Privatization of Education, Essay Example
The recent report by UNESCO (Belfield & Levin, 2002, p. 10) asks the following question:
“In both developed and developing countries, privately managed and regulated schools – whether owned or financed by public authorities – are generally supposed to be more effective, more efficient, and produce better results than schools managed by the state. But is this the case in reality?”
The following review of related statistics, literature, theories, and research, the authors will attempt to answer the above question, in particular focus on the role of the government to provide equal opportunities and basic services for all of its citizens in the Western and Eastern world alike. Hentschke (2007) also states that there are several myths, misconceptions, and opportunities related to privatizing public services, such as education. These will be examined in detail in the below essay.
Delegation of Authority
The American Council of Education (Belfield & Levin, 2004) states that delegating authority to private companies has several questionable consequences, which might negatively affect the outcome of learning, and would potentially increase the gap between social classes’ education quality and academic achievement. The authors list these problematic aspects as: performance constraints, profit-oriented approach, and lack of compliance with national educational standards.
Belfield & Levin (2004, p. 19) defines the privatization of education services as: “the transfer of activities, assets and responsibilities from government/public institutions and organizations to private individuals and agencies”. The above definition is interesting, as it focuses on the transfer of activities, assets, and responsibilities. However, without public schools, the interest of many children would not be served. Indeed, today, the majority of private schools work on a fee-paying basis, as they do not receive government funding. Charter schools in America, however, are allocated funds based on attendance, services provided, and budgets submitted. The budget and spending, priorities of charter schools are closely monitored by government agencies in the United States, as well as the United Kingdom and Australia. In the UK, the government’s authority, called Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) carries out inspections in every educational institution and rates the quality of leadership, teaching, and other services (SCORE, 2010). If the school was owned by a private company, the government’s role could be reduced to advisory, and the influence of national policies would also be lower on the individual school or higher education institution.
This means that while charter (public) schools are funded by the government’s budget, private schools rely on profits selling their services (education), therefore, they are profit-oriented. By winning a large government contract to run the existing system, improve the quality of access, education, and teaching, they would need money from either the government or the pupils, which would make the issue more complicated.
Lack of control over the budget, spending, and other decisions is one of the evident problems with allowing the private sector to operate in providing public services. As Ryan and Sibieta (2010) state that private schools in the United Kingdom and Australia operate on a charity basis, therefore, they do not receive any government funding. They collect tuition fees and donations to operate and educate children. However, this financial independence also provides private schools with a high level of autonomy (Ryan & Sibieta, 2010, p. 3). Further, as the fees in the above mentioned two countries are extremely high, only children from wealthy families are able to go to private schools. They will benefit from lower teacher-pupil ratios, higher quality of education, more support, and better technology. This means that – while public education as a government service is available for everyone – inequalities are present, and growing as a result of the private sector education’s presence.
The Government’s Responsibilities
Gollust & Jacobson (2006) states that by allowing privatization, the government transfers the decision making authority to private sector companies, which means that the future of children is in the hands of businesspeople, instead of policymakers and regulators. As the right to education is people’s universal right, and it is included in the Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26), which states that “Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory”, it is evident that it is the government’s responsibility to provide this universal right to all citizens, and protect individuals’ interest. When the education system is ran by private companies the control of the government is reduced, and policymakers and regulators cannot take full responsibility for equality and quality. This is one of the main reasons why privatization of education can potentially endanger human rights and equal opportunities of children.
The role of autonomous schools within the public sector is problematic in many ways. As it has been mentioned before, these schools focus on children whose parents can afford paying a fee. This means that the profit-oriented approach is incompatible with the Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26). As Jamjoom (2012, p. 124) states: “private higher education institutions tend to offer subjects that are of low cost and meet students’ and market needs”. One of the aspects is positive, while the other is negative. First, as the private universities are profit-oriented, they focus on courses that are profitable, and this means that they are not necessarily willing to provide education that has a low or negative profit. On the other hand, they match their courses to the market’s and students’ needs, which is positive, as it provides graduates a better chance for finding a job in the market. However, the government should be responsible for distributing taxes in a way that it provides equal opportunities for all citizens and children in education. If higher education was handed over to private universities, some courses would be proven to be unprofitable, and potentially disappear.
