Making sense of the economic contribution of international students in Australia (up to 2008)

accesseconcover1The latest contribution to assessing the “economic contribution” of international students to Australia’s economy was released last week. The informative report, titled The Australian Education Sector and the Economic Contribution of International Students, was prepared by Access Economics on behalf of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET).

The executive summary of the 35 page report notes, amongst other things, that:

  • Education services ranks as the third largest export category earner for the year 2007-08, behind coal and iron ore.
  • Each international student (including their friend and family visitors) contributes an average of $28,921 in value added to the Australian economy and generates 0.29 in full-time equivalent (FTE) workers. Overall, this sees international students, and the associated visitation from friends and family contribute $12.6 billion in value-added.
  • The share of education-related travel services has increased from around one per cent of total services exports in the early 1970’s to 27 per cent in 2007-08.
  • International student expenditure in Australia contributes to employment in the Australian economy. It is estimated to have generated just over 122,000 FTE positions in the Australian economy in 2007-08, with 33,482 of these being in the education sector. Total student related expenditure (spending by students and visiting friends and relatives) generates a total of 126,240 FTE positions.

I’ll paste in a sample of tables and graphs from the report below:

accessecontable51

accessecontablea

accesseconfig2-2

Please keep in mind, as noted in our 24 June 2008 entry ‘Analysing Australia’s global higher ed export industry‘, that higher (tertiary) education is one of several contributing ‘education’ activities to producing export earnings:

  • Higher Education
  • English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS)
  • Vocational Education and Training (VET)
  • Schools
  • Other Awards Sectors (e.g., “bridging courses and studies that do not lead to formal qualifications”)

The development of capacity to assess the economic impact of foreign students is part and parcel of the denationalization and commercialization process. Capacity to analyze and hence constitute this new services sector – a fast growing ‘industry’ in the views of many stakeholders – is strikingly variable.  In my view Australia and New Zealand have gone the furthest down this path, and it is therefore worth understanding how the Australasians approach this issue from an analytical (economic impact assessment) perspective.

It is also important to understand which institutions are emerging as key knowledge brokers regarding the economic contribution of international students.  As the New Zealand (see ‘Measuring the economic impact of ‘export education’: insights from New Zealand‘) and Australian cases suggest, private consulting firms made up of economists (some of whom used to work for federal/national governments) are key actors. There is, thus, a symbiotic relationship between the state and the private sector when it comes to analyzing the evolving nature of the services sector of the economy; one becoming increasingly associated with, in policy and analytical senses, education institutions and development agendas.

In addition, as in this case, we see an association of private sector providers contracting out to have this report developed.  The ACPET is “the national industry association for independent providers of post-compulsory education and training, for Australian and international students”, including:

  • Higher Education
  • Vocational Education and Training
  • English Language Courses
  • Senior Secondary Studies
  • Foundation Studies
  • The ACPET Mission is to:

    Enhance quality, choice, innovation and diversity in Australian education and training for individual, national and global development. Work pro-actively and co-operatively with government, education and training providers, industry and community organisations, in order to ensure that vocational and higher education and training services provide choice and diversity, and well-targeted, appropriately delivered courses which are widely accessible and of high quality.

One proxy measure of ACPET’s make-up is its broad of directors, highlighting how non-university “post-compulsory education and training” actors are also becoming dependent upon foreign students in countries like Australia; a structural position that leads them to institutionalize and create an International Education Committee, which then coordinates the production of reports such as this via the expertise of Access Economics.

Given the dependency dynamic, reports such as these are both analytical devices, but also tools for lobbying.  Reports such as The Australian Education Sector and the Economic Contribution of International Students are increasingly available for downloading in PDF format, which enables wide circulation via email.  Traditional releases to media sources continue, as well: see, for example, ‘Learning boom amid the economic gloom‘ in The Australian.

As noted in the introduction to a recent guest entry (‘Measuring the economic impact of ‘export education’: insights from New Zealand‘), we are in the early stages of seeking a series of national viewpoints on how countries approach the export earnings issue. We would be happy to entertain proposals for guest entries on this issue, regardless of how well formed your own country’s capacity is to make sense of the data that is (and is not) available.

Kris Olds

Update: nanopolitan (‘Coal, iron ore, and education‘) makes the noteworthy point that “adjusted for population, Australia (21.7 million) hosts five times as many students as the USA (306.2 million)”. It might be worth adding that, according The Australian (‘Indian students boost the export economy‘, 2 April 2009) “Indian students now make up almost 18 per cent of Australia’s total foreign student population, the second largest group after China, which represents 23.5 per cent of the total foreign student body”.

Update 2: thanks to Brett for the links (see Comments) to two new news stories re. ‘Australian immigration launches probe on 20 colleges teaching international students for supply of fake education and work certificates necessary for the obtainment of permanent residency’.

Measuring the economic impact of ‘export education’: insights from New Zealand

adolf3Editor’s note: this guest entry was kindly prepared by Dr. Adolf Stroomberge, Chief Economist, Infometrics. Dr. Stroomberge has a PhD in general equilibrium modelling and 25 years of experience in economic consulting, specialising in economic modelling, econometrics and public policy research in areas such as education, taxation, savings and retirement, energy and environment, trade and transport.  He has been a member of the New Zealand Advisory Committee on Economic Statistics since 1996 and was an Expert Reviewer for the IPCC Working Group II Fourth Assessment Report released in 2007.

