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Rethinking the Consumer Metaphor versus the Citizen Metaphor: Frame Merging and Higher Education Reform in Sweden

  • Johan Nordensvärd (a1) and Markus Ketola (a2)

Neoliberal metaphors of students often describe students as consumers, managers and even as commodities, but this analysis often disregards the discursive complexity of education. We argue that frame merging is essential to understand the hybrid modalities of neoliberal images of students in the Swedish context, where the image of the student is suspended between a social democratic welfare service model, academic capitalism, new public management and welfare nationalism. We demonstrate this through the case study of introducing student fees for non-EU students in Swedish higher education, and how the merging of universal tax financing with a more individualised fee paying solution creates variegated and complex metaphors of students and higher education. These metaphors are infused with social democratic social citizenship, neoliberal reform of welfare services, academic capitalism and nationalist welfare chauvinism. This implies that, in practice, it is nigh on impossible to disentangle the neoliberal consumer metaphor from that of social citizenship; instead they merge to generate multiple contextually relevant metaphors to fit the local debates in higher education.

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