Right to education and privatisation

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  • Page on the process and development of Human Rights Guiding Principles on the obligations of States regarding private actors in education: http://bit.ly/GPprivatisation
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Statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, February 2015

Statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, February 2015

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The right to education guarantees that everyone should enjoy a quality education, free from discrimination and exclusion. This right, as UNESCO has recognised, is “… a powerful tool by which economically and socially marginalised adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and participate fully as citizens.”[1] While important progress has been made in ensuring that the right to education is enjoyed by all, today millions of children remain deprived of educational opportunities, and globally the UN estimates that 123 million young people between the ages of 15-24 do not have basic reading and writing skills (61 percent of whom are young women).

Amidst this backdrop of continuing inequality, the global landscape when it comes to education is also rapidly changing. One of the most notable of these changes is the recent trend towards privatisation in education in many countries. The detrimental impacts related to private investment in provision of health care, water and sanitation infrastructure, and land, including ‘land-grabbing’, have increasingly been documented in recent years. Privatisation of education appears to be the new horizon that profit making investors are rushing into.

This trend is proving to have significant implications for the enjoyment of the human right to education, both in terms of quality and accessibility to education. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education highlighted in a recent report about the Millennium Development Goals Post-2015 Framework: “in many parts of the world inequalities in opportunities for education will be exacerbated by the growth of unregulated private providers of education, with wealth or economic status becoming the most important criterion to access a quality education.”[2]

In particular, concern has been raised that privatisation in education can lead to greater discrimination and that “[m]arginalised groups fail to enjoy the bulk of the positive impacts and also bear the disproportionate burden of the negative impacts of privatisation [in education].”[3] Wealth inequalities, between those who can afford to pay for private education providers and those who cannot, but also spatial inequalities, are just reinforced by privatisation, further pushing into poverty already vulnerable groups.

Besides, privatisation implies that States are no longer themselves providing education to the general public, and instead allow this role to be filled by non-State entities and institutions. However, under the international human rights framework, States are the duty-bearer when it comes to respecting, protecting and fulfilling the right to education, and they must ensure that there is no retrogression when it comes to the advancement and enjoyment of this right. Besides, privatisation questions and weakens the role of the State in one of the most essential social services, affecting issues from democratic participation to accountability and also impacting many other human rights.

Further discussion and dialogue are needed within international human rights circles to shed light on these issues, and to highlight people’s experiences where privatisation in education is taking place. To help advance the discussion, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its partners, with the support of the Privatisation in Education Research Initiative have engaged in national and international advocacy on the topic.

Related news

For more information, see the following documents:

See also:

[1] See: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/right-to-education/ [2] UN Doc. A/68/294, para. 26. [3] The Right to Education Project (RTE), ‘Privatisation in Education: Global Trends and Human Rights Impact,’ 2014.