Innovative Financing for Education: Interesting Ideas or Actionable in Education 2030?

By Saba Saeed, Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), Pakistan.

infinDespite the fact that education has been slow to embrace innovations compared to the other sectors, such as health and ICT, innovative financing for education has become a buzz phrase nowadays. In 2008, with the eruption of the global financial crisis and the subsequent stagnating aid to education, the idea that innovative financing mechanisms could be the answer to many of the challenges gained steam. 2010 saw the establishment of a task force on education to explore promising instruments and financing arrangements within the education sector. Following the outcome report presented by the Task Force in the same year, there emerged interest in exploring novel ways to gain a space within the existing architecture.

Despite interest and good commitments, the world has very little to show when it comes to making realistic efforts towards filling the global financing gap. New calculations by UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report reveal that at least 35 countries spent less than the recommended 4% of GDP on education and less than 15% of total public expenditure. Equity needs to be at the forefront with poorer countries being supported through financial aid, yet low income countries received 28% of total aid to basic education in 2014 while accounting for 36% of all out-of-school children. The average annual financing gap remaining across all low and lower middle income countries between 2015 and 2030 is estimated at US$39 billion. If the existing conditions prevail, fulfillment of the ambitious Education 2030 Agenda will be thwarted by the lack of financial resources. As rightly pointed out by Burnett and Upadhyay, it has become imperative that innovative mechanisms to finance education are devised and embraced in a manner which ensures inequities in education are not perpetuated in the future.

There are several ways by which resources could be tapped from non-traditional means; a few of them were brought forth by participants of a training session on innovative financing for education that I was recently a part of.[1] Following the example of Unit-Aid in the health sector, a proposal for the design of a micro-levy on hotel stays was put forward to leverage additional funds for refugee and humanitarian education via the nascent Education Cannot Wait Fund (ECWF) through the introduction of a mandatory tax placed on all accommodation bookings made in participating countries. There was a lot of discussion around the proposal as participants raised questions regarding the probability of customers willing to accept a levy on hotel accommodation, why would the governments raise funds for humanitarian education when they have other pressing education issues within the country (out of school children/ school infrastructure), what would happen to the associated structure of the levy once the initial five year mandate of ECWF expires etc. Options such as outcome-based procurement models (e.g. social impact bonds), student loan products through an African Student Financing Initiative, among others, were also explored and debated.

While sounding hugely appealing at roundtables, the implementation of innovative financing for education remains a big hurdle! Despite the several years of interest in it, innovative financing does not appear to have taken off yet. Countries remain concerned with the challenges of equity and blending funds between public and private partners: What is the role of the state in ensuring funds for quality education for all? Are we shifting the burden from the public sector to the private sector? Is it equally workable for low-income countries? How does it respond to the issue to equity?

It is necessary to tackle all these questions before the benefits of innovative financing in invigorating global education funding and ensuring the fulfillment of SDG 4 can be fully realized. It offers a window of opportunity for many low- and lower-middle income countries including Pakistan – where only 2% of its GDP is spent on education – to finance the gap and promote innovation in education programming and financing, but the countries must decide what might and might not work within their existing national architectures.

In line with Ellison’s NORRAG blog, who is also a former participant of the same OSF-supported course, one hopes that education stakeholders (including national and sub-national governments) think and act towards building such social and economic conditions that offer a fertile ground for the development and advancement of innovative financing models. The Learning Generation report, launched this September 18th at the UN Head Quarters, forcefully makes the case for getting ‘all young people into school and learning within a generation’. The report is anchored around four transformations: performance; innovation; inclusion; and, financing. Targeted at acceleration for low and lower-middle income countries, as well as countries engulfed in emergencies and displacements, the case for urgency of learning by ALL is heard loud and clear. The report notes that ‘mobilizing new finance will require innovative approaches to financing and new ways to leverage existing resources’, and calls upon donors, investors and institutions to support such innovative financial mechanisms. The report further notes that:

The Commission evaluated 18 innovative financing mechanisms for education against a number of criteria including impact, potential for additional financing, and feasibility. The five most promising proposals that should be further developed include education bonds, innovative post-secondary student financing mechanisms, disaster insurance for education, impact investing, and solidarity levies. (p.23)

One thing is clear that more financing must mean more accountability and higher performance. It’s the only way we can save the Education 2030 agenda from being thwarted. It’s either now or never!

[1]The author attended a training course in July 2016 at the Central European University in Budapest on the “Innovative Financing for Education: Arguments, Options and Implications” – organized annually by Open Society Foundations.

