Call for Expressions of Interest for Investigating Dimensions of the Privatisation of Public Education in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

Privatisation in Education Research Initiative
Publication Date:
Tue, 30/07/2013 - 10:42
PERI news image

The Privatization in Education Research Initiative (PERI) is a multi-annual global initiative supported by the Education Support Program of the Open Society Foundations that seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms and outcomes of the marketization, privatization, and private sector participation in education evident through the increasing adoption of a widening range educational service regulation and delivery mechanisms in hopes of developing an evidence base to lead to more effective and equitable education systems.

PERI perceives an urgent need to define the relationship between the education system and the broader social and economic context in which it exists. Key institutional and organizational structures in charge of service regulation and delivery mechanisms have to be identified as well as the responsibilities, rights and forms of interaction among educational stakeholders to determine whether the promise of reform is being kept for all children within the education system. There is a danger that reforms will benefit only those most able to navigate complex systems of education markets and school choice thus making them exclusive and inauthentic for many children, particularly the most disadvantaged. Since financial capital is an integral factor in the rapidly changing face of education sector, it is important to explore the structures that define financial resource allocation and utilization criteria within these new mechanisms. Such examination also needs to be applied to regulatory processes related to content; methods adopted in certification policies of educational organizations; policies related to teacher-training and their career paths; regulations about pupil assessment; educational service efficiency and effectiveness; and research and policy analysis in education sector.

PERI has two key objectives. First, we seek to animate an accessible and informed public debate on the relative merits and demerits of alternative education provision that leads to informed choice by governments and parents.. Second, PERI centralizes a social justice lens through which to debate the consequences of changes in the coordination of education services.

PERI recognizes that the context of privatization and education governance varies significantly across countries and regions and though the larger issues are similar, the particular context highlights distinct aspects of the debate in different parts of the world. Private provision and the privatizing of education services not only looks different in different regions and countries of the world, but that these services are shaped by a different set of dynamics between the global and the local, and between the state, economy, civil society and religious organizations.

The principle themes of inquiry in PERI include:

  • The mapping of changes in the nature of public and private educational services – by studying the different forms of alternative educational service regulation and delivery mechanisms in place.
  • The assessment of the quality of educational governance – by researching public regulatory efficacy, financing arrangements, policy, management, contractual obligations, accountability mechanisms, etc. - under conditions of educational liberalization and marketization.
  • The analysis of the quality of educational services – by interrogating whether the market-based logics of competition and choice drive quality and improve efficiency in education systems.
  • The inquiry into the equity effects of educational liberalization and marketization – by assessing the equal educational opportunity differentials in alternative educational service regulation and delivery systems.

Research focus in the Middle East and North Africa

Observers agree that private provision and the privatizing of education services not only looks different in different regions and countries of the world, but that these services are shaped by a different set of dynamics between the global and the local, and between the state, economy, civil society and religious organizations. For this reason, this expression invites proposals for research on the privatization of education or private provision of education that are focused on one or more countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Regional and comparative studies between countries within and across parts of the region are also welcome. This expression has a broad understanding of the term ‘private’ including schools run by local entrepreneurs, NGOs, local community provision, religious organizations or orders, and international companies or groups. 

Previous research conducted by the Open Society Foundations found that increasing privatisation in the education sector is widening inequalities in access to quality education across the region. Political instability and neo-liberal economic agendas have conspired to undermine the public school system in a number of countries. In contexts already affected by acute societal divisions, the implications of increasing privatisation in education are enormous. In Lebanon, for example, over 60 per cent of children go to private school until the age of 16. Most of these private schools are religious-affiliated, which could exacerbate confessional divisions in Lebanese society. In Egypt there similar are fears that the parallel Al-Azhar education system, which enrols poor Muslim students, may exacerbate potential conflicts between different religious groups in Egyptian society.

Expressions will address one or more aspects of the coordination (or governance) of education services in the formal (schooling) and/or the non-formal (shadow schooling, home tutoring) sector. PERI views the governance of education as involving the aspects of: (i) funding; (ii) provision; (iii) infrastructure and ownership; and (iv) regulation. For instance, what is the role of the private sector in developing new education infrastructures? What is the relationship between the state and the private sector in these arrangements, and how is each influenced or shaped by the other? How do these arrangements support or undermine equity in education access and quality?

PERI is particularly interested in proposals that also problematize and examine the underlying dynamics in the privatizing of education, including the range of new and old actors and their motivations. In January, 2013 the Open Society Foundations, the Global Campaign for Education, and the Arab Coalition for Education for All convened a meeting of researchers and educationists working in the MENA region to explore these trends and further define research areas specific to these contexts.

