UK aid budget fuelling profits of corporate education providers

By agency reporter
April 21, 2019

A new report from UK civil society organisation Global Justice Now and the National Education Union, the largest education union in Europe, has been published. The report, titled In Whose Interest? The UK’s role in privatising education around the world, lays out the UK Department for International Development’s policies and programmes that are contributing to a privatisation agenda.

In Whose Interest? highlights how Official Development Assistance (ODA) has been supporting privatisation through grants to education businesses, support for pro-private research, and consultancy contracts with UK-based businesses, among other methods. The latter includes the Girls’ Education Challenge (II), which alone will see a £32.7 million consultancy fee paid to PWC.

In Whose Interest? also illustrates how privatisation is problematic in terms of equality, quality, and accountability in education, and how it is undermining public education systems. Fees, non-inclusive providers who do not provide for children with additional needs, and unqualified teachers all contribute to a poorer and less equal learning experience for children relying on low-fee private schools. Other systems, such as the proposed Education Outcomes Fund, could enable profit-making (through interest paid to investors) in education financing.

While DFID Ministers have claimed on several occasions that over 95 per cent of the UK’s spending on education goes to the public sector, DFID’s response to a Parliamentary Question in early 2019 indicated that this figure “includes for-profit organisations who deliver services through the public education system.” DFID also stated that this figure represented “a one-off exercise” in 2016/17 that gave “a snapshot of the education portfolio at the time” based on a methodology that would be “too costly” to repeat. Given this, the 95 per cent figure adds little to DFID’s position.

Importantly, In Whose Interest? makes parallels between DFID’s work internationally and the academisation programme in England.

Both internationally and in England, accountability has been made  problematic through privatisation of education. In England, academies have found ways to circumvent the Government’s no-profit policy through so-called “related-party transactions”, where an academy enters into a commercial relationship with an organisation that is related through common directors or family members. A total of £134 million was paid out by academy trusts on related-party transactions in 2017-18, up from £122 million in 2015-16. This is just one of the many issues related to academisation in England that is mirrored in privatising education internationally.

The UK is one of the biggest funders to international education globally and continues to deliver on the 0.7 per cent GNI commitment made in 2015. In Whose Interest? recommends that this welcome funding for global education is fully supportive of public education systems. The report further recommends a renewed focus on tax justice and domestic resource mobilisation to instead fund robust public education systems.

Mary Bousted, joint General Secretary of the NEU, said: “Education is a human right and a public good. The Government’s blatant privatisation of education domestically and internationally is commercialising this right and favouring profits over pupils. It’s time that the Government, including the Department for International Development and the Department for Education, recognises that their ideological push for privatisation isn’t delivering the quality, inclusive, and free education all children and young people deserve.”

Ed Lewis, aid campaigner at Global Justice Now, said: “It is shocking that the UK aid budget is being used to fuel the profits of corporate education providers around the world, rather than boost the public systems which get the best results for children. It is not just a minor portion of our aid spending on education, it is a significant share – and it is disturbing that the Government seems uninterested in even monitoring it accurately. Ministers must stop seeing the aid budget as an inconvenient promise to be diverted towards big business, and start seeing it as a means to tackle the continuing scandal of global poverty. That means putting pupils before profit.”

* Read In Whose Interest? The UK’s role in privatising education around the world here

* Global Justice Now https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/

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