Saba Saeed is currently serving as Program Manager for “Learning for Access” program at Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi in Pakistan.

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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.


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Why Skills Development? In Asia, a Basic Education is Not Enough Anymore

By Sungsup Ra, Asian Development Bank.

adbskillsIn the past three decades, economic growth in Asia has been the envy of the world. This was driven in part by millions of workers who had completed their basic education and who were willing to work for low wages.

Asia’s education systems provided hard skills, including technical and vocational skills such as machine operation and welding, as well as the soft skills like literacy and numeracy that were needed to capture a share of global production and catch up with the rest of the world.

This is rapidly changing as I explain in a co authored report, Challenges and opportunities for skills development in Asia: Changing supply, demand, and mismatches. The basic education and skill set that powered ‘factory Asia’ to its current success is not enough to move the region to the next level of development. The world is transforming in six ways that have an impact on how to train and educate people in Asia for today’s global economy:

  • Labor force participation has been affected by the so-called Great Doubling in the 1990s, with the entry of the People’s Republic of China, India, and the former Soviet Union into the global economy, which has effectively doubled the size of the global pool of inexpensive labor.
  • Increased access to education has been driven particularly by the universalization of basic education. While this generated a large pool of young workers with at least basic skills, making them better prepared to function in mass production industries and basic service sector jobs, it is no longer capable of fueling continued growth and dynamism, and leaves challenges in quality and relevance of secondary and tertiary education as well as TVET.
  • Economic and industrial transformation has changed the demand for labor around the world, and particularly in Asia. This includes shifts in the allocation of employment across sectors where the rapid rise of manufacturing and service industries led to a dramatic expansion in employment shares in these sectors.
  • Technological advancement has increased demand for non-routine tasks that requires problem-solving skills and creativity—with characteristics of professional, managerial, technical, and other creative occupations—while leading to displacement of manual and routine jobs.
  • Globalization and increasing regional integration has increased labor mobility and offshoring, and removed barriers to free trade and the mobilization of resources across borders.
  • Demographic shifts have exerted increasingly complex influences on the supply of skills, with the expansion of the working age population continuing at a rapid pace in some countries but decelerating or even contracting in others.

In this new global economic context, maintaining Asia’s economic growth will require realigning its labor supply to match new needs. Asia’s education systems must be transformed to ensure that the skills supply can respond to rapidly changing employer demands. Asia’s supply driven and government dominant education systems need to become more demand driven with employer and private sector partnership in support of continuous learning and upgrading with the use of improving technology-enabled learning. Without this transformation, skills mismatch in Asia could continue to widen and potentially drive down economic growth.

Governments in Asia need to urgently prioritize policies and investments to transform education and training. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, but there are some common initiatives that will help forge effective national policies.

  1. Skills development must be placed at the center of national economic development plans.Sound strategies and planning can ensure skills supply is effectively aligned with skills demand. Skills supply should be properly sequenced to match the demand according to different stages of economic development.
  1. Scale up investment for TVET sector.The sector is generally fragmented, severely underfunded and undermanaged. It comprises only a small fraction of most education budgets in Asia. Significant investment is required to modernize TVET sector and rebrand it as an integral part of the education systems.
  1. Reorient and rebalance education systems to meet rapidly evolving economic and labor market needs, and recognize TVET as an equal pathway and that a mix of soft and hard skills is required by the labor market.
  1. Prioritize reforms to improve the relevance and the quality of TVET,such as switching the focus from supply-driven to demand-driven education and training, or improving links to industry. Governments also need to strike the right balance between TVET provision by public institutions and private providers. This requires the creation of an enabling framework for innovative public–private partnerships to share the responsibility for developing curricula and in delivery of training while also ensuring quality control. The promotion of internships, apprenticeships, and training for existing workers is critical for the development of a TVET system that is in tune with private sector needs.
  1. Efforts by individual countries to tackle skills mismatch can also benefit from regional cooperation. This can range from collaboration in regional labor market information and analysis; and promoting regional industrial cooperation. Development of mutual recognition mechanisms to remove geographic barriers to mobility of skilled workers can likewise help alleviate the skills gap.

This blog first appeared on the Asian Development Bank blog site on 19th September 2016.

Sungsup Ra is a Director in the South Asia Department of the Asian Development Bank.

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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.


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Calling All Partners: How to Diagnose and Treat Data Gaps that Threaten the Achievement of the Global Education Goals

By Luis Crouch, RTI, and Silvia Montoya, UNESCO Institute for Statistics.


