Global Education Monitoring Report

Non-state actors in education

2021/2 GEM Report

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Credit: Joris Vens/Super Formosa Photography


Chapter 1

Governments have not always led education. Historically, education was organized spontaneously and informally by religion, family and guild. From the late 18th century, states saw the opportunity to develop their economies through an educated workforce and to develop and strengthen a sense of national identity through public schools. Governments were prepared to take on the high cost of delivering this public good because of the wider benefits to societies and economies. For newly independent countries in the 20th century, building a public education system was the hallmark of emancipation from colonialism. Public education invariably aimed to promote noble ideals or ruling ideologies. The new structures superseded and absorbed traditional education structures.

Yet education is also a private good. Consuming more education improves individual opportunities and may exclude others from such opportunities. Those who manage to climb the education ladder are better placed to achieve a higher standard of living and higher returns. As education systems cannot accommodate everybody on the higher rungs, families do everything they can to ensure that their offspring are the ones who make it to the top. Such competition generates demand, which in turn leads to the supply of education goods and services. Depending on national context and disposition, markets may emerge in direct provision of education services that confer advantage.


Education choices determine children’s lives. Parents must not only make simple calculations of financial costs and benefits but also consider multiple, interrelated factors. Choices regarding what is taught, how, by whom and where reflect the competing world views and aspirations of parents and of other education stakeholders. They concern two main dimensions: control and distribution of resources, and values and beliefs for changing society. Education choices are highly political and are reflected explicitly or implicitly in political agendas. In addition to individual ideological and circumstantial factors, understandings of social challenges and how government, people and institutions should relate to each other vary among countries. These understandings influence attitudes on what policies government should pursue and who should benefit from them.

Research on support for public education is overwhelmingly from high-income countries. A recent survey of attitudes in Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom showed that when respondents were asked to prioritize one of eight potential areas for additional spending, education was the top option for 28%, with health care second at 22%. While 77% of respondents supported school choice, over 60% opposed a significant role for private schools in the national education system.

Analysis of the 2016 International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) special module data on the role of government, commissioned for this report, addressed public education support using a sample of 35 countries, including 10 middle-income countries. Overall, 89% of adult respondents said the primary responsibility for providing school education rested with governments, while 6% said families and 5% other institutions (private companies and for-profit organizations; non-profit organizations, charities and cooperatives; and religious organizations). But, reflecting strong exposure to non-state provision, respondents in India (46%),[1] the Philippines (63%) and Chile (76%) expressed the lowest support for public provision (Figure 1).

Figure 1: In most countries studied, over 80% support public provision of education

Percentage of adults who said the primary responsibility for providing school education rested with government, 2016

[1] The regional edition of this report on non-state actors in education will be devoted to South Asia.


Ten recurring myths about state and non-state actors in education are questioned throughout this report.


Proponents and opponents of non-state actors in education argue their cases in relation to the capacity and legitimacy of state and non-state actors to promote efficiency, equity and inclusion, and innovation in education. These issues are seen through the lens of whether people believe education is a good or service to be procured through the market and whether people should be able to choose education.

Are non-state actors more cost-efficient in education? Proponents of non-state activity in education argue that it is inevitable since the state cannot cater for the full range of demands for education. Regardless of whether non-state actors are motivated by charity, beliefs and ideas, or profit, if the supply of education goods and services is responsive to demand, then a market is possible – if not a conventional market, then at least a planned one. Through the market, cost-efficiency objectives can be pursued.

Opponents of non-state activity in education argue that, if cost-efficient practices exist, they should be diffused throughout the education system and practised by all schools, state and non-state alike. If a case could be made that teachers in a country were paid too much, then this should be a matter for public policy to resolve, not a reason to change the model of provision. Non-state actors may increase cost-efficiency by hiring young or unqualified teachers, which is not a sustainable solution. Making reliable cost comparisons between state and non-state schools is challenging. Public schools tend to serve more disadvantaged populations, which are costlier to educate.

Do non-state actors deliver equity and inclusion in education? Proponents of non-state provision argue that non-state providers help fulfil the right to education. In many contexts, non-state actors have filled genuine gaps in education provision, often for disadvantaged groups neglected by public systems. Governments are often reluctant to set up schools in informal settlements, as in Pakistan. Non-state actors also make valuable contributions in crisis and emergency contexts, such as the aftermath of Nepal’s catastrophic 2015 earthquake. In El Salvador, in urban areas afflicted by violence and gangs, the share of enrolment in non-state schools is double the national average.