Issues Surrounding Privatization of Education
As the above literature review has revealed, privatizing education service delivery has both potential benefits and risks. As a public service, education should be closely monitored in order to provide all people with equal rights and opportunities. By providing private companies with greater authority, the government would lose control over standards, quality, policies, and course development.
According to the UNICEF’s (2007) human rights based approach, education is supposed to be the responsibility of the government. The policy study (UNICEF, 2007) lists the government’s different types of responsibility regarding providing equal opportunities and universal rights to education. The document describes these responsibilities as: creating a supportive political and economic environment, creating effective partnerships, eliminating discrimination, setting minimum standards, providing policies to guarantee the rights to education and encourage participation. It is evident that if the services are ran by the private sector, some of these elements would fall out of the control of the government. Indeed, applying nationwide policies and standards for potentially hundreds of providers would be expensive, and result in an extensive use of human resources and administrative budget. Decentralizing the education system would mean that new measures, controls, and safeguards would need to be put in place, and private providers might potentially feel like the environment is over-regulated.
One of the most problematic aspects of privatizing education is that companies would be allowed to turn public sector service delivery into profits (Hentschke, 2007). Gollust & Jacobson. (2006) states that the main idea behind privatization is that the private sector would be able to deliver public services more effectively than the government agency. However, given the fact that the education system, databases, and other school resources at the moment are highly centralized, decentralization of education would potentially create chaos and administrative issues that would negatively impact the quality of service. While government agencies currently share information about results, statistics, pilot studies, and strategies, companies that would compete for students nationwide might not be as willing to share information as state agencies. This would result in a lack of common understanding, and decentralization would negatively impact the quality of services.
In the United States, private schools are already widening the gap between the rich and the poor, and this means that some children are disadvantaged compared to others. This is the problem that is described by the UNESCO’s document (Belfield & Levin, 2002) as follows: “any private education system based on ability-to-pay is inequitable”. That statement, in the light of the fact that rights to education is a universal human right is a valid argument, and should be considered when examining the issue.
Communication and collaboration is one of the major issues that is relevant to privatizing education systems partly or fully. Calabrese (2008, p. 5) researched the related literature in the Sub-Saharan African region, and found that the lack of communication and collaboration was the greatest constraint to developing a supportive private education sector. Table 1 (Calabrese, 2008, p 5) shows that the top five constraints of privatization of public services in Sub-Saharan Africa were: lack of consensus, political uncertainty, inadequate management capacity, legal constraints, and the lack of program ownership. All the above constraints mentioned by the author can negatively impact the successful outcome of programs attempting to move education from the public to the private sector.
Blakeley & Snyder (1997) highlights the fact that in the United States economic segregation is becoming more prevalent than ever before, and this means that children whose parents can afford to send them to private, better performing schools start life with an advantage. Disadvantaged community children should have the same right to quality education as those who were born to wealthy parents. The authors talk about “gated communities” in America, and it is an issue that has been present for decades. Taking one example of Marblehead in California, the difference between the life of people inside and outside of the gate is clearly visible.
The authors state that “Privatization is the new means by which local communities, burdened with an increasing share of the costs of schools, roads, police, housing, and other services, pass off previously public roles”, however, they do not talk about privatization as a new means of delivering public services. According to the idea of the article, the government of the state should be privatized, therefore, it could replace public government. The authors assume that by becoming a private organization, governments could automatically become more effective in distributing and delivering services. Therefore, those privileged would need to pay extra tax for their protection, and this income would help the government provide better public services to those who are less fortunate. The main problem with the above idea is that it would not reduce the gap between classes, and would certainly not make the nation work together as a community on common goals. It is against equal distribution of services, goods, and it is not likely that the utopia described could ever become reality. First of all, providing some citizens a higher level of protection and security than others in exchange for money is not only unethical, but also against basic human rights principles. Secondly, the above proposal that is described – while not supported – by the authors would not consider the fact that the government’s main responsibility is to serve all citizens as well as possible.
