Education notes: Education for sale

British education businesses conquer the world

Selling private education round the world is fast becoming a major British export as national governments fail to deliver state education to their people. This international trade is not just in schools, buildings and teachers but in selling off-the-shelf training, assessment, inspection and curriculum packages. An expanding number of countries including China, India, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Kazakhstan, South Korea, South Africa, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ghana are buying in services from British multinational companies Gems, Education Solutions, CfBT, and Nord Anglia to resell to their citizens. Today 70% of Delhi’s schoolchildren attend British-based multinational for-profit schools, while over a million Chinese students a year sit the equivalent of imported and very English A-levels, more than the entire UK market.

United Nations fails its goals

One of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals was to raise primary school enrolment from 82% to 100% for all the children of the world by 2015. An increased rate of school enrolment slowed down rapidly from 2004 onwards (years of intensification of war and occupation) and today only 90% of children have even a formal school place, leaving 64 million children with no education. According to Mohan Kaul of the Commonwealth Business Council: ‘Given the challenges ahead, governments have realised that it is beyond their capacity and means to achieve the task of providing education for all’. As socialists we know that the limits capitalist states put on health, welfare and education spending is a political choice. That is why Cuba, a poor but socialist country that prioritises human development can find the money and resources to provide these services, despite being under the severe conditions of economic blockade by the US.

Private sector triumphant

The growth of private education privileges reinforces the power and control of the ruling elites and their supporters. It also shelters governments who provide inadequate schooling from the anger of better-off citizens who can bypass crumbling state systems, leaving the poorest people on their own. In the words of a representative of the powerful US lobby group the Innovation, Development, Progress Federation: ‘The reality is that the poorest of the poor have given up on education as a universal right.’

The United Nations promotes big business

The United Nations is now promoting and encouraging the imperialist agenda of transferring resources from the state provision of welfare to the private sector. Putting state funds into the hands of wealthy multinational companies is being justified as superior to public provision alone. Qian Tang, assistant director of UNESCO, says, ‘In delivering education, the state should not be alone. The private sector can often bring a new dimension to education programmes.’ The executive director of Unicef UK, gratefully accepts the input of Barclays Bank, ‘combining Barclay’s financial and business expertise with Unicef’s local knowledge to work with young people in communities of high unemployment in developing countries’. Such combinations certainly bring in big profits, with the value of global for-profit education businesses expected to more than double from $590.9bn in 2012 to £1.3 trillion by 2017.

Sell-off Britain

The export of British education around the world is not the result of a widely successful education system in the home country. While the elites of many countries are eager to copy the English ruling class and reproduce their examinations, uniforms, and snobbery, schools, further education colleges and universities in the UK are in turmoil. A viable state sector that guaranteed a school place for all pupils is being dismantled and the statutory responsibility for providing a school place for every child is disappearing.

So, for example, 50% of the land, building and interior furnishing of the large new Haverstock Secondary School in Camden, north London now belongs to an offshore company called HICL Infrastructure based in Guernsey. Should that company sell up or go bankrupt it is not clear who would have responsibility for Haverstock School and its pupils. Multiply this many times for private organisations now deeply embedded in the British education infrastructure like the education and publishing company Pearson plc, or is it Pearson US, or Pearson Luxembourg (registered to a room above a sports shop at 17, rue Glesener) or the Pearson subsidiary, Embankment Finance Ltd (UK)? Multinational corporations with respectable names and shady tax evasion records are unaccountable and parasitic money-makers leeching off state funds.

Mind control as well as money control

Education Secretary Michael Gove actively promotes the private sector. He and his gang who attack ‘bog standard’ comprehensive schools (Alistair Campbell) have invented privately sponsored academy schools, ‘free’ schools, ‘faith’ schools, parent choice and all the rest in order to carve up the state education system and sell off the most profitable bits. Gove uses ‘shock jock’ sound bite insults to attack those who defend the idea of a local comprehensive school for all children. Most recently he quoted from marketing surveys by Premier Inn and UKTV Gold without naming his sources, to support his line that teenagers are not being taught ‘proper’ history in school.

It was a cheap trick but Gove and his allies do not care. They have their eyes on the prize, to develop a rewarding private market from the fragments of an underfunded and inadequate state system in which the poor will be silenced and the better off turned into customers. The Gove camp is serious. We are going to have to fight very hard to maintain a universal right to education for every child and young person in this country.

Susan Davidson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013