The gaps in education data have become a recurring theme in this blog. Indeed, most observers would agree that if data on education were a human body, it would be a sick patient at the moment. We see the gaps in the data each day, and the struggles of statisticians as they try valiantly to plug those gaps. And this is the reality: we lack the basic data of sufficient quality to track global – or in many cases, national – progress towards the educational goals.

As a recent post reported, countries around the world are only able to gather about half the data needed to monitor progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education. The first edition of the Sustainable Development Data Digest, produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) cited the UIS assessment of data availability, which found that most countries have education data that can be disaggregated by sex, age and location. Few, however, have any data disaggregated by wealth or disability status.

We think we can all agree on the urgent need to come up with better data and better coverage to track and monitor education goals – a need that has been intensified by the SDG 4 agenda. This agenda does not demand indicators that are necessarily more ‘difficult’ in some fundamental way. For every indicator or measurement issue, there is a model instrument or measurement tool that has been tried in the past and that could be adapted or scaled up. But the new agenda means that the task ahead is much bigger, given the demand for more nuanced data to track progress on the SDGs.

There is, however, some disagreement on possible solutions. One idea that is being hotly debated is the creation of a new data body of some kind. But before we try to set up a brand new institution (just 14 years from the 2030 deadline for the SDGs), we need to be clear about the ultimate goal here. It is not, we maintain, to plug every hole in the data, or to come up with new indicators that would be “good to know” but are not truly necessary for the SDGs. Statistics are important tools that must be as accurate as possible. But they are just tools to achieve the new global education agenda.

We must take care that we do not duplicate initiatives to address these issues or increase the transactional costs (the costs of producing data) for countries that are already struggling to keep up with the demand for statistics. While there is clearly a pressing need for global methodologies and metrics, their absence is only a symptom of the over-arching data problem. It is not the root cause. The cause in many, many countries is the lack of well-developed statistical systems to track and monitor their own educational progress. Some countries lack the political leadership and commitment to sustain such efforts; some lack the funding for statistical activities, resulting in limited technical skills and human capital and data that are too sparse. Some countries lack both leadership and funding.

In our view, the top priority is to tackle the root causes of poor data. Three responses need to be in place: funding; strengthening the institutional setting; and defining the core statistics that need to be delivered. On this last response, we need to clarify the basic data that are urgent and relatively easily available, those that are urgent but that need more innovative data gathering approaches, and those that are simply less urgent.

The immediate task is to significantly improve the quality of the basic data – i.e. the 11 global monitoring indicators that cover the main issues such as school enrolment and completion – without ignoring the larger set of thematic indicators.

The task is already underway. Three complementary initiatives, the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML); the Assessment for Learning (A4L) initiative; and the Commission on Financing of Global Education (chaired by Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education) are calling for work to establish the standards and methodologies needed to produce good data and the raise the financial resources that are needed for the task ahead. With enough resources, the UIS and its partners can also train national statisticians to use these tools to produce and use basic data while creating demand for data within their countries.

The GAML brings together national education authorities, assessment agencies, citizen-led initiatives, the education community and donors. Its first job is to develop an internationally-comparable measure of reading and mathematics to monitor learning outcomes. A4L will be a vital source of support. This international platform supports national learning assessment systems that improve assessment at national and global levels and will channel assistance to developing countries through sustainable capacity-building at the system level. Together, these three initiatives are articulating the different functions and interactions that are needed across the global education community to help countries produce data that have real impact.

The UIS has the greatest depth of experience in working with countries to produce internationally comparable data and is well-equipped to support the global approach that is already in motion. As shown by its work on learning outcomes, it works with countries to build global consensus while addressing their specific needs and contexts.

There are, indeed, many questions about how to help countries strengthen their own statistical system; how to coordinate the work of the many institutions that gather and analyse data; how to provide better guidelines and adapt existing guidelines to current needs; and how to initiate a discussion about national plans to improve educational statistics.  These are the very questions that we are trying to answer right now, informed by our close work with countries, as we work in partnership to pursue the education goals for 2030.

The key initiatives mentioned above are calling for some things that are similar, and some that are different. For these initiatives to create maximum synergy and avoid confusion amongst partner development agencies and governments, it may be wise to analyse the specific content of the initiatives and to compare and contrast the various ideas being put forth. In a forthcoming blog, we will present a brief analysis, in matrix form, of where there are synergies, and where there might be duplications (or different ways of doing similar things). Enhanced dialogue will be needed to bring together the best of the initiatives and thus generate a clear agenda for action.

Luis Crouch, Chief Technical Officer, International Development Group, RTI.  