As the American Council on Education (2004) lists the key issues related to higher education privatization in the United States: accountability, autonomy, the relationship between the private sector company and the state, the question of performance contracts, and the alignment with national educational agenda, policies.
While in the United States a great emphasis is placed on consumer choice, and many argue that parents should be provided with a choice of schools, based on their budget, the public sector should not be profit-oriented, and therefore, the privatization of the education system would not serve the purpose of a government.
Pros and Cons of Privatizing Education
Most authors and advocates supporting the privatization of the education system base their argument on two claims: the better performance of private schools, and the more effective delivery of services. These arguments will be reviewed in detail, and facts, statistics will be examined in order to determine whether or not they are valid.
Belfield & Levin (2002) state that the quality of public education is declining, according to some authors. Therefore, declining parents the ability to provide their children with the best future they can afford would be affecting their human rights. The argument listed by the authors is valid, and indeed, there is a current demand for private schools. As the authors conclude the message: “if governments cannot afford to provide and fund all the education that parents expect for their children, then those parents will seek private suppliers” (Belfield & Levin, 2002, p. 29). The demand is also often mentioned as the main natural driver for privatization movements and educational reforms. As an increasing number of students seek education in English-speaking countries, and are willing to pay high fees to be educated in English and become proficient in the language, due to the impact of globalization, private universities can make a profit. However, if government-owned universities started charging higher fees for international students, it would be perceived as discrimination, and would certainly bring up ethical issues.
Finally the authors also state that “privatization of education may be seen as an effort to reduce the inequities in current public schooling” (Belfield & Levin, 2002, p. 33). The report quotes the success of some of the successful targeted voucher programs put in place in the United States. Families with lower income would still be provided with a choice of school.
Some advocates argue that privatization is already present in many parts of the education system. As an example, Gollust and Jacobson (2006) mention outsourcing school supplies, as well as transport. Therefore, partnerships in education already exist, just like in health care. Laboratories owned by private firms provide priority services for Medicaid in the United States, and one could find several more examples for the presence of private companies in the public sector. Drawing on the experiences of existing partnerships, policymakers could create rule-sets and policies that would guarantee the successful delivery of services, quality, and compliance.
Hentschke (2007) also mentions “supply-side” privatization, which has been a growing trend in the United States in recent years. Contracting out services in order to reduce costs and improve effectiveness has been around for many years, and are present in many aspects of people’s lives. Public companies are present in military intelligence, waste management, welfare services, administration of public records, and so on, generally considered as government responsibilities. Further, Belfield and Levin (2002, p. 38) states that allowing the private sector to enter the competition in the education sector would result in “increased choice to improve substantially the quality of education”. The competition and the market environment would – according to the authors – also encourage and support innovation and tailoring the systems to the needs of pupils.
The con arguments regarding the privatization of education are more numerous, and many of the authors state that the role of the government to provide equal opportunities would be affected if privatization of the entire education system was completed in any countries. One of the most valid arguments mentioned by Belfield and Levin (2002) is that privatizing the education sector would greatly damage the social cohesion of the country. Indeed, social exclusivity goes against democratic values and ethics, therefore, this claim should be examined in detail.
Most authors argue that education is a social good, and it is available for everyone as a citizen through their basic human rights. Therefore, turning it into a profit would be unethical and irrelevant. As Belfield and Levin (2002, p. 51) conclude: “a market of competitive choices will lead to civic strife rather than to social cohesion”. Still, the authors confirm that currently there is not enough evidence based on country-specific studies to support the above claim. In some cases, private schools could be more inclusive than public ones, and the examples of the voucher system introduced in the United States have provided evidence for the above claim.
