Expansion of Private Higher Education

The demand for private higher education is increasing in Bangladesh. Image source: eiu.com
The demand for private higher education is increasing in Bangladesh. Image source: eiu.com
Gazi Mahbubul Alam
Written by Gazi Mahbubul Alam

According to UNESCO, the region provides higher education including private higher education to just 3.5 of the college age population, compared with 60 per cent in industrialised countries. In Kenya, 66 per cent of high school graduates that qualified for university admission in national examinations were unable to secure a place at one of the country’s six public universities. That left some 22,000 students without access to public HE. Similar figures exist for countries in West and Central Africa and Southern Asia.

Amaral and Teixeira’s research into policies in Poland also highlighted two interesting phases. The first phase shows that the country’s HE policy of 1987-91 increased the higher education enrolment rate. According to the policy, university entry requirements were lower than in previous years and introducing a ‘compassionate system’ in examinations increased the number of secondary graduates, encouraging the establishment of private universities to fill the gap. A second phase revealed that, after political changes in Poland, the successor was more intent on quality rather than quantity, introducing a ‘strict system’ of university admission and secondary examination. This resulted in many private universities being closed down. Huong and Fry found in their studies in Vietnam that students were more concerned about studying in a university, rather than studying the necessary subjects and courses to gain suitable employment. This resulted in higher enrolment numbers into university education.

Influence of international agencies

The development of private HE in the developing world began in the early 1990s. Rapid expansion took place between the late 1990s and the early 2000s. In the early and mid 1990’s, the World Bank (WB) put verbal pressure on third world governments to favour privatization of tertiary education. In the late 1990s and early 2000s the WB formally played a rigorous role. For example, it called for a ‘lighter touch’ in regulating HE, advocating that developing countries remove restrictions from the private provision of education services. Through the operation of the International Financial Corporation (IFC), the World Bank supported private investment in education, particularly at secondary and tertiary level in the developing world, with the aim of enabling public resources to be targeted towards increased access to better quality basic education. In consideration of the above, it may be claimed that international agencies, in particular the World Bank (WB) and World Trade Organisation (WTO), are influential in emphasising the role of the market in educational provision.

Global education industry

The growth of this sector is also a response by overseas institutions to capture the higher education market and to benefit financially. This is informed by financial austerity and stringency issues in the North. There has been considerable convergence of higher education institutions globally in recent years in terms of institutional models and the structure of studies, with common curricular elements in English the primary language of science and scholarship. The World Trade Organisation (through the General Agreement on Trade in Services – GATS) and World Bank are influential in promoting private sector involvement in education. The WTO’s memorandum on Education Services emphasises the need to create the conditions within different countries for greater liberalisation of education services and to privilege a market system of educational provision. It is notable, however, that member countries have so far made very few commitments for education services and have any privileged services like energy instead. While Bangladesh has signed the GATS agreement, it is notable that very little funding has been set aside for education. In the developing world, is associated with the obtaining of qualifications from international providers, who themselves find the export of education to make good business sense. Specifically, overseas private HE is perceived to provide educational advantages for learners with regard to having, for example, an ‘international qualification’ that local institutions are unable to provide.

This reason for the increasing prominence of private education is related to the policy of educational decentralisation advocated by various governments and international agencies during the 1990s Educational decentralisation, particularly in the developing world, has created greater private sector involvement in educational provision through deregulation of state monopoly. This, it is argued, will increase efficiency and generate additional resources.

Differentiated demand

The advanced growth of private education is the differentiated demand for educational services. This proposition suggests that, even if the state were to provide sufficient places in public schools and universities, the need remains to meet the particular demands of specific groups, for example, religious groups. State education is based on uniform and consistent provision, and as such does not necessarily provide an education for those with different needs or specific interests. Where there are such differentiated demands, private schools and universities can fulfil the requirements

However, the idea of differentiated demand presumes that private HE accommodates diverse needs of a heterogeneous market. The diversity/plurality principles are further used to argue that private HE institutions can respond more quickly to specific labour market demands when compared with public institutions.

Elite demand

Private HE emerges in response to demands for a better quality of education for the children of wealthy and prosperous sections of society, providing them with a competitive advantage in the labour market. Elite guardians want to create an ‘elite and prestigious schooling environment’ where their children will not have the opportunity to form relationships with students from poorer economical backgrounds. In this argument, “private education is seen as a bearer of qualities which public education is perceived to lack”. This suggests that within societies there is a need for better quality education than that provided by the public HE sector.

The rationale is based on a negative view of state education, in that it is perceived to be incapable of meeting the demand for relevant skills and knowledge, or it does so inadequately. The provision of a quality education to meet the demands of the elite is seen to be of increasing importance, as the ‘Education for All’ agenda focused attention on lower levels of education and resulted in its rapid expansion. This expansion has often been at the expense of quality, and at the same time restricting resources and places at higher levels. The point of ‘quality education’ as provided by the private sector is not always true, but it remains a fact that private education often offers a substandard education. The private HE sector also provides the less capable student from an elite background with access to the HE system, thereby restricting enrolment opportunities for bright students from poorer backgrounds. It may therefore be assumed that, once inept students are within the system, private HE institutions may find it difficult to provide a high level of education due to the lower overall capability of their students.

The growth of private higher education raises many issues. These include financial propriety, skewed access biased in favour of particular groups, curriculum content, staffing and staff training. Key questions arise concerning what should be regulated and how, and what information should be available to those choosing to participate. The questions put the balance of state and markets in educational provision and the consequence of more, rather than less, private provision for the achievement of national goals into sharp focus.

In conclusion, an increasing enrolment rate influences the expansion of private education in the developing world. This especially applies to HE provision, as the government is more concerned with investing its education budget at the primary level in order to achieve the ‘Education for All’ agenda. A decreasing student enrolment rate forced private schools to close. However, this will have a negative impact, in terms of quality and on the long term vision, as demonstrated in Portugal where an artificial demand to establish a private sector was created.

About the author

Gazi Mahbubul Alam

Gazi Mahbubul Alam

Dr. Gazi mahbubul Alam is a faculty member of the Department of Educational Management, Planning & Policy, Faculty of Education, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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