Worlds of Education

Why we can’t see the PPP picture clearly

published 17 October 2017 updated 17 October 2017

By Lynsey Robinson, EQUIPPPS & Jasmine Gideon, Birkbeck, University of London

The landscape of partnerships in international development has been changing rapidly over the past decade, with significant realignment of roles between the state, private and third sectors [i].This has led to Public Private Partnerships [ii] being promoted as the solution to a wide range of development challenges by multilateral development banks (significantly the World Bank), development institutions, bi-lateral donors, national governments and other organisations [iii].

Although PPPs first emerged in Europe in the 1980s, it is only in the last ten years or so that they have experienced something of a revival. This can be seen in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 17 which covers the financing of the SDGs, and the need to unlock the “transformative power of trillions of dollars of private resources”. (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/globalpartnerships/

Across sectors, PPPs are often framed as an innovative policy approach. In this narrative, the private sector is viewed as being uniquely able to overcome development challenges with innovative, technological, and more efficient approaches to the development issues faced by the state. However, there is increasing criticism from academics, civil society organisations and activists who challenge these claims.

The Equalities in Public Private Partnerships (EQUIPPPS) strategic network was recently formed, with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council's Global Challenges Research Funding, to better understand the role of PPPs in development more generally. The network brings together academics, policy makers, development practitioners and other stakeholders, with expertise on education, housing, health and water, from a range of disciplinary backgrounds.

Lack of Evidence

One of the issues that the network is concerned with addressing is the lack of evidence to back up the claims in support of PPPs across different sectors (e.g., education, health, water, housing). Several recent papers question the ability of PPPs to contribute to poverty reduction or inequalities [iv], suggesting that PPPs may be constraining the overall aim of the SDGs, to realize the human rights of all, through this financing mechanism. However, where there is evidence of this nature it has tended to be sector specific. This limits our ability to take a cross-sectoral approach to analysing public-private policies and how they impact poverty, inequalities and society as a whole.

Why do we need to think about PPPs cross-sectorally?

The interconnections between sectors means that whether PPPs decrease or increase inequalities, poverty and marginalisation in one sector matters, and will have consequences for other sectors. Focusing PPP research and evaluation only on, for example, education without also considering other sectors, gives a very narrow view of the situation. Without water and adequate housing, an individual would struggle to stay healthy, and healthy children and teachers are a pre-requisite for quality teaching and learning. Further, without access to quality education, accessing healthcare becomes more difficult.

This means that we need to analyse the impact of PPPs cross-sectorally in order to establish whether they really are effective in reducing poverty and inequality, and in advancing human rights. In other words, what impact does the increased role of the private sector in the provision of, for example, healthcare, education, water and housing, have on the ideal of human rights and the duty of individual states to fulfil these?

This question cuts across all sectors and raises further questions about the nature of society, and the shifting relationship between the state and its citizens, and the state’s obligation to protect and fulfil human rights.

Understanding the impact of PPPs across sectors gives a broader view of the changes taking place within society and the effect of the changes on the most marginalised. If we really want to address issues of inequality, the undermining of human rights, and other challenges facing the world today, it is of vital importance that we work cross-sectorally.

We can no longer afford to stay in sector-specific silos but must better understand the linkages and connections between them, and the potentially negative impact PPPs have on the advancement of human rights.

The EQUIPPPS network is doing this by bringing together people from different sectors and disciplines, with expertise on PPPs in health, education, water, and housing. This pools together the resources and knowledge that has been built, and allows for new and innovative approaches to the study of PPPs to advance.

Find out more about the work of EQUIPPPPS here. 

[i] Gideon, J. and Unterhalter, E. (2017).  Exploring public private partnerships in health and education: a critique Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy, 33(2), pp.136-141.

[ii] Broadly, financial and governance arrangements between the public (the state) and the private sector

[iii] Bayliss, K., & Van Waeyenberge, E. (2017).  Unpacking the Public Private Partnership Revival The Journal of Development Studies, pp.1-17.

[iv] For education see for e.g Verger, A., & Moschetti, M. (2017).  Public-Private Partnerships as an Education Policy Approach: Multiple Meanings, Risks and Challenges. UNESCO - Education Research and Foresight Working Papers, 19.

Verger, A. and  Moschetti, M. (2017).  Partnering with the Private Sector in the Post-2015 Era? Main Political and Social Implications in the Educational Arena. In B. Caracciolo, C. Cheuvart, C. Dragomirescu-Gaina, S. Gonzales Del Pino, R. Mutafchieva & V. Ntousas (Eds).  Progressive lab for sustainable development: From vision to action. Brussels: FEPS-Solidar.

Unterhalter, E. (2017).  A review of public private partnerships around girls' education in developing countries: flicking gender equality on and off Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy,  33 (2), 181-199.

For health see for e.g Hawkes, S., Buse, K., & Kapilashrami, A. (2017).  Gender blind? An analysis of global public-private partnerships for health Globalization and Health, 13(1), 26.

Gideon, J., Murray, S.F., & Hunter, B.M. (2017).  Public-private partnerships in sexual and reproductive healthcare provision: establishing a gender analysis Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy,  33 (2), 166-180. 

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.