Those who oppose non-state schools point to problems caused by school choice. If parents can choose the school they want, without guiding regulations, then the richest are most likely to be able to afford the best, often non-state schools, exacerbating inequality, stratification and segregation. Parental decision making requires good information, but information on school characteristics is lacking or, if it exists, unequally provided, with more disadvantaged populations having less access to it. Moreover, there are several hard-to-reach populations to whom providers may be reluctant to provide services.

Some of those who think government should not have a primary role in education provision challenge its authority to decide on education content or its ability to deliver education of a desired standard. Parents may make a case for separate and non-state provision due to concern that the local public school threatens the values of the cultural, ethnic, linguistic or religious community in which they want to raise their child. But governments may argue that this conflicts with their commitment to ensure equitable and inclusive education and interferes with their ability to apply uniform standards in an effort to provide the same quality of education to all children, without exception.

Do non-state actors bring more innovation to education? Proponents of non-state involvement in education assert that it helps increase innovation. Many ideas that have transformed understandings of pedagogy emerged at the margins of public education systems or even outside them. Public education systems have grown into large, centralized bureaucracies that can lose sight of the populations they are to serve. A common criticism is that they blunt initiative, force standardization and demotivate students and teachers.

Delivering innovation is a complex task for public education systems. Changes need to be piloted and tested for scalability. Challenges can include bureaucratic obstacles, organizational capacity gaps, lack of teacher and parental motivation, limited financial means and political meddling and opposition. However, public education systems are not negatively predisposed to innovation by design. And some non-state actors are testing whether certain innovations work in public education.

Debate on innovation is often obscured by key concepts being referred to in contradictory ways. Standardization is maligned by those opposing what they see as public education systems’ rigidity, conformity and lack of differentiation, but defended by those who champion common core curricula to ensure standards are met in all schools and who suggest that it is competitive pressure, often influenced by private providers, that accelerates a tendency to conform. Ultimately, whether standardization discourages innovation depends on what standards are defined. Terms such as ‘accountability’, ‘autonomy’ and ‘choice’ have been both hailed and demonized as organizational principles of education. While any of these ideas can be examined on their merits, they do not necessarily justify a bigger role for non-state, and particularly private, education provision.

About 25 years ago in the United States, when evidence started emerging about the unequal effects of new organizational forms of public education based on school choice, the authors of an early study aptly summarized the findings with two questions: Who chooses? Who loses? (Fuller and Elmore, 1996). As more evidence accumulates on the mechanics, effectiveness and consequences of school choice around the world, the Global Education Monitoring Report takes these questions to a global audience. Four key aspects of non-state activity – provision, regulation, financing and influence – are addressed in primary and secondary education, followed by a more in-depth look at these aspects at other education levels, which tend to receive less attention: early childhood education, tertiary education and technical, vocational and adult education.


Chapter 2

Enrolment in non-state schools has been growing. The share of private institutions worldwide increased by 7 percentage points in about 10 years, from 10% in 2002 to 17% in 2013 in primary education and from 19% in 2004 to 26% in 2014 in secondary education, but has since remained roughly constant (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Private enrolment shares are highest in Southern Asia

Percentage of enrolment in private institutions, by education level, 1990–2019

Ownership, management and financing are the usual criteria for defining the non-state sector. Providers’ relationship with the state, their motivations and their price can be used to group them. Analysis from this report found that faith-based schools can be found in 124 of 196 countries. Non-governmental organization (NGO) and community schools can be found in 74 of 196 countries, often in emergency contexts. For-profit schools are a minority, except in a few contexts, such as the United Arab Emirates. A broad range of modestly priced, mostly single-proprietor schools in low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia are known as low-fee private schools.

State and non-state schools differ in student intake and resources. Few poor children have the choice to attend private schools. To evaluate the quality of education experience, parents refer to class size, teacher quality and effort, school responsiveness, discipline and safety, language of instruction, religion, ethnicity and culture. In the United Kingdom, analysis of 18,000 English schools comparing public schools with privately managed public schools found a greater percentage of unqualified teachers in the latter.

Public and private schools may differ in other resources. In Latin America, the average number of computers per student in private schools is double that in public schools.

Most evidence shows that the learning advantage of attending private schooling is limited. Data for 31 low and middle-income countries showed that the estimated premium from attending private school dropped by one half to two thirds after adjusting for household wealth. Moreover, while non-state provision of core education can fill gaps in the short or medium term, it can lead to segregation and inequality. In Sweden, 29 of 30 municipalities contained strongly segregated lower secondary schools; in 16, segregation appeared to have been largely driven by school choice. While competition with non-state schools is expected to prompt public schools to improve, the mere presence of private or other schools in near proximity may not be sufficient incentive for public school authorities to act if they do not have the financial resources or autonomy to respond.

