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Defining a framework for public private partnerships in education

Tue, March 7, 11:45am to 1:15pm, Sheraton Atlanta, Floor: 1, Capitol South (North Tower)


The debate on the potential benefits and disadvantages of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in education is an ongoing one, yet there is little analysis of the effects of a diverse range of PPPs on communities, how providers in partnerships interact with the state and affect the overall system, positively or negatively. In addition to the question of the interest or legitimacy of PPPs, many of the governments that have implemented PPPs have yet to develop and implement adequate regulatory frameworks to ensure that the partnership is aligned with human rights obligations. This involves that the partnership is organized in a way that private sector engagement is sustainable, accountable, and operates in a way that benefits the public system over the long term. Common concerns include that partnerships may fall outside most legal and regulatory mechanisms agreements may be developed in parallel to, rather than in alignment with, existing State initiatives, investments or plans or that they are used as a way of circumventing existing safeguards and regulatory instruments. These challenges are particularly pronounced in States faced with disrupted provision, stark inequalities, low or declining public investments and inadequate regulatory and monitoring capacities in education among other systemic challenges. In their efforts to demonstrate effort and results, states may be inclined, or vulnerable to external pressures, to implement immediate and ‘quick-win’ solutions that may be more harmful to strengthening education systems in the long term.

This paper discusses different approaches and concerted efforts undertaken by a growing body of civil society organisations (CSOs) from the education and human rights fields to reflect on the push, in discourse and practice, for the increased involvement of and partnerships with private actors in education. Specifically, it considers how the human rights framework is increasingly operationalised by domestic CSOs to assess the implications of partnerships for the delivery of education services, looking at the examples of Uganda, Pakistan and Haiti. This effort has resulted in an emergent interpretation of the application of the human rights framework to PPPs in education, including a series of statements from UN bodies based on these empirical cases. It has also provided the basis for engaging a range of education stakeholders in a critical reflection on different models and policy options with the purpose of clarifying the conditions, if any, under which States may develop PPPs to ensure they are compatible with their obligations under international and domestic human rights law. Combined, these legal developments and broad stakeholder engagements have allowed for the development of initial legal principles framing the condition for the involvement of both state and non-state actors in education, including through PPPs. The paper outlines these initial principles related to PPPs, discuss some of their crucial points, and highlight the key challenges and issues that have emerged in defining what is acceptable from a social justice perspective.


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