Private education, inequalities and human rights guiding principles on states’ obligations regarding private actors’ involvement in education

Coysh, Joanne (2019). 'Private education, inequalities and human rights guiding principles on states’ obligations regarding private actors’ involvement in Education' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA 2019, London, UK.


This roundable discussion connects research, law, policy and practice, bringing together civil society organisations and academics, in a collaborative work between ActionAid and the Institute of education. The research analyses effects of the increasing privatisation in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda using human rights analysis in light of the development of the Guiding Principles.

The discussion will focus on the present state of private provision (and the regulation of that provision) in relation to the established standards laid out in the Guiding Principles with a focus on some of the most relevant principles, notably:

- 1. Segregation/discrimination: focusing on particular groups, including girls, children with disability, people living in poverty) and looking at formal laws and policies as well as some statistics about practice

- 2. Public education: assessing whether there are laws, policies, budgets and/or discourse that support public education in theory and in practice, mapping out the spread and concentration growth and location of private education providers over the last two decades

- 3. Public Private Partnerships: analysing all laws and policies that constitute forms of public support to private actors and testing whether/to what extent they meet the criteria in the Guiding Principles

- 4. Regulation: analysing laws and policies to see whether they meet the minimum threshold of the Guiding Principles and, where possible the extent to which these are being applied

- 5. Financing: analysing the level of financial support being provided by the State (or donors) to private education providers as compared to the public sector; how much parents and families are paying for public/private education; what amounts are lost to harmful tax incentives and how could they be used to finance public education

Connecting academics and activists, these studies draw on research carried out by two ActionAid project: 1) The Breaking Barriers project is a four year, Norad-funded multi country project which seeks to address some of the key barriers that prevent children, especially girls and vulnerable children from enjoying their right to free, quality, inclusive public education in Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania; and 2) The Tax, Privatisation and the Right to Education: influencing education financing policy project is a multi-country education and tax justice project that brings together four countries (Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Pakistan) working towards a common goal, which is to ensure that all children have improved access to public education of a high standard, financed through greater government support and increases in fair tax revenue.

The education laws and policies, together with quantitative and qualitative data about the education system are analysed from a human rights perspective using the Guiding Principles - together with its commentary referring each relevant provision of international law - leading to a series of recommendations for states and civil society in each country.

The country-based research explores how the increasing privatisation of education can exacerbate inequalities and whether governments are fulfilling their obligation to provide truly free and quality education or abdicating this responsibility and leaving it to the private sector to fill some of the gaps. Applying the Guiding Principles, the research evaluates whether the governments are failing to ensure that their laws, policies or practices do not have the direct or indirect effect of creating, furthering, or entrenching discrimination in any educational context, and are not taking measures to prevent and redress disparities of educational opportunity for some groups in society, including people living in poverty. It further asks whether the governments are also failing to adequately regulate private providers to guarantee that education delivered in all private educational institutions is consistent with all the obligations imposed by the international standards of the right to education.

This is a highly innovative collaboration that connecting different disciplines: Law, education and development, contributing to scholarly and evaluative work, with the aim to impact policies so they enhance capabilities.


1. Dr Maria Ron Balsera, Action Aid International (confirmed)

2. Dr Joanne Coysh, UCL Institute of Education (confirmed)

3. Delphine Dorsi, Right to Education (confirmed)

4. David Archer, Action Aid International (not confirmed)

5. Lynsey Robinson, SOAS (confirmed)

6. Jose Luis Benito Canelhas, UCL Institute of Education (confirmed)

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