Document: Regional Conference Report Globalisation, Regionalisation and Privatisation in and of Education in Asia

Louise Knight on behalf of the Privatisation in Education Research Initiative
Publication Date:
Wed, 14/11/2012 - 13:02
File Size:
1.07 MB


Privatisation in and of education in Asia is occurring at a rapid pace. Non-state provision (NSP) of education is delivered by a mix of community, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), faith-based, philanthropic and private providers and takes a myriad of forms including low-fee private schools, for-profit private schools, community schools, educational public-private partnerships (ePPPs), private tutoring, and religious schooling through madrasas and church schools. While the drivers of NSP in education have historical anchors, the relatively recent tide of low-fee private schools and ePPPs is couched within a neo-liberal agenda and a discourse of state failure. Central to the neo-liberal argument for greater engagement of the private sector in education are arguments of increased effectiveness, efficiency, competition and choice that altogether drive better quality learning outcomes in both State and non-State education.

Yet the rigor of the evidence-base for greater efficiency and effectiveness through privatised education – low-fee private schools in particular – is being questioned, alongside new primary research that challenges these claims. Some emergent concerns include: that quality varies enormously across a range of private providers and in many cases is only marginally better than public education, if at all; that access to better quality institutions is based on the ability to pay thereby further stratifying already divided societies; and that governance of privatised education increasingly abdicates the role of national governments and locks out civil society. Associated concerns include the de-professionalisation of teachers and the erosion of confidence in public education, even in spite of increasingly audible claims around the right to education and the roles of States as duty bearers for its provision.

The global economic climate over the last five years is further reducing the amount of capital being allocated in absolute terms to public education through shrinking national budgets. At the same time reduced overseas aid budgets for education is focusing more sharply on methods for greater private sector engagement in education.

As a result, in spite of a burgeoning contrary evidence-base, privatisation in and of education continues to increase, promoted by international financial institutions (IFIs), multi and bi-lateral organisations and private sector providers.

Objectives and methodology of the event

The goal of the conference was to bring together a range of institutions and representatives for two days to critically debate the relative merits and demerits of privatisation in and of education on education quality, equity, effectiveness and efficiency. The intention was for the event to contribute to greater knowledge production and knowledge sharing on privatisation in and of education in Asia, and the critical engagement of a broader range of stakeholders in policy discussions and processes occurring regionally and nationally across Asia.

The event was attended by 68 practitioners and experts representing academics, national education coalitions and civil society networks and organisations, national and regional research organisations, bilateral and multilateral organisations with country offices in Asia as well as international NGOs (INGOs) working in Asia.

The conference methodology involved plenary sessions and critically reflective discussions around six key sub themes. These were: i) quality of educational services as a result of alternative educational service regulation and delivery mechanisms ii) learning outcomes of private and public schools, iii) access and choice, iv) equity effects of educational liberalisation and marketisation, v) educational public private partnerships in regional multi-lateral education policy and different forms at national levels, and vi) globalisation and market-based education provision: the role and shape of private tutoring in South Asia. Two resource persons and four facilitators ensured the conference deliberations remained focused on the sub themes as well as the overarching conference theme. They also provided insights to further contextualise the debates. 

This report is organised to align chronologically with the sub themes, presentations, discussions and summations which emerged from the conference on each of the two days. The focus of this report is on the key messages and deliberations. The full length papers and presentations shared during the conference are available here and are summarised, but not reproduced in this report. The conference programme and list of participants are provided as annexes to this report for convenient reference.