Designing effective public-private partnerships in education

Kids at school Effective public-private partnerships in education are innovative, hold schools accountable, empower parents and students, and promote diverse educational institutions. Copyright: Shutterstock

To be effective, public-private partnerships (PPPs) in education, need to be innovative, hold schools accountable, empower parents and students, and promote diverse educational institutions. A clear legal and regulatory framework is crucial to achieving a sustainable solution. Best practice would include rigorous impact evaluation to find out what works, how and for whom.

Partnership here is interpreted widely and all-encompassing: Non-state/private providers include independent schools, non-governmental organizations, faith-based providers, as well as fee-charging private schools. However, the partnerships envisaged are underpinned by a common goal, risk sharing, and a commitment to raising achievement for the most under-served in society.

More specifically, PPPs in education need to:

  • Encourage innovation by providers: Most high achieving countries allow their schools substantial autonomy over managing resources, personnel, and educational content.
  • Hold providers accountable: If schools are given autonomy over decision making, they must be held accountable for the outputs they produce.
  • Empowering parents and students: Options for parents and students should not depend on wealth or student ability.
  • Promote diversity of supply: By facilitating market entry for a more diverse set of providers, governments can increase the responsibility for results, as providers subsequently become directly accountable to citizens as well as to the state.

The best PPPs in education include an enhanced role for beneficiaries, more opportunities for non-state actors, and an evolved role for government, moving from provider to financier and steward of the sector.

Design matters

When do PPPs work? In short, they are most effective when there is:

  • Adequate supply: The non-state sector moves in when public options are lacking, especially in rural, underserved areas. There needs to be supply in the private sector with excess capacity.
  • Targeting: To promote equity and add value, PPP models that involve the public sector by providing modern school buildings and inviting top independent schools to run them on a contract basis have produced superior results for disadvantaged students.
  • Budget: PPPs help improve access while reducing fiscal cost and maintaining quality, making the system more cost effective.
  • A systemic approach: PPPs should address underlying conditions, whether that includes underperforming schools or institutional constraints, such as HR issues or curriculum/standards. There should also be scope for learning (by the public sector as well as vice versa) and spill over.
  • Autonomy: PPPs should operate under an accountability framework, but they work best when the provider has managerial and academic autonomy.

When do PPPs not work? They are less effective when:

Examples of poor design in PPPs can be lessons for us. In one example, a program was investigated and found to have produced negative achievement results, especially in math, though they do diminish after the first year but persist after four years. The lessons are clear: Focus on areas with private schools; ensure schools administer tests; and take time to plan/roll out the program.

Another example from Liberia points to weaknesses in design. The government partnered with private organizations to run 93 public primary schools, giving them full autonomy. The rigorous evaluation showed that the program improved student outcomes significantly, teachers were better qualified, there was higher quality instruction, students and parents were satisfied, among other positive achievements. However, most of the research conducted on the program recommends clearer contracts and regulations with increased government oversight to maintain the integrity of the program.

These examples can be contrasted with the case of the Netherlands. A national choice program where all schools – public and private – are involved, with no school zones/districts, and parents choose even public schools. Overall, there are no differences and the country scores high in international assessments. However, when the model is examined rigorously, it is shown that there are positive effects for choice. It continues to be a best practice example of how the state can manage private schools.

Examples from Pakistan also show how good design helps. The various models include the Punjab Education Foundation’s Foundation Assisted Schools (FAS), Education Voucher Scheme (EVS), and New School Program (NSP), and the government’s Punjab School Support Program (PSSP). More than two million children are enrolled through PPPs. Rigorous evaluations show positive impacts on the number of students, teachers, classrooms, and classroom supplies such as blackboards, and test scores. The programs have an appropriate legal framework, strong decision-making mechanisms, and open process, clear contracts, upfront agreements on service delivery and infrastructure, a well-developed website with information for partners, and follow-up and close monitoring and evaluation agreed up front.


Harry A. Patrinos

Senior Adviser, Education

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