Private supplementary tuition is nearly universal. This phenomenon, which has been prevalent in several countries in East Asia and the Arab States, is also spreading in regions where it was uncommon, such as sub-Saharan Africa and northern Europe. Demand for supplementary tuition is most associated with students’ need to prepare for high-stakes examinations to gain a competitive advantage. But the impact of tutoring on individual student performance is mixed: Some studies have detected positive effects for those furthest behind, while other studies indicate that tutoring has no systematic positive effect on student performance. Moreover, tutoring can undermine education system performance by negatively affecting student and teacher behaviour.

Textbook policy, procurement and distribution vary in terms of state involvement. In some countries, publishing is primarily by state-owned and -controlled enterprises; in others, there is a mixed system of public and private publishing. Several high-income countries, including Spain, mainly leave textbook production to commercial providers, with government involved in providing guidelines and approving proposals. The interplay among international publishers, donors and local interests often complicates the transition to local publishing in poorer countries. For example, Gabon’s textbook industry is dominated by Edicef, a textbook publishing arm of French-owned Hachette Livre, one of the world’s largest publishers.

The push for content digitization is led by large publishing and technology companies. Pearson, the global market leader in education publishing, changed its slogan from ‘world’s largest publisher of textbooks and online teaching materials’ to ‘world’s digital learning company’, with a stronger focus on online schooling and assessment. Beyond global and regional textbook publishers, technology giants have entered the online education sector, a trend strengthened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Analysis of education technology procurement process experiences in the United States found that school districts and schools were typically overwhelmed by thousands of education technology vendors marketing a wide array of products.

Governments are outsourcing more support services in education. Critics of outsourcing fear that privatization could undermine public services and professionalism. An Australian analysis found that increased contracting of cleaning staff led to contractor proliferation, increased incidence of underpayment, reduced cleaning hours and lower occupational health and safety standards.

Governance and regulation

Chapter 3

Governance of non-state education providers is often fragmented. Good governance and effective regulations are key determinants of governments’ ability to deliver equitable education of good quality. In 94 countries, sector plans or strategies envisage intervention by non-state actors in provision or other service delivery. Ministries or departments share responsibilities in some countries. Fragmentation, lack of coordination and overlapping or unclear articulation of responsibilities can negatively influence equity and quality. Just 39% of countries have a private education department, division or agency at the national level under the education in charge of primary and secondary education. Education ministries are exclusively responsible for quality assuring non-state actors in 83% of countries, while in 13% multiple authorities do that. Religious affairs, rather than education ministries, are responsible for faith-based schools in 22% of countries – and 70% in Northern Africa and Western Asia.

Funding mechanisms have an impact on governance. Non-state actors obtain direct or indirect government financial support in various forms: per-student subsidies (in 79% of countries), subsidies to parents (23%), support to teacher salaries or other operating experiences (about 70%) and loans or gifts (27%). Public–private partnerships involve various levels of engagement between each actor as well as diverse policy and regulatory arrangements. A review of studies on funding mechanisms found the impact was often negative. In at least two thirds of 98 studies, the impact on equity of subsidies, voucher programmes and charter programmes was found to be negative.

Regulations should help improve quality and equity in education. Nearly all countries have regulations stipulating requirements for entry and operation of non-state schools, including registration and licensing. In 80% of countries, there are regulations on space requirements, such as plot or building size and minimum classroom space. In the Indian state of Haryana, buildings need to be owned or leased for at least 20 years to set up schools. Another state, Uttar Pradesh, uses two criteria for recognizing a school: minimum area per student (9 m2) and classroom size (180 m2). Regulations also cover water and sanitation. In 47% of countries with data, single-sex toilets are required in non-state schools. In 74% of countries, pupil/ teacher ratios are regulated. About 55% of countries have regulations concerning admission procedures in non-state schools, while 67% regulate non-state school fees in compulsory education. Two thirds have regulations on curriculum. Over the past 10 years, 21 countries have introduced regulations on profit-making and 80 on teacher certification.