Key trends and questions for further research identified during this meeting include:

  • Privatization is on the increase and is part of a wider canvas of economic reforms in the region that have also impacted education. Key players in the trend include the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Finance Corporation and the World Trade Organization. Private sector participation and public sector interventions can have unintended consequences and interactions with significant social justice implications. What is the role of global and local actors (multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, the IFC; private consulting agencies; bilateral aid agencies; etc.) in these processes? Are Education for All goals the target of initiatives, and are these goals being realized? What types of recommendations are governments and schools receiving, and how are they acting (or not acting) on them?
  • There could be a symbiotic relationship between high stakes testing, private tutoring and low teacher salaries that drive family investment in tutoring to the greatest extent that they can afford. What is the role of parental expectations for education as a means of social mobility? To what extent is an emerging middle class and their concerns with education as a form of cultural and social capital a factor that drives increased provision of privatized education services? What does it mean for teachers to be engaged as private tutors in terms of their labor protections and job satisfaction, their relationships with children and parents, and their status more broadly as teachers?
  • There are significant differences within the MENA region especially in understandings of what education means, the importance ascribed to it as well as historic literacy levels in different countries. There are also different definitions of privatization across the region, as the political discourse encompasses different ideologies and policies as well as the relationship between education, human capital development, and citizenship and social values. What are the ideological and discursive themes promoting or discouraging privatization in education in the MENA region? How are governments monitoring or regulating privatization in and of education? Is there a reconstruction of the relationships between the state and civil society through the lens of privatization?
  • Conflict in parts of the region has contributed to the degradation of the public education system in several countries. In what ways has this opened or changed the field for private education providers and private sector for-profit investment in the delivery of education services?
  • How is quality defined and marketed in and by private/privatized institutions? And is quality and learning comparatively better in private schools than in state schools? If so, is it possible to isolate the school affect and control for socio-economic status and home environment? How prevalent is pupil selection by the school and what role does it play with regard to access? 

A central concern of this expression is social justice in education. Thus, all proposals are required to address the social justice issues arising from the different forms of privatization that they are examining. For instance, which groups are included (and who are excluded and with what consequences) in these privatizing initiatives (female, male, ethnicity, social class, religion, etc.)? What are the social conditions for learning or teaching, and do they prioritize and address social equity? What are the wider social consequences of these privatizing initiatives; do they build or reduce social cohesion? Are these initiatives critical components of building a democratic and accountable community with the potential to enhance the idea of an open society?

PERI seeks to provide support for up to three pieces of research. Proposals that focus on primary and secondary education will be prioritized, however proposals will be considered which address these issues in the preschool and higher education sector that have implications for schooling, such as transition to primary and teacher training respectively. Eligible projects can use a variety of methods alone or in combination to engage with the research areas outlined above, including quantitative analysis, qualitative methods, and action research. Action research that involves education stakeholders with concrete plans for dissemination of the results and further work are also encouraged.

Envisioned key activities, conditions and requirements

Commissioned proposals will be:

  • Overseen by a member of the PERI Steering Committee and relevant ESP staff
  • Presented in draft form at relevant regional conferences, which will include a publishable 500 word summary
  • Completed by September 2014 following blind external review
  • Within a 10,000 word limit
  • Within a budget of $5,000-$25,000. Awards for comparative projects involving more than one research may be larger but should not exceed $25,000 per country. Co-funding through other fellowships or organizations in encouraged
  • Authors retain intellectual property of the work but, if selected, agree to have it published on the PERI website and possibly in an edited collection of essays. Authors must also allow PERI to translate the work into Arabic

Application procedure

All applications should be submitted by 12:00 GMT on August 30th 2013 and include the following documents, which may be written in English or Arabic:

  • A covering letter indicating the potential significance of the research
  • A Curriculum Vitae of the principal researcher(s)
  • Two writing samples (these must be either written or translated into English)
  • A proposed research design of no more than 2000 words that includes research questions, methodology, timeframe, ethical considerations and, outputs.
  • A detailed budget

Send an electronic copy of the documentation, including a scanned copy of the Cover Letter, to Trine Petersen (Trine.Petersen@opensocietyfoundations.org). For further information, please see www.periglobal.org.

Selection Criteria

Applications submitted with all required documentation will be reviewed by a panel committee. Commissions will be granted according to the panel’s assessment and selected applicants will be notified by the September 16th 2013.

Eligible countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. While not generally considered part of the MENA region, proposals related to Afghanistan and Turkey are also eligible.



Photo Credit: Ernesto Graf