One of the main roles of the public education system is – according to Gollust & Jacobson (2006) is to teach children norms and social cohesion. While in some countries the role of socializing children is assigned to parents, this is not the case in many countries. Therefore, without having a standard curriculum for political, mental health, and social skills education, generations would be divided based on views on society, public responsibility, and democracy. This would undermine not only social cohesion, but also the opportunity of creating meaningful discussions and developing policies for the future.
Many authors also state that standards of education cannot be maintained without full control on teacher selection and curriculum, therefore, long term the quality of service provided for students would suffer. Many authors that take a stand against the privatization of education system claim that government guidelines and authorities enforcing quality standards provide an invaluable service for all parents, and there is a free choice in most democratic countries. Belfield & Levin (2002, p. 22) conclude that the role of the previously mentioned UK regulator and guidance service, OFSTED, and the same services provided in Denmark help parents choose the right school. The system of Denmark covers not only public, but also private schools, and makes all educational institutions accountable. Without government interventions, policies could not be enforced, and government initiatives could not be supported by the educational sector.
Those against privatization and providing choices also argue that increased competition does not improve education quantity. Further, reviewing the related statistics from the United States, comparing the performance of private and public schools, Belfield & Levin (2002, p. 43) found that private schools were not significantly more effective than charter ones. While in some developing countries private school pupils were found to outperform their counterparts attending public schools, in the developed world, there was little or no evidence for increased effectiveness of private education (Belfield & Levin, 2002). This analysis of the argument clearly indicates that parents who send their children into private schools in the hope of providing a better future for them are mainly wasting money, and they could select a well performing public school as well, saving money. Voucher systems are mainly criticized because the vouchers usually do not cover travel expenses, and this means that many students would need to pay for their transportation, even though they qualify for the place. Many authors who speak up against the privatization of education claim that it would produce greater social inequalities in the future generations.
The most important argument that is made by those who oppose privatization of education is based on the claim that it would further increase the segmentation of the society, and diminish social cohesion.
International Review of Educational Reforms and Privatization
Belfield & Levin (2002) mentions some international examples of successful, and not so successful attempts to involve the private sector in education. These examples will be reviewed in order to draw conclusions and determine guidelines for future implementation of privatization.
The universal voucher program of Chile, introduced in 1980 allowed students to enroll to a private or public school, and the school received government funding based on the number of pupils served. This intervention increased private school enrollment, however, no evidence was found that these schools provided better services, but students achieved better grades attending private institutions. Elite private schools (fee-paying, not accepting vouchers) scored highest, followed by religious schools. Public and private schools. ‘ test results appeared to be similar.
In the United States, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was introduced in a small community. The children whose parents took up the offer were from lower income families, but they had to have enough money to cover the cost of transportation and books. One of the limitations of the program’s evaluation is that the public schools in question were not required to post test scores, therefore, the academic achievement of pupils who chose private schools could not be compared with those who stayed in the public system. Further, it is important to note that various socio-economic factors influence academic achievement that can only be taken into consideration, if a large scale research is concluded.
Privatization of Education in Saudi Arabia
In Saudi Arabia, there is one very important trend that needs to be taken into consideration, according to Jamjoom (2012). Globalization has brought to life the demand for bilingual or English education, and currently there are two powers fighting against each other in the national education sector: the common use of English in private higher education, and the trend that is trying to make universities more relevant to the local culture, and therefore prefer Arabic as the main teaching language. Indeed, one of the main impacts of globalization is the common use of English in business and professional/academic life. Therefore, it is necessary for future graduates to speak the language. As Jamjoom (2012) confirms, being able to communicate in English increases graduates’ employability. Further, it has already been discussed that the global demand for English language higher education has been growing for decades. Private universities that create curriculum that matches international standards of English education provide a benefit for students, and an alternative for leaving the country for studying in another country. From the market perspective, the government is able to increase its tax income by keeping the money spent on university fees within the country.