Weak implementation and inadequate accountability undermine education quality and equity. Having regulations in place does not mean non-state providers comply. In some low- and lower-middle income countries, complex, expensive or long registration procedures deter providers from obtaining official recognition. Nigeria’s Lagos state government had approved just 1 in 4 of some 20,000 private schools as of 2021. At least 27 countries’ statistics recognize unregistered schools. Uganda classifies non-state schools as licensed, registered and unregistered: 14% of primary and 13% of secondary schools are unregistered. Lack of oversight can result in informal student selection. In Bogotá, Colombia, the Concession School programme of charter schools, set up to serve vulnerable students, had an admission policy based on non-discrimination and residence proximity; in reality, albeit informally, students were selected on the basis of academic performance.

Weak implementation and inadequate accountability undermine education quality and equity. Having regulations in place does not mean non-state providers comply. In some low- and lower-middle income countries, complex, expensive or long registration procedures deter providers from obtaining official recognition. Nigeria’s Lagos state government had approved just 1 in 4 of some 20,000 private schools as of 2021. At least 27 countries’ statistics recognize unregistered schools. Uganda classifies non-state schools as licensed, registered and unregistered: 14% of primary and 13% of secondary schools are unregistered. Lack of oversight can result in informal student selection. In Bogotá, Colombia, the Concession School programme of charter schools, set up to serve vulnerable students, had an admission policy based on non-discrimination and residence proximity; in reality, albeit informally, students were selected on the basis of academic performance.

Effective accountability mechanisms, sanctions and redress mechanisms can also foster compliance. Government should hold education providers accountable for compliance with standards on quality, inputs, safety and inclusion. Almost all countries apply sanctions, school closure or licence withdrawal if non-state schools do not comply with regulations. Some 54% of countries also regulate such closures’ duration. About 90 countries have codes of ethics or conduct for teachers and school personnel, which often cover non-state providers.

Private supplementary tutoring is rarely regulated. Private tutoring is unregulated in 48% of countries. Only 53 countries regulate it in education legislation, while 19 regulate it only under commercial law. In 31% of countries, regulations specify tutors’ required qualifications; 10 countries explicitly ban teachers from tutoring. In China, a 2021 law bans firms teaching compulsory schooling curricula from making profits and also from raising capital, preventing the issuing of new licences. Companies need to become non-profit to continue operations. The government has set up a department exclusively for regulating and monitoring private tutoring companies.


Chapter 4

Governments vary in their decisions whether and how to fund non-state providers. In Canada, government covers 30% of private but 94% of public school expenditure. In the Netherlands, all schools, regardless of type, receive block grants for staff and operating costs and additional funds for students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds and with special education needs. Since 2000, several countries, including Chile, Hungary, Sweden and the United Kingdom, have experienced increases in the enrolment share of dependent private schools, those that receive at least 50% of their funding from government.

Governments finance only some non-state school expenditure. In Bangladesh, over 16,000 non-state secondary schools and 7,600 madrasas, which together enrol 96% of all students, receive monthly payments for teacher salaries. But Haiti, where 85% of primary schools are non-state, does not cover salary costs. In India, just 6% of primary and secondary schools received grants for teacher salaries in 2019/20. In Indonesia, madrasas and Islamic boarding schools, known as pesantren, accounting for 35% of all private schools, are excluded from some funding mechanisms.

Some governments support non-state schools’ admission of disadvantaged students. In India, the 2009 Right to Education Act required private schools to offer 25% of grade 1 places to children from low-income families; in exchange, the government reimbursed their tuition costs. By contrast, Côte d’Ivoire, where the number of students in subsidized secondary schools quadrupled between 2010/11 and 2017/18, did not target equitable access.

Households face significant burdens and tough choices. As a share of GDP, household education spending amounts to 0.3% in high-income and 1% in low- and middle-income countries. It accounts for 1.2% of GDP in El Salvador, 1.5% in Morocco, 1.8% in India and 2.5% in Ghana. While the poorest 20% of households spend practically nothing on education in Argentina, Costa Rica, the Philippines and Zambia, the richest 20% spend between 0.5% and 1.7% of GDP.

Public education is often not free. About one third of household expenditure in low- and middle-income countries comes from households with children in public schools. Households with children in private schools account for about 80% of spending in Guatemala and Pakistan; households with children in public schools account for about 60% of spending in China and Kenya. In rural areas of the United Republic of Tanzania, more than three quarters of families view primary school contributions as mandatory, noting that children could be punished if contributions are delayed. In Australia, parental contributions exacerbate inequality between schools.

Private supplementary tuition is a major cost for many households. In China, households allocated about one third of their total education expenditure to costs outside school in 2017, ranging from 17% of rural households to 42% of urban households. In Egypt, as a share of average expenditure per capita, among students in general secondary education, those from the richest quintile of households spent 51% on private lessons and the poorest 29%. In Myanmar, tutoring represented 42% of total household education spending.