Silvia Montoya (@montoya_sil) is the Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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Making the “Learning Generation” a Reality: Let’s Act on the Education Commission Report

By Baela Raza Jamil, Commissioner for the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (The Education Commission)


Gulalai Ahmadzai, just short of her 10th birthday and travelling a long distance in a convoy from South Waziristan near the Afghan border to Gadap near the Arabian Sea in the city of Karachi, looks bewildered. Her family migrated in haste travelling from north to south Pakistan, fleeing protracted violence borne out of the ‘war against terror’. In Gadap, the language is different as are the customs. Filled with worries and anxieties, Gulalai is wondering what the future holds. Will she be able to resume her studies? Will she be relegated as a refugee and, in turn, excluded from school and join the ranks of some 61 million out-of-school children worldwide? Or will child marriage await her?

In fact, Gulalai is one of the lucky ones as a new government school is under construction nearby her new home. Here she can enroll at a school that will provide 12 years of education. But will there be a teacher who can speak to her in her mother tongue? She wonders about her communication challenges not knowing Urdu or Sindhi; her forehead breaks into anxious lines only to be quickly replaced by a smile as she realizes her learning will go uninterrupted.

About 400 kilometers away, in Northern Sindh, lives Shama. She is 12 years old and a 6th grade drop-out. Due to the lack of an all-girls school in her area, she was forced stay at home performing household chores and spending her rare spare time making intricate embroideries and ‘rilli’ (patchwork) spreads. However, thanks to local community activists, she, along with her mother has been attending a course organized through a partnership between INTEL, USAID, and Education and Literacy Department of Sindh that offers 30 hours of free ICTs training to in-school children and out-of-school adolescents and adults, especially girls and women. This program will reach 9,000 beneficiaries. Unbelievably, the mother-daughter duo can access the internet, create an email, search designs for their embroideries and Shama has also completed a PowerPoint presentation!

Innovations like these turn despair into hope and exclusion into inclusion for girls like Gulalai and Shama. In a province that has some of the most challenging enrollment indicators with the out-of-school gender gap stagnant at 52% among 6-16 year old girls compared to 48% for boys (ASER 2015), Sindh is making strides in mainstream innovations of high quality infrastructure ICT training. However, learning challenges persist as 45% of grade 5 children know only grade 2 level reading in Sindhi/Urdu, 24% know English with some comprehension and 35% can cope with two digit division. For Shama in rural Sindh, she is 6-7% behind her male counterparts in learning scores. Gender exclusions and wealth inequality further exacerbate these gaps.

As a Commissioner on the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, I have been deeply engaged in developing an agenda for action to identify credible pathways for ways to achieve the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) agreed by UN Member States. Indeed, this goal powerfully states that by 2030 the world must “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

Seeing as the way young people today learn and communicate has changed drastically over the last 15 years, the education systems must adapt and use technological advancements to its advantage. Government, civil society and the private sector need to invest in research and development to foster innovation across education systems, identify the opportunities offered by technology and understand how children learn, so that we can help them develop relevant skills required for succeeding in the world of 2050 and beyond. The Education Commission believes solutions for learning and access with equity can be achieved within a generation through innovations combining technology, workforce and partnerships as well as through inclusive approaches and robust financing.

Whilst Gulalai is helping close the gender/enrolment gap of merely 6% out of school children in urban Karachi (Malir), Shama is demonstrating that the right to education for 5-16 year olds can be managed by leapfrogging learning assisted by technologies. Since both are public sector initiatives, these can be scaled up province-wide if there is political will. By investing to bring educational opportunity in line with the top 25% of fastest improving countries, the Commission makes clear that this capital will yield considerable long-term dividends as every school – at least middle and high school/colleges – can be the source of a “Learning Generation.”

It is reassuring to see that the annual development budget for education for 2016-17 in Sindh is focused on SDG4 placing Early Childhood Education (ECE), Primary, Middle/ Secondary, Colleges, Higher Education, Special Education and TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) together. It augurs hope for collaborative planning across sub-sectors and departments. In Sindh, as elsewhere, the department of school/education covers ECE up to grade XII with separate departments for Higher Education, Special Education, TVET and sometimes non-formal/literacy too. We need more space for planning jointly and seamlessly for lifelong learning as a core aspiration of SDG4. The chronically underspent recurrent education budgets earmarked for quality, school based, improvement grants, innovations and infrastructure must be reversed, just as the low domestic financing for education in Pakistan must end.

