The privatisation of education is manifesting in increasingly complex ways. These range from the participation of private actors in the provision of education services to the incorporation of business logics in public education. To be sure, the variety of forms in which this phenomenon manifests presents challenges when it comes to ensuring the right to education. In addition to this, States appear to be losing ground in processes of policy formation. Actors as diverse as private corporations, non-governmental organizations and philanthropies have begun to form networks and communities focused on policymaking. Crucially, these groups do not only insert themselves directly into the work of the State but end up sharing in the work of governing.
In a study recently carried out with the support of Education International, we explored the evolution in recent years of these phenomena in the Dominican Republic. In so doing, we analysed the circumstances through which these new forms of privatisation have gained ground.
As we detail in the study, after a long period of disinvestment in education, the government began in the 2010s to invest once again in financing and sector planning. Evidence of this is the significant jump in funding that took effect in 2012, not to mention the bolstering of the technical capacity and policy-related skills of the Ministry of Education, particularly in the areas of planning and evaluation. Nevertheless—and paradoxically—this period coincides with the development of new forms of privatisation that are no longer centered on the provision of education, but rather on the wresting of control over the process of policy formation from government actors.
In this regard, our study reveals two key findings. On one hand, the study highlights the reconfiguration of the structures of the Dominican education system. Here, the movement has been from a system of clear hierarchical structures in which government actors occupy the central roles in the production of policy to a system organised around heterarchies—that is, horizontal networks—made up of non-state actors. While the government participates in these networks, it only represents one of the nodes, rather than being in control of all those involved. On the other hand, the findings of this study show that there has been a reconfiguration of the orientation and purposes of some of these actors, in particular those linked with the business sector. This is the case with the “new generation” of philanthropic organisations, like Inicia Educación, where the move from traditional philanthropy—oriented around the idea of charity—to the model of “new philanthropy” assumes, first, greater political influence on the part of the private sector and, second, a pivoting away from charity-based activities to instead focus on financial investment in social projects with the goal of generating profit being more or less explicit.
Privatisation of education policy
As shown in the study, although non-state actors began to participate in processes of policy formation prior to the 2010s, it is impossible to de-link current developments from the recent and significant jump in government funding to education that began in 2012. This apparent paradox, where increased public funding is accompanied by an increased involvement of private actors in policymaking, is explained by the fact that growing public budgets make the sector more attractive for the private sector.
It is hoped that the results of this study contribute to generating critical debate about the tensions that exist between the right of all to a quality education, on one hand, and the involvement of private actors in processes of policy formation, on the other. In particular, we hope to promote debate about the risks that are implied, from the perspective of democratic accountability, by governance approaches wherein private actors are able to intervene in the setting of public policy.
To access the research (in Spanish) please click here.