Private providers rely on household out-of-pocket expenditure. Most private secondary schools receive at least 80% of their revenue from fees in 28 out of 51 upper-middle- and high-income education systems. In low- and lower-income countries, poor parents employ a variety of strategies to cope with private school expenses. Globally, one in six families saves to pay school fees, while about 8% of households also borrow. In Haiti, Kenya, the Philippines and Uganda, 30% of households or more borrow for school fees.

Private school funding has been substantially affected by COVID-19. The pandemic affected private schools, especially those relying on school fees. Nigeria launched a stimulus package with low-interest loans to pay private school teachers. In Ghana, private schools received support as part of a general programme for small and medium-sized enterprises. Viet Nam expanded cash transfer programmes to cover private school teachers. In Panama, 35% to 40% of parents could not pay monthly fee instalments. In Ecuador, public school enrolment was up by 6.5%, or 120,000 students, who moved from private schools.

The use of aid for funding private education is debated. Out of an education portfolio of almost US$1.2 billion, the International Finance Corporation allocated 15% to private school chains but froze its investment in fee-charging private schools in 2019, following pressure from civil society organizations. The Global Partnership for Education developed a private-sector strategy but opposition during its negotiation led to a clause prohibiting use of its funds to support for-profit provision of core education services.

Donors are experimenting with public–private partnerships. Cash-strapped governments have raised private capital to improve and expand public education infrastructure in Egypt, the Philippines and South Africa. Some donors have looked into using their funds as a catalyst to raise financing through such partnerships. But there is concern that governments that can design, implement and regulate partnerships could do better using public procurement to achieve their objectives.

The financial contribution of philanthropic and corporate activities in education is small. Despite perceptions that the amount philanthropic foundations spend on education is growing, it remains relatively insignificant. Systematic analyses of philanthropic giving by 143 foundations in the Network of Foundations Working for Development, an initiative of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), estimate that education received US$2.1 billion over the three years from 2013 to 2015. This was equivalent to 9% of all philanthropic giving.


Chapter 5

Arguments regarding efficiency, innovation and equity are at the core of debates on the role of non-state actors in education. The debates are often characterized by acrimony and mistrust as two very different views of the world clash. Various actor groups try to influence public opinion and education policy for or against a stronger role for non-state actors. Their tools are advocacy and lobbying networks, research, and funding, which is often associated with sales of goods and services. In this competition of political ideas and economic interests, where actors use legitimate and illegitimate means to make their point of view prevail, the challenge is to maintain the transparency and integrity of the public education policy process and keep vested interests at bay.

Most actor groups do not hold a uniform position on non-state providers in education. Civil society organizations are often critical, voicing concern over privatization and commodification in education and arguing that education must remain under democratic control. Yet even within a rights-based movement, such as the Global Campaign for Education, members hold more nuanced views influenced by the reality in their countries. In a survey of members carried out for this report, 43% expressed a negative view of for-profit provision but 12% were supportive; on public–private partnerships, the shares were 41% and 20%, with the rest expressing a mixed view.

Global advocacy networks have framed privatization and commercialization as threats to the right to education. This perspective is expressed in the Abidjan Principles on the human rights obligations of states to provide public education and to regulate private involvement in education. In 2018, 10 Kenyan citizens lodged a complaint with the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, the independent accountability mechanism for the International Finance Corporation (IFC), alleging that Bridge International Academies, a for-profit chain, was violating curriculum, health and safety and labour standards. In 2020, the IFC froze investment in school chains while the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group launched an evaluation of investment in private schools.

Uncritical support and resources from many international organizations to non-state providers influence agendas. Among pathways through which the World Bank influences policymaking is a module on private-sector engagement, considered one of the 13 most important policy areas for promoting learning under the Systems Approach for Better Education Results. It has recommended private provision expansion in 9 of 10 countries. The UNICEF-hosted Education Outcomes Fund attracts impact investors to results-based financing projects, although these do not have a good track record in education. Organizations that have benefited from international support include Ark, which has expanded from operating public schools in England (United Kingdom) to advising on and helping implement public–private partnerships in countries including Liberia and South Africa.

Foundations’ positions differ on the role they think non-state actors should play in education. The varied motivations of corporate and philanthropic foundations make them hard to classify as a group. Often, foundations are criticized for trying to influence policy in particular directions. The philanthropic Lemann Foundation helped introduce national learning standards in Brazil after multiple consultations.