Why can’t millions of children, such as Gulalai, Shama and her mother, also take advantage of schools offering seamless transitions from ECE to secondary and beyond; or use the schools as community learning centers for 21st century skills? The answer is not a mystery. In Vietnam priority for quality education with outcomes demanded that educational spending increased from 7% of the national budget in 1986 to 20% in 2008 – or 5.3 % of GDP! Perhaps, the tipping point in Vietnam was when both parents and the state stood on the same platform, firm believers in the mantra of education and learning from early childhood to the tertiary level. In Pakistan, where provinces are completely devolved, lessons from Vietnam could be emulated.  We can achieve a ‘Learning Generation’ by boldly embracing innovative financing to meet high learning and system outcomes.

The upcoming fiscal year is a promising one for the Sindh Government. With RS. 2 billion (approx. US$200 million) allocated to public-private partnerships and innovative initiatives, and an unprecedented RS. 200 million (approx. US$20 million) for ECE, Sindh for the first time, is showing its commitment to improvements in education. But will this get spent; will there be cross-sectoral initiatives – for example health-related, to bring down the chronic malnutrition and stunting of almost 50% for the little ones? The time to start this conversation is now. As the Education Commission reports just ahead of the opening of the UN General Assembly on 18th September 2016, and the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon receives our agenda for action, we will need individual countries to act on our blueprint for a world at school and to become pioneers for making the “Learning Generation” a reality.

Baela Raza Jamil (adviser trustee Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi /ITA, Pakistan) serves as a Commissioner for the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (The Education Commission). The Education Commission is engaging world leaders, policymakers, and researchers to develop a renewed and compelling investment case and financing pathway for achieving equal educational opportunity for children and young people. Baela Raza Jamil can be reached at email:


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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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Digitisation and the School

By Mike Douse, Freelance International Educational Consultant.

tabletsOver four decades ago, as Foundation Director of Australia’s Disadvantaged Schools Program, along with my colleagues I pondered on how the leading (‘Great Public’ i.e. private) schools could assist those serving the nation’s most underprivileged communities. Some years later, assessing the UK’s Assisted Schools Programme (now archived), we wondered how well-funded private colleges could sustain and mentor the most poorly-maintained state schools. And over many more recent years, working with development partners supporting education in some of the world’s poorest and most fragile communities, we considered how successful schools in developed countries could somehow link up with those serving the poorest of the poor, inter-continentally and beyond all borders.

Such well-intentioned conjectures are no longer relevant. Linkages and partnerships are as outdated as spirit duplicators and fax machines. Contemporary technology makes feasible – nay essential – an entirely fresh and utterly integrated approach. With digitisation, it is no longer a matter of this well-endowed school assisting this struggling school: unification has overtaken bestowment, all schools everywhere have become The School.

For digitisation is not just central to the debate on effective and equitable education worldwide: it is the debate. Considerations of Sustainable Development Goals, universalisation, student assessment, vocational skills development, education and training governance along with personal fulfilment and enjoyment make sense only in the context of digitisation. And this crucial recognition depends upon an appreciation of The School.

The School is the rural school for hungry children in disadvantaged areas of Haiti, Burundi and Nepal. It is the fee-paying college serving the sons and daughters of prosperous parents in a leafy suburb of any European capital or resort. It is the academy for teenage would-be computer engineers and specialist doctors in Johannesburg, Beijing and New York. It is the mixed-age class run in tents by volunteers for up-to-sixth-generation juveniles in refugee camps from Aqabat Jaber on the West Bank through Nauru by way of Lesbos on to Dadaab and Darfur. It is Moriah College in Sydney and Dawakin Tofa Science Secondary School in Kano State and Kings School in Cardiff and the reformatory for young offenders in Abu Dhabi and the second-chance street school for dropouts in Dhaka or for rascals in Port Moresby.

It is the school around the corner, continually reappearing in unprecedented configurations – it is all forms of educational institutions, everywhere. It is not the ‘school of the future’. It is the ‘whole school approach’ made manifest for the digital age – for the present continuous ‘now’. Its essential components include:

