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Expansion of private higher education

Private universities have been expanding rapidly worldwide but particularly in developing countries, as rising demand for higher education has meant private providers plug a gap that publicly-financed institutions cannot fill fast enough, according to a new study.

"Half a century ago there were very few countries with private higher education. Now there are very few countries which do not have it," said NV Verghese, head of governance and management in education at UNESCO's International Institute for Education Planning, in presenting a the study on private higher education provision*.

Speaking at the UNESCO conference on Monday, Verghese said private higher education was the fastest growing sector in education and had increased its share of higher education provision.Worldwide around 30% of higher education enrolments are now estimated to be in private institutions, even though public provision is still expanding in many countries.Growth in private universities has been particularly strong in former Soviet bloc countries, in East Asia and in Latin America.

Contrary to popular belief many Asian countries, including India as well as many English-speaking African countries, now have higher levels of private higher education provision than the United States which has remained almost stable in the last few decades at around 20-25% of total enrolments at private institutions.

Indonesia, Japan, Philippines and Korea have more than 70% of enrolled students in private institutions, though elsewhere in Asia, in Cambodia, China, Thailand and Vietnam, the share is below 15%.

Chile, Brazil and El Salvador also have more than half their students in private institutions. In Chile this is almost three quarters of the student population. On average, students in private institutions in Latin America have grown from around 40% in the 1970s to almost 50% now and this has coincided with unprecedented expansion in public universities as well.

The proportion of students in private universities is lowest in Western European, Francophone African, and Arab countries at less than 10% of enrolments while only 3% of Australian students are in private universities.

The bulk of the new private providers in Africa have religious backers "whose motives are based on ensuring that students acquire traditional and faith-based values alongside a quality education," the report said.

The success of the Education For All programme to get as many children into primary and secondary education has resulted in what UNESCO calls a "bulge of qualified learners and frequently inadequate provision available to meet demand": "In many emerging economies the demand can be 20-50% higher than places available in public institutions," the report said.

Higher education is very expensive compared to primary and secondary education and governments simply cannot afford expansion to meet demand. This has led in part to more favourable policies towards private education providers, the report said, adding: "The private sector has removed a financial burden from the state and has helped contribute skilled manpower
to the economy."

The report quotes predictions that the demand for higher education worldwide will have expanded from 97 million students in 2000 to more than 262 million by 2025. But the rapid growth of the private sector, particularly since the 1980s and 1990s, is bringing its own challenges for government in terms of quality control as well as equitable access. Private institutions tend to exclude the most disadvantaged because of their high fees.

Elite western institutions setting up branches in Asia and the Middle East attract a lot of attention, some of it negative, and the report notes that many are "proudly Western-oriented". But t is the "non-elite" private universities that are "growing like mushrooms," Verghese said, adding that small private institutions springing up in Africa and Asia are offering courses such as computer programming, accountancy and finance.

"Many of these disciplines are closely responding to the growth of the corporate sector in these countries. As the public sector has declined and employment in the private sector has increased, these courses have also increased to meet demand and opportunities in the private sector," he

Such institutions offer "market-friendly" courses and students are ready to pay fees if they are guaranteed to get work. Most students are not choosing these institutions over other institutions as much as choosing them over nothing, the report noted.

Yet rapid expansion has led to criticism that some providers offer only niche courses where they are able to charge a premium and where there is greatest demand such as business studies. Much of the antagonism against private universities is directed against international providers who are "often at a disadvantage owing to their ignorance of the culture and procedures of the country where they want to operate," it said.

Many decide to enter into partnerships with local providers to redress this. It was estimated that the private education market in 2006 approached US$400 billion worldwide and this would continue to grow.

* A New Dynamic: Private higher education, Svava Bjarnason, et al; UNESCO, 2009.

Yes this is good article but I have some knowledge regarding privatisation. In Privatization of Higher Education in India, Jandhyala BG Tilak, a senior economist at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration in New Delhi, traces the privatisation process over the last 15 years and is critical of the government's policy on privatisation of higher education in India. I am satisfied with your views that it has increased employeement, but at some points I do not agree with you.

Yes, privatisation of education has made education easier to obtain for the student, but it is also true that privatisation has made education so costly that' only students who can afford it are getting higher education in private colleges. Another disadvantage of privatisation is the reckless growth of private institutions - it is not just equity, a well-known fact, but also the quality of higher education. Few private colleges offer quality higher education and many have been started with the sole goal of making quick profits. Philanthropy, charity and education, which were considerations of the private sector in education in the past, no longer seem to figure as motives. Government''s inability to regulate private institutions is also becoming increasingly obvious.

Neel Kamal
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