.

Ad hoc investigations commissioned by governmental branches (peak period between the late nineties and 2004): the investigations of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Minority Rights (Kaltenbach, 2003) and the Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI, 2000) first triggered state attention on the educational segregation and the overrepresentation of the Roma in special schools and remedial tracks. A system of satellite research institutions has been funded from the central state budget whose task has been to provide research knowledge base for the work of the central administration and decision makers. As we discussed in our O1 report (Bajomi et al., 2007: 4-5), the yearly research programme of the institutes (OKI and OPI) was developed in a negotiation between the head of the institute and respective department heads. Generally these studies following a pedagogy-based and oriented, teacher-sensitive approach and focusing on the improvement of teaching conditions and the possible means of better regulation give a less critical picture of the education system. As the institutional division followed the ministerial structures, until 2003 researches focusing on school failure and minority education were framed in an institutional structural approach. Between 2003 and 2008, a small division concentrated on equal opportunity issues adopting the perspective of school maintainers (Mayer and Németh, 2005; Németh, 2004), their studies argue for a coherent, strategic governmental approach that harmonizes SDS and mainstream educational policies (Radó, 2002).

Additionally, policy reports commanded by transnational organizations were prepared in the institute (World Bank: Németh, 2003; Unesco: Farkas, 2008). While the World Bank report was basically supportive of the SDS integration policy stream, the authors recalled that it generated harsh debates with the developers of the integration programme. While the system of background institutions was reorganized and cut back in 2007 (Bajomi et al., 2007: 16-17, Bajomi et al., 2009b: 15-18), with the arrival of the EU Structural Funds, the background institute of the ministry was reorganized and was increasingly charged with R&D tasks as the contractor of “priority flagship projects” of mainstream education. Since 2008, the research group focuses on research related to school violence and the mental health of the student population. Policy makers of the SDS policy, contrary to the regular routine of the ministry technocracy, merely found their decisions on the knowledge produced at these institutes.

In the 2006-2010 policy cycle, with the pluralisation of the education policy space and the decreasing significance of the Ministry of Education, direct symbolic (and limited financial) support was granted to extra-administrative bodies (expert boards) in order to substantiate trans-sectoral reforms (2006-2008) by mobilizing scientific knowledge and formatting it to policy-friendly form to. The Round Table for Education and Children’s Chances convened by the PM was expected to provide knowledge for comprehensive education reforms targeting a more equitable and economically competitive society (see Bajomi et al., 2009a:76-86). At the same time, the Board of the Wise convened by the Hungarian President presented comprehensive reform about the inherent, value-oriented objectives of education; this work signifies the strengthening of a new policy domain, the education of the talented (Csermely et al., 2009).

Transnational knowledge production and the authoritative pressure exerted by the EU from the second half of the nineties played a substantive role in the domestic problematization of the educational segregation of the Roma. The reports of the European Roma Rights Center and the Roma Education Fund display Eastern European comparative studies from a human rights perspective. The authors of the Hungarian case studies mostly belong to the SDS network.

B) Knowledge formatted in novel ways

Primarily statistical, social scientific publications on the segregation and the school failure of the Roma have had a long foregoing history. Thus from the first phase on, sociological studies were extensively referenced. The availability of EU structural funds triggered an accountability turn, introduced new ways of knowledge management and institutionalized new methods of knowledge collection. Reacting to the pressure of social scientists and the expectations transmitted by the European Union, policy makers commanded evaluative reports. Lately, a few think tanks and consultancy firms entered to the education policy space. Consultancy firms produce SDS-related knowledge for international commissions, evaluate the utilization of the EU funded projects for the command of domestic development agencies (mainstream educational project evaluations: Tárki, 2005; Expanzió, 2007; Tárki, 2007; Megakom, 2008; specifically equal opportunities project evaluations: Reszkető et al., 2010) and carry out ministry commissioned monitoring studies about mainstream policy fields (teacher policy, financing). While the open tenders for evaluation and monitoring opened up the closed network of researchers to some extent, commissions to evaluate the integrated education policy were also commanded directly from the traditional SDS research network. It is illustrative of the accountability shift that while the policy was explicitly said to be based on the segregation surveys of 2000 and 2004, the 2010 repetition of the same survey (Havas and Zolnay, 2010) was now labelled as the impact study of the integration policy.

It is a common shared opinion of the SDS network that the scientific evidence for the policy has long been “out there”, inactive in a political sense due to the lack of political will. Scientists lobby to collect official data according to their research logic (which as they argue overlap with the policy’s objective): the social background surveys of the Assessment of Basic Competencies and the planning and self-evaluation sheets applied in EU funded projects were developed in collaboration with these public social scientists. The objective of researchers (obtaining even more specific and up to date data on students’ social background, the quality of teaching and the human and material resources in educational institutions) coincided with the policy-makers’ demand of a more transparent system and the improvement of targeting and regulation. “Equal opportunity experts” were trained to ensure the validity of data collection and the reliability of planning, local authorities and institutions were obliged to generate data and reflect on and control the quality of school work (cf. local equal opportunity plans, institutional self-evaluations, individual learning plans and student tracking reports).

Knowledge production in the wake of post-bureaucracy: the constructors of the EU funded projects aimed at facilitating peer learning mechanisms and the distribution of good practices. Projects include the obligation of horizontal knowledge exchange among schools and from 2009, to institutionalise links between research and practice, knowledge exchange partnerships between kindergartens, primary and secondary schools and universities are funded.

NEUMANN Eszter with BERÉNIY Eszter & BAJOMI Iván (2010), The Politics of Seating Plans, KNOWandPOL report, 87-91.

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