  • Learners: active, engaged, for life, committed to personal development, information and digitally literate, mobile, collaborating, sharing their learning globally;
  • Connectivity: rapid, reliable, uninterrupted and affordable (free) access;
  • Teachers: well-prepared (academically and digitally) and well-led professional educators, delivering, facilitating and assessing digitally-supported learning, and guiding, supporting and counselling the learners, sharing their teaching materials globally;
  • Devices: appropriate mobile appliances for every learner [unspecifiable this morning, as there will be rapid changes in handling, versatility, on-line support methodologies and cost minimisation];
  • Software: attractive, contemporary and proven learning modules (with teachers’ guides) at all levels in all subjects in every relevant language plus background materials, further reading, self- and teacher-administered-tests [but similarly unspecifiable here, as there will be a massive surge in the availability and ineffable variety in the nature of such materials];
  • Inclusion: all learners, full- and part-time, on-campus and distant, irrespective of age, gender, beliefs, abilities or disabilities, are welcomed and individually catered for; and
  • System: geared to optimising learning through, for example, exemplary school leadership, continuous professional development of teachers, participation of family and community, accreditation of curricula and qualifications, extra-curricular activities (sport, drama, debating, service organisations…), careers guidance and progress to higher, further and lifelong education.

The challenge is not to improve education in and for this Digital Age – the necessity is to reinvent it for our times. While there is some value in applying ICT as a cross-sectoral enabler (e.g. as one of many components in an educational intervention) or as a tool within an organisation for better service delivery and outcomes (e.g. as an EMIS or in efficient textbook production and delivery), the absolute priority is for all learners worldwide to participate in The School.

Mike has been continuously involved in international educational development since 1963.

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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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The Privatisation of Education: a Global Phenomenon with Multiple Faces

By Antoni Verger, Clara Fontdevila and Adrián Zancajo, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

wbEducation privatisation has become an important topic in the global education agenda, particularly in the context of Southern countries, where this phenomenon is increasing rapidly. Among the most emblematic policies promoting the involvement of the private sector are charter schools, voucher schemes, the contracting out of private schools, or the promotion of low fee private schools. These policy solutions advance under different rationales. They are usually presented as a way to expand access to education efficiently, but also as a way to increase the quality of the education system, foster innovation and/or promote education diversification. However a broad range of scholars, civil society groups, teachers’ unions and international organizations are expressing their concern about the possible negative effects on the right to education and inequalities of these kind of policies. In spite of this debate between advocates and critics, the fact is that the enrolment in private schools has experienced a significant and constant growth in the last years, particularly in low and middle-income countries (see figure below).

blog image (Verger)

Although there is a common trend towards more involvement of private actors in education worldwide, education privatisation is not a monolithic process. The analysis of the processes of education privatization worldwide shows how national and sub-national governments are engaging with these policies for very different political, economic and/or social reasons, and in very different circumstances. Specifically, following a systematic literature review on the political economy of education privatisation (involving the review and synthesis of 227 studies), which we have published recently with Teachers College Press, we have identified that there are at least six different paths toward education privatisation. These different patterns (or clusters of frequently associated actors, mechanisms, and economic, political and social circumstances) clearly reflect such diversity of processes, and are illustrated with their most paradigmatic cases:

  • Reshaping the role of the state in education (UK[i] and Chile).Drastic privatization process as part of a structural state reform adopted by neoliberal governments in the 1980s and consolidated by New Labor administrations resulting in a quasi-market system where the role of the state focuses on the regulation and distribution of incentives.
  • Education privatization in socio-democratic welfare states (Sweden, Denmark, Norway). Introduction of a wide range of market reforms (from ambitious voucher systems to mild school choice programs), framed as part of a necessary modernization of the welfare state, and with the proactive collaboration of social-democratic forces usually less inclined to promote competition as an end in itself but willing to respond to middle-class demand for diversification.
  • Scaling-up privatization (US, Colombia).Uneven but progressive alteration of the system through the authorization and encouragement of new forms of provision and management such as charter schools, under the principle of school choice and with the key contribution of non-state actors (think tanks, grassroots movements) forming loose advocacy coalitions.
  • De facto privatization in low-income countries (Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan and Peru). Expansion of low-fee private schools originally set up by local edu-preneurs responding to a growing education demand, but increasingly promoted by the international development community and supported by national governments as part of public-private-partnership (PPP) schemes.
  • Historical PPPs (The Netherlands, Belgium and Spain). Countries with a longstanding presence of private, faith-based schools have incorporated these schools in the state network during the expansion of the education system in the 20th century as a means to achieve a state-church compromise rather than on ideological (neoliberal) grounds. As a result of this historical process, the presence of private subsidized schools, mainly managed by faith-based institutions, is high in primary and secondary education.
  • Privatization by way of catastrophes (New Orleans, El Salvador, Haiti and Iraq). Rapid advancement of education privatization catalyzed by natural disasters or violent conflicts, skillfully conceived and framed by privatization advocates as an opportunity to reconstruct the system and in a context where the sense of urgency justifies the temporary suspension of the democratic deliberative process and a reduction of veto opportunities.