The government, according to Jamjoom (2012, p. 155) “introduced a “Saudisation” policy that was designed to provide local graduates with better employment opportunities. However, the government’s higher education system still failed to meet the needs of the market, and train professionals who can be valuable for companies in the country. The author also states that this failure of the public sector higher education system has created a demand for private universities. Driven by high demand, private universities could tailor their curriculum and courses to better match the expectations of employers. The courses do not only focus on academic subjects that are needed in the future by the new graduate, but also their work-readiness. This stated, private universities in Saudi Arabia currently fill a gap in the sector, and benefit both employers and students. The parents of those who are looking to pursue a career and become proficient in English only have to pay the university fees, and save money on traveling and lodging abroad.
The preceding review of related literature, country-specific policies and examples has revealed that basic education should always be provided and protected by the government of the country. However, in higher education, it is important to meet the expectations of the market and students, and state owned universities do not always fulfill this goal. The review of the situation in Saudi Arabia has shown that the employability and work-readiness of those graduating from private universities is higher, therefore, they get more value through the private sector. However, this is not always the case. Without collaboration among policymakers, the public, and private companies, the education system would be either serving plainly market or policy purposes.
It has also been revealed that the private sector is already involved in the delivery of several public services, through government contracts. Still, it is the government agency’s responsibility to set adequate guidelines for quality and standards. The example of Denmark can be a guideline for further implementation. While private schools are present in the country, the government agency has full control and authority over the performance and curriculum of the schools. Involving private companies in research, quality improvement in order to reduce costs of programs would potentially be beneficial for all parties. However, without consensus and discussion of problems, no common goals can be set or achieved. The role of the public should not be neglected, either. Gollust & Jacobson (2006, p. 1737) states that “In a 2002 public opinion poll, 69% of the public responded that the public education system should be strengthened instead of relying on voucher systems for children to attend private options”. This indicates that Americans consider education as a basic right, and expect the government to increase democracy and equality through providing equal chances for all children, and this is why the “No Child Left Behind” program is popular. In other parts of the world, however, education is considered to be reserved for the high achievers or the privileged, therefore, different approaches are needed. When developing an educational reform that involves private sector integration in service delivery, Calabrese’s (2008) framework should be followed: building consensus for the reform, promoting participation, setting priorities, and work together on improving effectiveness and equality at the same time.
American Council on Education (2004) Shifting ground: Privatization: Autonomy, accountability, and privatization in public higher education. Washington D.C.
Belfield, C. & Levin, H. (2002) Education privatization: causes, consequences and planning implications. Paris. UNESCO: International Institute for Educational Planning
Blakely, E. & Snyder, M. (1997) Divided we fall: Gated and walled communities in the United States. Princeton Architectural Press.
Calabrese, D.. (2008) Privatization, public-private partnerships, and private participation in infrastructure projects. World Bank.
Gollust, S. & Jacobson, P. (2006) Privatization of public services: organizational reform efforts in public education and public health. Public Health. 2006;96:1733–1739.
Hentschke, G. (2007) Privatization in education: myths, realities, prospects. Urban Ed.
Jamjoom, Y. (2012) Understanding private higher education in Saudi Arabia- emergence, development and perceptions. Dissertation Thesis. Institute of Education University of London for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Ryan, C. & Sibieta, L. (2010) Private schooling in the UK and Australia. Institute for Fiscal Studies.
SCORE (2010) The role and performance of Ofsted. SCORE’s response to the Education Select Committee inquiry. Retrieved from http://www.scoreeducation.org/media/7968/oct2010_roleofofsted.pdf
United Nations. (1949) Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Unicef (2007) A human rights-based approach to Education For All. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
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