GLOBAL: IFC plans private education strategy

The ability of private tertiary education to give emerging economies a shot in the arm will be debated this week at a major conference in Washington DC, staged by the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank. Senior academics - such as Sir Graeme Davies, Vice-Chancellor and President of Britain's University of London - will be participating at the event called 'Investing in the Future: Innovation in Private Education'.

Encouraging private investors to sink capital into developing and emerging market countries is the raison d'être of the IFC, and the international organisation has high hopes for the education sector. In a conference briefing note, it explained: "In the past five years it has become evident that private education can have a significant impact on emerging countries.

Many governments are promoting private sector growth to increase educational capacity at all levels, while working to meet relevant standards and quality benchmarks. Entrepreneurs are also increasingly investing in the sector, bringing new perspectives and fresh approaches."

The corporation's Executive Vice-president Lars Thunell said: "Global spending on education has risen substantially over the past decade. There is a demand for more and better services, and governments are embracing private sector participation as a way to increase quality and efficiency. Nowhere is this felt more keenly than in the emerging markets, where demand is presenting significant opportunities."

Speakers and debaters at the conference (14-16 May) will examine new investment models and innovations, while considering barriers to private investment growth in the education sector. They will also look at how the IFC and the World Bank can work more effectively with universities, education financiers, governments, foundations and others to boost private education investment.

Davies will moderate a discussion on investment models, with a panel including Richard Miller, President of Olin College of Engineering, Massachusetts, Frances Ferreira, education specialist at the Commonwealth of Learning organisation, and Dave Taylor, Dean of LimKokWing University of Creative Technology, a private university in Malaysia.

The discussions will focus on investment relationships involving public, private and philanthropic organisations. As the IFC explained: "There are numerous examples of triangular partnerships to create and develop relationships with public sector institutions, government (including municipal and regional), industry, philanthropic and private sector education providers."

The academics will debate new models emerging in public-private partnerships and private finance initiatives, ask how philanthropists and charitable foundations can generate more educational development, and examine creative new approaches for private investors to work alongside philanthropic bodies.

Other themes will include student lending facilities and how loan systems are growing in developed and developing countries. Specialists will discuss indicators showing investors how a particular market is ready to receive profitable student loans operations.

Another debate will focus on whether there is a downside to encouraging private as opposed to public education. The conference notes said: "Frequently, there is public outcry against for-profit education in both emerging economies and more developed economies with the argument that education is (should be) a 'public good'".

More than 100 participants from some 30 countries, including academics, private investors, IFC clients, government representatives, philanthropic organisations and public sector providers, will attend the conference.

IFC Health and Education director, Guy Ellena, added that the participants would "focus on current practices and emerging trends across all levels of education. They will also consider how new models might be used in other countries and contexts".