International Call

PRIVATIZATION OF EDUCATION:
ACCESS TO QUALITY DATA

While the privatization1 of education is a growing phenomenon, and the literature has widely documented its harmful consequences, such as the increase in educational and social inequalities, it remains difficult to gain access to the data that would allow an in-depth analysis of this issue. More specifically, the unavailability or poor quality of statistics, as well as other obstacles to conducting field research, prevent a detailed understanding of these processes in both Northern and Southern countries. Furthermore, many studies in this area are often funded by powerful pro-private sector lobbies, which calls into question the impartiality of the conclusions reached.2

In the course of their work, the rapporteurs encountered the difficulty of precisely defining private for-profit higher education and the lack of public data on the topic. In fact, there is no legal definition of private for-profit higher education, and the Department's statistical tools allow for only very partial monitoring of the sector, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of students are involved.

Even when information on schools is publicly available, it may be irrelevant or misleading: Measures of school quality tend to be narrow, naive and subject to schools manipulating data to make themselves appealing.

Without reliable information, how can we develop policies that guarantee equitable access to quality education, as called for in many international declarations? If all those involved in education share this vision, why limit access to data? In addition to the weaknesses related to the quality of control and regulatory tools, we hypothesize that studies on this topic could closely question spheres of economic and political influence that could harm their interests. This could even lead to researchers censoring themselves or abandoning studies on these major challenges because they feel endangered.

International bodies such as UNESCO, which are responsible for monitoring the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on education, should encourage governments to ensure the availability of high-quality quantitative and qualitative data on the entire education sector in order to facilitate serious studies on the privatization of education. In addition, those who wish to access public information on education should be able to do so in complete safety and without being threatened or harmed.

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1 The privatization of education does not simply mean the transfer of prerogatives to the private sector, but also involves a complex stratification of public-private partnerships, public subsidies to private entities, private educational initiatives supported by the state, or private mechanisms mobilized by public entities.

2 All these arguments are detailed and illustrated in the Global Education Monitoring Report, 2021/2: Non-state Actors in Education: Who Chooses? Who Loses?