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INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVES IN PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP (PPP) – The Case of PSEA on the continuum: Enabling or Hindering?

DR JIMMY HARMON

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Probably, we might better understand the existing conflict between the Federation of Unions of Managers and Private Secondary Education Authority (PSEA) if we look at international perspectives on public-private partnership (PPP) which is a very well documented field by international institutions funding education like the World Bank (WB), Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). The latter is the largest development bank in the world. It supports the World Bank Group’s mission by providing loans, guarantees, risk management products, and advisory services to middle-income and creditworthy low-income countries, as well as by coordinating responses to regional and global challenges. In 2009, both WB and IBRD published “The Role and Impact of Public-Private Partnerships in Education” co-authored by Harry Anthony Patrinos, Felipe Barrera-Osario and Juliana Guaqueta who are leading experts in economics of education, public policy, school-based management and skills transformation. In the chapter on ‘International Experience’, the report makes special mention of the then PSSA (Private Secondary Schools Authority) as an ‘enforcement agency’ that oversees the operation of private schools and manages disbursement of grants in the spirit of Public-Private Partnership. The term ‘agency’ in ‘enforcement agency’ is very interesting. ‘Agency’ is semantically connected to authority in the legal field. Generally, it is defined as an organization which provides a service on behalf of another business, group or person. In 2016, the PSSA was changed into PSEA, an ‘authority’ for ‘private secondary education’ with ‘private schools’ left out. An authority is a body having jurisdiction in certain matters of a public nature. It is the authorization, permission, power, or right to act on another’s behalf and to bind them by such actions. Is the PSEA an enabling agency or more a body hindering educational service?  A close analysis of the PSEA in the light of international perspectives on public-private enterprise in education can shed new light and bring new hopes for our education sector.

From PSSA to PSEA

In 2016, the Explanatory Memorandum of the Private Secondary Schools Authority states the objects of the Bill are to amend the Private Secondary Schools Authority Act to (a) consolidate the provisions of the existing Act and review the functions and powers of the Authority; (b) provide for a consultative mechanism for greater involvement of stakeholders; (c) restore the pedagogical inspection and quality assurance function of the Authority; and (d) change the appellation of the Private Secondary Schools Authority into “Private Secondary Education Authority” in order to better reflect its new role and functions. In the heat of the debate on the Bill at that time, members of the government in the National Assembly argued that these amendments came following strong recommendations from the Office of Public Sector Governance (OPSG) and the Independent Commission Against Corruption from 2014 to 2015. It is clear that the spirit behind the drafting of the PSEA Bill was merely public governance driven with strict public control. From its leading role as an ‘enforcement agency’ the PSSA has been transformed into a ‘control public body’. Recent events since the COVID-19 have shown that the ‘Authority’ has been reduced in its daily functions into a bare ‘control unit’ of the parent Ministry for just the purpose of communicating centralized directives of the Ministry through circular letters whose content are becoming increasingly contradictory, undermining the authority of the ‘Authority’ in the eyes of its own stakeholders.  When the Authority itself is not respected by its parent Ministry and the essence of the Public-Private Partnership is completely out, this inevitably leads to dysfunctional management.    

Public-private partnership (PPP) continuum

International perspectives in public-private partnership clearly state governments are fully entitled to exercise rigorous checks and controls over private schools. However, the recurring question is “what is a reasonable form of regulation for governments to adopt?” Examples of regulatory barriers that have been identified in various countries include: confused or unclear national policies concerning the role of the private sector in the education system; cumbersome and complex school registration; imposition of unclear and subjective criteria and standards to qualify for registration. These barriers are same in our country.

The concept of a public-private partnership (PPP) recognizes the existence of alternative options for providing education services besides public finance and public delivery.  In the most common type of PPP, the government provides subsidies to existing private schools or to fund student places at school. The PPP continuum is a conceptual framework which helps to identify the extent of a country’s engagement in PPPs in education (see diagram). It depicts the main forms of publicly funded and privately provided education across the world. It ranges from systems where all provision is strictly public to systems where it is largely publicly funded and privately provided. The current situation in Mauritius clearly indicates that we are at the ‘low PPP’ on the diagram. The continuum assumes that the responsibility for funding largely remains with the public sector. In countries with an ‘engaged PPP’ environment, private organizations sign an agreement with the government to manage and operate public schools in exchange for payment from the public budget. One argument in favor of publicly funded but privately managed schools is that they have the potential to improve quality and increase efficiency. Is this not in this direction that this government or future (same or new) must look at?

References

Fielden, J., & LaRocque, N. (2008). The Evolving Regulatory Context for Private Education in Emerging Economies Discussion Paper May 2008. The World Bank Group International Colloquium on Private Education. 

Mohadeb, P., and D. Kulpoo. 2008. “The Provision and Financing of Quality Secondary Education. Through PPP in Mauritius. A Success Story.” Working Document. Draft for Beyond Primary Education: Challenges and Approaches to Expanding Learning Opportunities in Africa. Association for the Development of Education in Africa.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank (2009). The Role and Impact of Public-Private Partnerships in Education.

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