Overall, education privatization is a global phenomenon affecting countries regardless of their income level, but is far from translating into a homogeneous set of policy outcomes and processes. The different paths described above show how education privatization is adopted for different reasons and crystallizes in very different policy arrangements depending on political, economic and social factors. Existing literature on the topic shows how material factors (such as economic crisis, budgetary restrictions, or humanitarian crisis) but also factors of an ideational nature (such as the legitimacy crisis of the welfare state, the hegemony of the neoliberal paradigm in the political sphere, or the “public education in crisis” frame) have an important role in promoting privatization policies and as a drivers of their political adoption. In addition, privatisation processes appear to be the result of a complex interplay of global and local forces. While changes at a global scale (including economic recessions or the spread of the neoliberal doctrine) have a crucial impact in the advance of education privatisation, factors of a more domestic or situated nature are also importantly at play. Elements such as the welfare-state tradition or the ideology of the government in power inevitably condition the scope and nature of the privatisation processes embraced by different countries.

Challenging education privatization as a global project

Nowadays, education privatization represents one of the most important challenges for national education systems, and has major implications for the governance, organisation and access to education worldwide. The expansion of market-oriented policies, together with recent changes in contemporary social structures, favour the expansion of consumerist values in education, and the increasing conception of education as a form of social distinction. Ultimately, the commodification of education contributes to increasing the tension between the individual and the social goals of education (with the latter including the acquisition of a common culture and the promotion of social cohesion), and promotes the segmentation and hierarchization of education systems.

Currently, a broader range of political forces and social groups – that go beyond the traditional conservative parties and the middle and upper classes – accept and promote private sector participation in education. This “private education consent” is actively and effectively manufactured by influential international actors and advocacy coalitions. The hegemonic dimension that education privatization is acquiring explains, to some extent, the expansion of private education globally. Furthermore, despite privatisation reforms rarely going unchallenged, responses against privatization reforms have met with uneven success so far. Understanding how and why education privatization happens is a first and necessary step to organize better-articulated and more meaningful responses to this global trend.

[i] Although we use the denomination United Kingdom, the literature analyzed mainly focuses on the cases of England and Wales.

Antoni Verger is senior researcher at the Department of Sociology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. His main areas of expertise are global governance and education reform. Email:

Clara Fontdevila is a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Her research focuses on private-sector engagement in education and the global governance of education. Email:

Adrián Zancajo is a PhD candidate in sociology at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. His main areas of research are education privatization policies and educational inequalities. Email:

Further Reading:

privedVerger, A., Fontdevila, C. and Zancajo, A. (2016) The Privatization of Education: A Political Economy of Global Education Reform. International Perspectives on Educational Reform. Teachers College Press.




Related blogs on NORRAG NEWSBite:

˃˃ Blogs about low-fee private schools and non-state actors in education

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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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The Governance of Education and Training: Agenda 2030 and Beyond

By Radu Bârză (NORRAG), Laetitia Houlmann (consultant), Velibor Jakovleski (NORRAG).

governanceblogUnderstanding the shifting nature of governance in education and training (GET) is crucial when considering the implementation of the Education 2030 agenda. A public conference organised by NORRAG, in collaboration with the Education Network of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) examined this topic (see below for details).

As NORRAG’s Managing Director, Joost Monks, emphasized, discussions were centred on:

a vertical dimension of governance of new and emerging actors and trends operating at different levels of governance; and a horizontal dimension looking at education and training from a transversal dimension running across the sustainable development agenda.

The vertical and horizontal dimensions are useful frames to ensure that we don’t just focus on one particular actor or issue when discussing education and training, but rather the complex interactions among different actors and issues. It also helps us clarify the sometimes cumbersome concept of “governance”.

According to UNESCO, education governance can be defined as “the processes, policies and institutional arrangements that connect the many actors in education.” This definition alludes to interactions among diverse and interdependent actors, operating in local and global spaces and working according to some common standards or norms.

Importantly, governance does not imply a unitary system; there can be overlap or conflict among different actors and systems of governance. By considering the diversity of actors across different spaces and levels of governance (vertical), and at the connections across diverse issues (horizontal), this event aimed to highlight some of those interactions.

Many participants would agree to an ideal case scenario, that education is a global public/common good. If we take that as a starting point, particularly in light of Agenda 2030, it would imply a global system of GET. However, the fundamental responsibility of implementation continues to lie with governments and their differentiated responsibilities.

