And yet more challenges . . .

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Regulating private education is a major issue in meeting the huge and growing demand for education in emerging economies.  The main challenges are connected and include the following:

1. Protectionism from the public providers

In too many countries regulatory constraints come from the desire of established public providers to head off challenges from the private sector, with restraints on trade cloaked in cultural causes.  This is especially the case in higher education and for out-of-country providers.  Public and private providers should face common standards as far as possible and a common or similar accreditation and QA regime.

2. Keeping out the ‘bottom-feeders’

However there are risks:  too many countries have encouraged private provision only to regret it later (e.g. Indonesia) then lift the barriers or try to establish late a standards-based regime.  I don’t mean the outright illegal operations, the paper shops; I mean those that are flouting standards and just getting away with it for want of a robust accreditation and QA regime, deliberately falsifying the offerings and failing to provide mandated or promised services like qualified teachers, libraries or clean classrooms.  Often their existence relies on lack of resources for the public regulator, but developed and emerging economies share similar difficulties in regulating the ‘bottom-feeders’ (a fishing analogy) and this makes the case to government for public-private equivalence, or industry self-regulation, very difficult.  These rogue providers should not be confused with good low-cost providers, ‘cheap and cheerful’ who may not have the status of well-endowed institutions across town.

3. The wide range of providers . . .

4. Getting to the poorest citizens . . .

5. Regulating for non-remunerative education services . . .

David Wilmoth, Guest Commentator
Learning Cities International Pty Ltd, Australia

3. The wide range of providers

Regulatory regimes try to differentiate too finely between different education subsectors – for-profit and not-for-profit, faith-based and secular, local and foreign-owned – and create mountains of paperwork, overlapping categories, often overseen by different agencies.  Better to have common standards, at least for major subsectors (K12, VET, higher education) and put providers to transparent and preferably peer-reviewed regulatory tests.

4. Getting to the poorest citizens

Often the private and community sector/s bear the burden of providing places for those with little means, growing up from community self-provision to full licensing.  The regulatory process has to have a way to allow this self-starting to occur, and in some ways regulating this pathway to institutional maturity so as to encourage start-ups and upgrades does challenge my own point about common standards for all.

5. Regulating for non-remunerative education services

There is a further challenge perhaps more characteristic of higher education but embedded in the other sectors too: private providers (at least, for-profit providers, though in many countries profit motives are wrapped up in non-profit packaging) are kept separate because they are seen as uninterested in anything other than teaching and learning.  Research, community service, and contributions to national development are seen as prerogatives of public institutions, justifying a separate and less autonomous existence to private institutions, and in some cases (for higher education providers) lack of access to the right to be called a university.  There is truth to this and it remains a challenge even for a unified, standards-based, transparent and adequately-resourced system to accommodate such difference.

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