Significant progress has been made over the past few decades towards increasing access to education at all levels and improving basic literacy. However, there are still major deficiencies in the quality of education at all levels, access to early childhood education, as well as gender equality and access to higher education.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for education set targets for 2030 that include, among others, full access to high quality schooling from early childhood through secondary, equitable access to affordable technical, vocational and tertiary education, and more investment in education facilities to improve learning environments. Meeting these challenges will require continued and expanded public commitment of resources and leadership, efforts to encourage innovation and technology, and a consideration for the role of the private sector in achieving public education goals.
Public-private partnerships (PPPs) in education are long-term contractual relationships between the government and a private provider for all or some part of the delivery of education infrastructure and services. They have been used to provide the framing structure through which to bring the public and private sectors together to complement each other’s strengths in the financing and provision of education services. PPPs can help extend the reach and effectiveness of government funds, encourage innovation in education, increase safety, efficiency, and capacity of physical educational infrastructure, and given the right public policy context, extend access to educational services and parity of services received across a population. They allow government to maintain strategic, financial and regulatory control over public education, allowing them step back from the day-to-day delivery and management of the infrastructure and/or service in situations where their resources are limited.
PPPs have been widely applied to the delivery of education facilities in the last 15 years. The early generation of PPPs, in the United Kingdom and Europe were focused on supply-side interventions such as improving the construction and maintenance of school infrastructure at the primary and secondary levels. The same concepts were then applied to demand-side constraints to respond to the quality of education management and pedagogy, through concessions for the delivery of education services (school management and teaching), to strengthen equity in access through demand-side financing schemes such as school vouchers, and blended models to address both infrastructure and services such as Charter Schools in the United States or the Academies of the United Kingdom. More recently, PPPs have extended into early childhood education and technical and vocational education and training (TVET), as opportunities for PPPs in these areas are seen as viable and necessary by governments to achieve education for all throughout the education life cycle.
The Infrastructure Journal projects database shows that between 1995 and 2012 a total of 383 PPP transactions have closed in the education sector, a total value of approximately $40 billion. This data does not reflect much of the activity in emerging markets, so actual global volumes are likely to be even higher.
Note that the following set of key issues in the design and delivery of education PPPs, and their success, depend on system accountability that enables checks and balances. For example, indicators should be measured but if there is no accountability mechanism to incentive or penalize performance, then performance measurement is meaningless.