Teacher unions have been at the forefront of advocacy efforts to support public education. Unions have effectively exposed attempts to undermine public education through unwarranted commercialization and outsourcing of public services. Education International, a federation of teacher unions, has been questioning whether the extensive use of public–private partnerships in Latin America, for instance in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, is to the detriment of public institutions serving the same purposes. But on some occasions, union tactics have been criticized for undermining efforts to strengthen public education.

Businesses frame their advocacy on education reform in human capital terms. The Japan Business Federation, like powerful economic lobbies around the world, has issued education policy recommendations that appeal for modernization and 21st century skills. Some have criticized the recommendations as contrasting with employers’ hiring and training practices. The Global Business Coalition for Education calls on its members’ expertise, leadership and resources to give political prominence to education. Critics counter that the best support to public education would be to engage genuinely with campaigns against tax avoidance and evasion. Concerns have also been expressed about how education technology firms, which use marketing techniques to sell governments products in ways that do not align with the public good, intensified their efforts during the COVID-19 crisis and the shift to remote learning.

Early childhood care and education

Chapter 6

Non-state actors lead care and education services for children under 3. In 33 high-income countries, private institutions accounted for 57% of total enrolment in 2018. In Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, the for-profit private sector is mainly responsible. In Germany, 73% of enrolment was in private institutions in 2017 but only 3% of providers were for-profit. In 33 middle-income countries, non-state actors accounted for 46% of enrolment of children under 3, ranging from close to zero in the Russian Federation to 100% in Turkey. Only a few countries, including El Salvador, have shifted towards greater state provision. Latin American countries, including Colombia, Guatemala and Peru, have embraced small-scale, community-based childcare programmes. Employer-based provision, relatively common in richer countries, is only gradually emerging in poorer countries. A key challenge is that formal sector employment accounts for only 30% of employment in low- and middle-income countries.

Non-state actors are more prominent in pre-primary than in basic education. Between 2000 and 2019, the share of private institutions in total pre-primary education enrolment increased from 28.5% to 37%, reaching 55% in Eastern and South-eastern Asia. In China, under the ‘walking on two legs’ policy, the share of private institutions increased from 31% to 57%. In Viet Nam, the share of private enrolment fell from 60% in 2003 to 12% in 2014. Shares range from less than 1% in Eastern European countries, including Ukraine, to more than 95% in the Caribbean (e.g. Antigua and Barbuda) and the Pacific, where provision tends to be either community-based (e.g. Vanuatu) or linked to religious missions (e.g. Samoa). Northern Africa and Western Asia, led by Algeria and Egypt, is the region that recorded the largest drop in the share of private institutions in pre-primary education enrolment, from 53% in 2000 to 36% in 2019. By contrast, between 2000 and 2018, the share of private institutions increased in Israel from 5% to 36% and in Kuwait from 26% to 45%.

The cost of non-state pre-primary provision can be too high for the poorest. Household surveys show that administrative data underestimated the share of non-state enrolment in six of seven sub-Saharan African countries by 20 percentage points, on average. Non-state provision has mainly addressed demand in urban areas, where such services tend to be more commonly available, and from richer households, which can afford them. As a share of annual household consumption, private pre-primary education accounts for 6% for the richest and 17% for the poorest in Ghana; the equivalents in Ethiopia are 4% and 21%.

Non-state provision challenges governance and regulation. The multiplicity of non-state actors makes governance complex. Cambodia has separate regulations and decrees for community preschools. In Sri Lanka, absence of a multisector regulatory framework means the scope of work of several ministries (education, health, and women and child affairs) and provincial councils overlaps. In Lagos, Nigeria, the probability that the state education ministry would inspect a private preschool was higher if they charged high fees (68%) than if they charged low fees (48%). In Nairobi, Kenya, community schools are inspected more often than religious, charity or for-profit schools.

The quality of non-state providers is highly variable. In many low- and middle-income countries, private educators tend to be less prepared and have fewer professional development opportunities than public-sector peers. Only 8% of private but 75% of public kindergarten teachers do the Ghana Education Service’s training programme, as there are no minimum requirements for private teachers. The use of English as medium of instruction in non-state preschools, as in Brazil, is an example of tension between developmentally appropriate curricula and popular perceptions of quality.

Few low- and middle-income countries have quality assurance procedures that go beyond administrative requirements. In Jamaica, where provision is mainly in non-state hands, the education ministry requires qualified inspectors; other staff make monthly monitoring site visits based on 12 national standards that include interactions and relationships among children, teachers, parents, caregivers and community members. The Philippines monitors national standards and competencies through the government-validated Philippine Early Childhood Development Checklist.

