Foundations in the role of instigators

Swiss education policy in the sights of international foundations

by Peter Aebersold

“The popular initiative against the ‘Curriculum 21’ will enable us to once again withdraw our educational system from the influence of foreign multinationals and to restore the necessary support by the people to the educational authority of the cantons and to our direct democracy.”

Why are major foreign corporations and their foundations interested in the Swiss educational system?
The general public is unlikely to be aware of the fact that foundations belonging to foreign multinationals (Bertelsmann Foundation, Jacobs Foundation, Mercator Foundation, etc.) have for over a decade been quietly undermining the educational sovereignty of our cantons and are influencing the public elementary school and the universities with the aid of generous multi-million amounts. They employ Swiss middlemen to do so, preferably well-known and influential politicians such as former Federal Councillors or cantonal Heads of the Departement of Education, who not only have a certain reputation but also have insider knowledge of the specific policy mechanisms in Switzerland as well as a high-level network. Without any legal legitimacy or a contract and beyond all parliamentary control they have launched projects in Swiss schools (initial funding, networking, offering awards) that claim a charitable purpose, but ultimately pursue the economic goals of their corporations.
Our higher education system has been turned inside out, due to the exercion of outside influence. Now is the elementary school about to suffer the same fate?
A study conducted by the University of Bremen shows how it was possible to bypass Swiss democracy and politics through externally controlled political influence1 and so to completely remodel our whole higher education system with the aid of the Bologna model without encountering much resistance. In this way our higher education system is being cut to size so as to fit in with the OECD-backed transformation of our government primary care, our public services like education, health, electricity, water, etc. with a view to opening new global markets (private sponsorship in favour of profit-oriented research).
Similar goals are being pursued by the secret treaties TTIP, TiSA, CETA, etc., which stand outside the existing international legal system (UN Charter, Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, etc.), and which by use of private arbitral tribunals want to force the states to sacrifice their citizens’ public non-profit provision with basic supplies as well as labour, environmental and health protection laws (such as laws concerning GM technology) to the profit interests of global corporations. Now a radical system change, like the one concerning the universities, is to be carried out in the elementary schools in Switzerland, inter alia by means of the Curriculum 21.
In charge of the “strategic foundations” is the Foundation of the German Bertelsmann Group, which determines with its Europe-wide ranking what a “good” foundation is – good according to their wishes.
One example is the German Jacobs Foundation, which also operates in Switzerland and has a direct line to the economic organisation OECD. It is not publicly known that its “strategic activities” in Switzerland began with initial funding in the millions. The highest authorities of the teachers’ associations and universities were invited to participate in its work, for instance in the foundation’s own seminar hotel Schloss Marbach on the Lake of Constance. Former Federal Councillor Pascal Couchepin and former Federal Councillor Flavio Cotti were members of the Board of Trustees of the Jacobs Foundation, and according to the former, the Foundation has the two focal points of research and of projects in the field, in order to influence social processes. As a private organisation they have great freedom of action. They cannot replace the state, but they can take great risks and use a much more rapid approach than the state. This is important to initiate social change, to be a kind of social pioneer. Couchepin believes that the Jacobs Foundation is quite successful. Currently Hans Ambühl, General Secretary of the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK), holds a seat on the Jacobs Foundation Board. The Foundation has invited cantons and communes all over Switzerland to participate in the Jacobs’ “educational landscapes”.
In 2011, Jacobs determined and funded three projects in the Canton of Basel-Stadt three projects in the Canton of Fribourg and three projects in the Canton of Zurich for the pilot phase of their “educational landscapes”. In spring 2014, the Jacobs Foundation introduced the second phase of its programme “Education Landscape Switzerland”, which will take from 2014 – to 2018 and for which it will make available 2.5 million Swiss francs. (That amounts to a total of 6.5 million for both phases.)
In the precedent pilot phase Jacobs imposed the condition that it would be made mandatory (!) for the cantons to participate in the Jacobs’ “educational landscapes”. In the year 2014 Jacobs selected “their” new “educational landscapes” from the list of submitted projects: Aarau, Berne-West, Biel, Bläsi BS, Bulle, Emmen, Littau, Sursee, Amriswil, Arbon, Lausanne and Raron.
According to the Foundation, Swiss society is “characterized” by migration, globalization and demographic change, and therefore, with its program “Education Landscapes Switzerland”, the German Jacobs Foundation promotes the systematic cooperation of school and “extra-school education actors” to form local education landscapes.2

Is it any wonder that educational policy makers, cantonal Heads of the Departement of Education, board members of teacher associations and school principals sing the praises of education reforms – often against their better judgment and own experience – and that they are fulsome in the praise of the unitary Curriculum 21?Wire-pullers and their networks come to the attention of the public only rarely, but this was the case with Ernst Buschor, former Head of the Departement of Education, Canton of Zurich and international guru of New Public Management (NPM). Around the year 2002 he carried out the NPM reforms at the university which made for a cultural change in the direction of “self-organisation” and – as it is in American universities – an exertion of influence of sponsors from the economic sector on the hitherto free academic life.According to Wikipedia Buschor was active, inter alia, on the Board of Trustees of the Jacobs Foundation since 2003 and on the advisory board of the Centre for Higher Education (CHE) since 2004. In 2005 he became a member of the executive committee of the AVENIR Foundation, Zurich, and from 2005 to 2007 he was Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Bertelsmann Foundation, Gütersloh, and so on. According to the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” from 9 March 2003, “he has plowed up the educational system like hardly any politician before him”. Since 2008 he has been sitting in the steering committee of the new business-oriented “Forum Bildung” (Forum on Education), which is funded by foundations such as Mercator, with the goal of “putting the Swiss educational landscape in motion”.The popular initiative against the “Curriculum 21” will enable us to once again withdraw our educational system from the influence of foreign multinationals and to restore the necessary support by the people to the educational authority of the cantons and to our direct democracy.    •

1     Tonia Bieber: Soft Governance in Education. TranState Working Paper No. 117. Bremen 2010
2    “Zytpunkt” No. 4/2014, Verband Thurgauer Schulgemeinden VTGS

(Translation Current Concerns)