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Are Public-Private Partnerships in Education Acceptable from a Human Rights Perspective?

Thu, March 29, 11:30am to 1:00pm, Fiesta Inn Centro Histórico, Floor: Lobby Floor, Room A

Group Submission Type: Panel Session


Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in education are highly contested in the global education space, both as a policy model and specific interventions on the ground. The contracting of the private sector by states under different arrangements, including private operation of public schools, subsidized (for profit) private education provision and vouchers schemes are increasingly promoted as an innovative and effective policy approaches to address a range of challenges faced by education systems, particularly in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Partnership arrangements, in particular, are expected to play an important role in implementing strategies for realizing the goals and targets under the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for education, SDG4, with SDG 17 promoting the use of PPPs. At the same time, PPPs have given rise to several concerns and challenges for equity and accountability. In various contexts in the global South and North, emerging research on diverse PPP interventions finds evidence that these have created or entrenched segregation within systems, depressed teachers’ pay, and have accelerated processes of education privatization, among other implications. These challenges are particularly pronounced in contexts faced with disrupted provision, low or declining public investments and inadequate regulatory and monitoring capacities in education, among other systemic challenges.

While the debate on the potential benefits and disadvantages of PPP in education is an ongoing one, there is still little analysis of the structural effects of a diverse range of PPPs, on communities, and how providers in partnerships interact with the state and affect the overall system, positively or negatively. In particular, there are few studies on PPPs that address equity concerns and even less that bring a human rights perspective to the debate on PPPs.

This panel brings together empirical cases that assess the equity and human rights impacts of specific PPP interventions in different contexts, including a sector-wide PPP scheme in secondary schools in Uganda; World Bank funding of per-student subsidies or “tuition replacement vouchers” for low fee private schools in Punjab province in Pakistan; and, a recently introduced ‘collaborative school’ model in the Western Cape in South Africa. Additional presentations examine how the human rights framework is increasingly operationalized by civil society in different parts of the world to address complex processes and dynamics, such as public private partnerships, that impact on the realization of the right to education. This work has led to the development of in a set of human rights Guiding Principles on States’ obligations regarding the provision of education, including public funding of private schools. The multi-operator PPP in education implemented by the government of Liberia in early 2016 is held up to scrutiny against this framework. Together these presentations reflect on how different PPPs models and interventions impact on key dimensions of the right to education and argue that the human rights framework can help to define the conditions under which states might partner with non-state actors in line with principles of equality and non-discrimination, participation and accountability.

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