Worlds of Education

Privatisation: an international problem needs a united solution

published 9 May 2019 updated 9 May 2019

By Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary National Education Union, United Kingdom

Teachers enter the profession as champions of a human right – the right to education. We dedicate our careers to advancing the opportunities of the next generation and facilitating the delivery of a public good.

To many governments and politicians around the world, however, the purpose of education is changing. No longer is it something to be celebrated and invested in, valued as highly as the rights to freedom, speech and religion. Instead, education is being commodified, with a public good becoming a private interest.

Here in the United Kingdom, one element of privatisation is academisation. In this model, public schools are removed from democratic accountability and handed over to private actors, governed by a board of trustees rather than the elected public authority.

Though not explicitly allowed to operate for-profit, some academies and trusts have found a way to reap huge profits through related-party transactions, where contracts with known parties (family members, for instance) are secured for large sums. The promise of academisation – to improve education for all – has not been realised. Instead, we are left with an unaccountable system, failing in terms of quality and equality.

Not satisfied with pushing this failing model domestically, the UK Government is now exporting so-called British expertise internationally and pushing privatisation around the world.

The NEU’s new report In Whose Interest? The UK’s role in privatising education around the world, published in partnership with Global Justice Now, explores the many ways in which the UK is actively and tacitly supporting education privatisation. From funding research to investing in private schools to promoting Public-Private Partnerships, the agenda is clear. And we as educators and unionists must stand in the way.

It is with pride that I have joined my fellow educators for many years in this global struggle, supporting Education International’s Global Response and attending numerous demonstrations outside British edu-business Pearson.

The NEU stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our colleagues in the Global South, both in defiance of our Government’s privatisation through aid and in their own Government’s support for this agenda. Our brothers and sisters in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Pakistan, Nepal, Chile, Peru and many, many more countries all face a similar fight. And we must stand together to defeat it.

For privatisation is not waning. In fact. In its 2018 Education Strategy Get Children Learning, the UK’s Department for International Development claimed that “non-state providers, including low-cost private schools, play an important – and growing – role in delivering education in low- and middle-income countries.” Instead of seeing this as problematic given that the Department also believes that “the state is the guarantor of quality basic education for all”, the Government sees the gap in state provision as an opportunity.

Indeed, the UK’s newly released International Education Strategy asserts that “overseas development activity helps UK education trade and investment opportunities overseas and strengthens UK influence.” I would like to take this opportunity to reassure our brothers and sisters in the Global South that I categorically disagree with the Conservative Government on this matter and will stand with you in your fight against privatisation, both domestically and internationally.

This fight will only grow in importance as new technologies arise. Artificial Intelligence, among other EdTech innovations, will seek to reduce costs in the classroom – and again, we stand in the way of its improper implementation. Privatisation is an international problem that requires a united solution. The NEU stands ready for the fight.

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