As a result, the importance of the state’s areas and means of intervention cannot be ignored when trying to address pressing education concerns, as Chantal Nicod, SDC’s Head of West Africa Division and Education theme asserted:

“Unlike other global issues, such as climate change, when we talk about education the solutions are seen primarily at the national level.”

In short, we cannot talk about GET without highlighting the importance of states, what might be called national GET. During the event, participants from China also underlined the important role played by relatively centralised decision-making and implementation systems at the national level.

Several international organisations present at the event have also worked on education and training global/regional policies, norms and standards setting, whether directly (like the ILO), or indirectly (like the UNRISD by working on social development). We might call what they do – and have been doing for decades – international GET, because it traditionally entails the governance of education and training among states in international forums.

The event also addressed the growing number of non-state actors – such as civil society organisations, the private sector and foundations – that can influence education and training policies and practices at the local, national, regional, transnational and global levels. For example, there is a growing market for education globally, as illustrated by the rise of “edu-business” and its associated problems: when education – traditionally regarded as a public good provided at the state level – becomes partly a private good globally with actors increasingly influencing the standard setting in the field. We might refer to this as non-state GET.

However, by looking at the governance of education and training across these layers – in terms of national GET, international GET, non-state GET – we can miss out on the complex relationships among them. One example of a “hybrid” governance arrangement is the new type of partnership forged among state-funded foundations in the Gulf, the private sector and UN agencies, giving a sense of legitimacy to governments in the region.

With many actors in the GET field – each with different motivations, interests and power to affect outcomes – we increasingly have a blurring of the GET landscape. The variable and complex interactions across the above-mentioned systems of governance, encompassing all the actors that have a role to play in the shaping of education and training policies and practices, entails the global governance of education and training (GGET).

In theory, GGET transcends geographic boundaries given the diversity of actors and interests operating globally. In practice, anchoring the GGET debates in a particular location could be an opportunity to build a community of interest, and to drive continuous and targeted discussions around it.

Geneva, with a strong global presence in areas of conflict, emergencies, nation building, health, and an increasing role in the CVE/PVE (Countering/Preventing Violent Extremism) discussions, could be the place to start stitching together different issues , and to further promote the transversal nature of education and training emphasised in Agenda 2030.

The Geneva Conference Series on the Global Governance of Education and Training aims precisely at unpacking some of the challenges raised in this blog, while at the same time connecting a broad range of actors. It will especially look at the interactions between the specifics of GET with the overarching nature of GGET. The first sub-theme explored as part of this Conference Series was learning assessments and their impact on quality education.[1] NORRAG will capitalise on its expertise on the subject and its added-value as a convenor and knowledge broker to explore further aspects of GGET over the coming months. Upcoming activities and related knowledge products will be announced soon on NORRAG’s website.

[1] Entitled “Learning from Learning Assessments: The Politics and Policies of Attaining Quality Education”, this one-day event was organised jointly with the Center for Universal Education at Brookings, in association with PASEC, on 23rd June.

Picture blog_22 June_LH, VJ, RBThis blog is based on takeaways and reflections from the public conference on the theme of “The Governance of Education and Training: Agenda 2030 and Beyond”, organised by NORRAG, in collaboration with the Education Network of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) on 22nd June 2016 at Maison de la Paix in Geneva, Switzerland. This event inaugurated NORRAG’s new Geneva Conference Series on the Global Governance of Education and Training.

The meeting brought together over 70 participants from international organisations (such as the ILO, UNICEF, UNRISD, GEM Report – UNESCO, UNDP), international NGOs, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, academia, think tanks, foundations and education providers, as well as NORRAG’s partners and national government officials from the global South. A report of the meeting will be available towards the end of September; please follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS to be alerted when it’s online.

Radu Bârză is a Master Student in International Economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. He also works as a trainee for NORRAG. Email:

Laetitia Houlmann is working as a consultant in international education and training, in particular in the field of development cooperation. She is currently in charge of the backstopping of the SDC Education Network. She worked as a Communication Officer at NORRAG between 2012 and 2015. Email:

Velibor Jakovleski is a Programme Officer for the Programme for the Study of International Governance at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland. He is also a Research & Project Officer for NORRAG. Email:

Related NORRAG NEWSBite Blogs:

˃˃ China and the Global Governance of Education and Training – By Xiulan Wan, Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua, China (8th August, 2016)

˃˃ The Governance of Education and Training Agenda 2030 and Beyond: Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa – By Peliwe Lolwana, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.

Related NORRAG Working Paper:

˃˃ Post-2015 and the Global Governance of Education and Training – By Kenneth King and Robert Palmer (December 2014)

Follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.


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