Non-state actors innovate and advocate for ECCE. Historically, committed educationists worked outside or at the margins of the formal public education system to pursue their vision of child-centred learning. Academic researchers have drawn attention to early childhood education programmes’ long-term effectiveness, encouraging public authorities to scale up such programmes. Non-state actors advocate for excluded children, working with mothers in penitentiaries in Chile, poor working parents in the Philippines and children in institutions in Romania. Organizations such as the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Aga Khan Foundation and the Open Society Foundations have mobilized ECCE support and advocacy.

Tertiary education

Chapter 7

Nearly all countries ensure tertiary education provision through a combination of state and non-state actors. About 33% of tertiary students are enrolled in private institutions globally, with the highest shares in Central and Southern Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. Growth in non-state provision responds to a variety of demands. Religion- or culture-oriented institutions are linked to history and tradition, fulfilling demand for ‘different’ education. Elite institutions arise in response to demand for ‘better’ education, often from the more affluent. Finally, smaller, non-denominational institutions have recently surged in response to demand for ‘more’ tertiary education, especially in the context of tight public budgets.

Non-state institutions have implications for system quality. Smaller fee-charging institutions tend to offer only a few fields of study, mostly vocationally oriented. In India, about 40% of private colleges offer only one field, generally education. Academic staff of non-state institutions are less likely to be full time – less than 20% are in Senegal – and they are often moonlighting professors from public institutions. In Malaysia, moonlighting can reach 80% of staff in smaller and newer non-state institutions. Profit orientation creates additional quality challenges related to market concentration and prioritization of returns over academic improvement.

Non-state provision raises equity concerns. In upper-middle-income countries, a greater share of non-state actors in total enrolment is associated with greater inequality in attendance. In Uruguay, over 75% of the student body in non-state institutions comes from the richest quintile, compared with less than 40% in public ones. Still, non-state institutions can help provide access to groups at risk of exclusion. In Saudi Arabia, they have expanded access for women by offering female-only courses, while in Malaysia they provide access to ethnic Chinese and Indians barred from public institutions by ethnic quotas. Nevertheless, such separate provision can pose a risk to social cohesion.

Regulatory frameworks tend to reflect government views of non-state actors. Strict regulations are associated with mistrust, while more favourable views of non-state actors can facilitate accreditation, monitoring and even public funding. In some countries, for-profit institutions are subject to stricter guidelines – they can be outlawed entirely, as in Argentina and Chile, or face restrictions on budget allocation, such as the 10% cap on return to investment in the Philippines. Overall, quality assurance mechanisms have helped countries close institutions engaged in deceptive business practices or providing low-quality services. In 2017, Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission identified 153 illegal institutions operating in the country. But resources to accredit and monitor non-state institutions are often lacking.

Equity-promoting regulations are less common than administrative rules. Quotas or special admission criteria designed to improve disadvantaged groups’ access to tertiary education do not always extend to non-state providers. When do they apply, as in India, it is usually only for institutions that receive public funding. Exceptions include obliging non-state institutions to provide grants or scholarships to some students, as in Bolivia and Ecuador, and capping student fees, as in Azerbaijan and Kenya.

Financing modalities of non-state institutions have significant quality and equity implications. Most non-state institutions, especially those that are smaller and non-elite, rely heavily on fees for their funding. But governments also help finance non-state institutions in most countries. Some academic staff are subsidized as civil servants in Indonesia, and a special fund is available to non-state institutions in Thailand. Access to public funds can help improve non-state provision by encouraging research initiatives or, if conditional, pushing institutions to meet quality or equity standards.

Households have taken on a larger share of tertiary education funding, increasing the need for both state and non-state support. Governments may offer targeted fee subsidies to non-state institutions, as in Brazil and Chile, or subsidize student loan programmes, available in over 70 countries to all tertiary students. Non-state actors help households cover costs through scholarships paid for by companies, foundations, NGOs and philanthropists, as well as by providing student loans or income-share agreements.

Non-state actors help finance institutions beyond fees. Common mechanisms include engaging in market activities such as offering land leases, commercializing products and services, and raising capital through loans and bonds. By mid-2020, bond issuance by universities worldwide had reached US$11.4 billion, more than double the amount in 2019. Donors and philanthropists also represent an important non-fee source of revenue for institutions, accounting for over half the total raised by tertiary institutions in the United States in 2020.

Non-state actors influence tertiary education through various channels. Some mechanisms, such as research partnerships, lobbying, businesslike governance reforms and advocacy, can help increase transparency and strengthen the sector. Others, such as sizeable donations from for-profit institutions to politicians (e.g. in Brazil and the United States), may lead to undue influence on policymaking and undermine institutional autonomy.

Technical, vocational and adult education

Chapter 8

Non-state actors have helped expand technical and vocational education provision. Worldwide, 38.5% of students in post-secondary, non-tertiary education opted for private institutions in 2019. In OECD countries, 44% of students in short-cycle tertiary vocational programmes were enrolled in private institutions. Cooperation with non-state actors has aimed to make technical and vocational education and training (TVET) systems more responsive to labour market demands and boost their capacity and resources, even in countries with consolidated public TVET systems. In other contexts, non-state actors have complemented vocational education provision through traditional procurement, autonomous training initiatives and public–private partnerships, mostly coordinated by the state. In poorer countries, non-state actors provide more equitable access to TVET for disadvantaged groups.

Employers engage in formal and informal apprenticeships. The International Labour Organization School-to-Work Transition Survey found that less than 1 in 5 of 15- to 35-year-old participants in 33 countries did at least one apprenticeship as part of their education. Low participation in low-income countries may be linked to informality of labour markets and training systems. If not adequately regulated and recognized, the incentives linked to apprenticeship can be eroded. Intermediary organizations can facilitate dialogue with employers, improve learning and ensure the right match, especially in countries without a solid apprenticeship tradition.

Continuing skills development is mostly provided by private employers. While formal TVET is mainly targeted at occupations at risk of being automated, reskilling and upskilling occur outside traditional education. Non-formal and employer-sponsored training prevails; what is on offer is directly related to the firm’s size. Results from the World Bank’s STEP Skills Measurement Program show that employers prefer on-the-job training to external programmes provided by formal public or private providers.

Participatory governance in skills development systems is challenging. TVET systems remain mainly centralized. National qualification frameworks in more than 150 countries aim to make TVET governance more participatory and fit for purpose, although improving skills’ transparency and relevance remains a priority for public authorities. TVET systems’ effectiveness is hampered by partially implemented quality assurance mechanisms. Interactions between the private and education sectors tend to focus on skills identification rather than curriculum development. Skills systems that cope well with economic change are those relying on tripartite approaches, engaging social and economic actors. Knowledge-oriented public–private partnerships through sector skills councils have been set up to improve understanding of labour market needs.

Skills development systems rely on state and non-state funding. In addition to direct government allocations, TVET systems seek to diversify funding through earmarked training levies or funds involving firms. Non-state actors have also been directly involved through competitive procurement, but with mixed results. Employers are encouraged to provide training through levy-grant programmes. Still, firms underinvest in training, as the incentive for it is consistently lower than the incentive to draw required skills directly from the labour market. Governments provide incentives to individuals by covering direct or indirect training costs through individual learning accounts or entitlements.

Non-governmental and community organizations dominate adult programmes. Through community learning centres, literacy programmes and the like, NGOs and civil society organizations reach out to vulnerable groups of adults traditionally excluded from formal education. In some cases, governments rely on their services to deliver national adult literacy and second chance programmes; in other contexts, such groups have challenged the state’s adult education provision, notably in Latin America, e.g. promoting non-dominant languages in adult literacy; in yet other contexts, they are influenced by donor priorities. Their engagement in development of government policies remains limited, although in western and central Africa, the faire-faire decentralization and outsourcing strategy has led to positive results, with the state supervising and distributing resources while non-state actors are in charge of provision.

The private sector has expanded its role in adult education, especially in language learning. Private companies may engage in adult education through community development, often as part of corporate social responsibility initiatives or information and communication technology provision.

The growing relevance of language learning and assessment has attracted for-profit firms. Around 40% of English learners in Argentina and Peru study with private language institutions. Mobile-assisted language learning is also spreading, but its effectiveness is debated.

Image credits:
Chapter 1: Mikkel Ostergaard/Panos Pictures
Chapter 2: Tarik Abdel-Monem
Chapter 3: Jake Lyell/Alamy Stock Photo
Chapter 4: Robbi Akbari Kamaruddin/Alamy Stock Photo
Chapter 5: Chris Batson/Alamy Stock Photo
Chapter 6: Save the Children
Chapter 7: UNHCR/Lilly Carlisle
Chapter 8: Rupert Oberhäuser/Alamy Stock Photo