This is the first of a series of entries, we hope, regarding the ways in which the state, often via the contracting out process to firms like Infometrics, begins to calculate the economic impact of an emerging industry (in this case, ‘export education’). In our research we have noted substantial differences, across space, regarding the nature of the calculative process.

In countries like New Zealand, Australia, and the UK, the state has a relatively clear understanding of the economic impact of the export of education services (e.g., see ‘Graphic feed: Australia’s dependence (2007-2008) upon foreign students‘, ‘International education activity in Australia up 23 per cent from previous financial year‘, and ‘Value of educational exports to the UK economy‘). This said there are clearly debates underway about which analytical models to adopt, and about the impacts of this development approach. Other countries have made relatively little effort, or progress, in calculating such impacts. The reasons for this are many, ranging from lack of capacity, inadequate data, ideological unease with the idea of thinking about (and especially speaking about, in public at least) education as an ‘industry’, and limited inter-governmental engagement about this issue within some countries.

At the multilateral scale, this entry should be read in association with debates about the trade in education services (e.g., see the series of UNESCO/OECD forums on trade in educational services), as well as GATS (see ‘GATS BASICS: key rules and concepts‘). And from a broader perspective, it is worth thinking about the power of numbers, and the role of the calculative process in assessing, and at the same time constituting, what is undoubtedly an emerging global services industry.

Our thanks to Informetrics (especially Adolf Stroomberge) for outlining how the analytical process works in New Zealand, and to the New Zealand Mission to the European Union for insights on this topic. Readers interested in this topic are advised to see this 2008 report (‘The Economic Impact of Export Education‘) by Infometrics, NRB and Skinnerstrategic which was prepared for Education New Zealand & the New Zealand Ministry of Education.  An earlier (2006) version of this report is available here.

Kris Olds

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nzreportcover1It had been suspected for some time that the contribution of the export education industry to the New Zealand economy has seen impressive, if volatile growth, to reach around $2 billion in 2007/08.  Our research in 2008 sought to establish the truth of these suspicions.

Export education is a term used to describe the foreign exchange earned from delivering education to foreign fee-paying students.  In general the goods and services bought by foreign fee-paying students are consumed within the destination country – analogous to the situation with foreign tourists.  In addition though, some delivery of educational services takes place in students’ own countries, such as by distance education or through educational institutions establishing a presence in foreign countries.  For New Zealand, however, over 95% of the earnings of export education are earned in New Zealand.

There are two main areas of expenditure by foreign fee-paying students; tuition fees and living costs.

For New Zealand data on tuition fees is collected by the Ministry of Education from educational institutions, along with data on the number of foreign students and the courses taken.  Thus estimating total tuition income from foreign fee-paying students is relatively straightforward.  It was not always so.

In contrast, there is no official data on student spending on living costs. Our 2008 study (‘The Economic Impact of Export Education‘) was the first study in New Zealand that incorporated a dedicated and purposely designed survey of expenditure by foreign fee-paying students.

Collecting data on student spending might seem simple, but there are a number of obstacles to obtaining accurate data including:

  1. Poor English on the part of respondents.
  2. Memory recall errors.
  3. Measurement of irregular expenditure as the survey takes place over a limited time period.
  4. Under-sampling of short-stay students.
  5. Allowing for earnings from employment whilst in New Zealand (which do not constitute foreign exchange income).

Summing up expenditure on tuition fees and living costs gives the direct impact on the country’s gross domestic product.  However, the net impact will be less than this as some of the foreign exchange earned by export education leaks out of the country as payment for imports of goods and services.  Some imports such as petrol may be consumed directly by foreign students, while other imports are consumed indirectly.  An example is clothing made from imported fabric.

Economic impact multipliers are used to estimate the direct and indirect consumption of imports of goods and services.  Each dollar spent on the output of one industry leads to output increases in other industries, or to an increase in imports.  For example for a university to deliver education services to a foreign student it requires inputs of books, energy, communication services and so on.  Part of the tuition fee is used to cover the cost of these items.  Another part covers the cost of the buildings and equipment (spread over their useful lives) and there is a large portion for staff wages and salaries.

The supplying industries such as energy require inputs themselves, pay wages and salaries, and so on.  The effect on these supplying industries is known as the upstream or indirect production effect and is commonly measured by a number called a Type I multiplier.  In essence the indirect upstream effects is just a representation of the process whereby the expenditure and income sides of the national accounts equilibrate.  No additional value-added is created from this effect.

The supplying industries pay wages and salaries which are used to purchase household consumption goods, some of which are imported.  This generates flow-on effects in an analogous manner to the original increase in export earnings and therefore generates an additional gain in gross domestic product.  The effect is generally known as the downstream or induced consumption effect.  Again the effect may be measured by a multiplier known as a Type II multiplier.

Multipliers are typically calculated for different measures of economic activity such as gross output, value-added and employment, but gross output multipliers lead to double counting.  For example the value of food and drink supplied at a restaurant is counted as part of the gross output of both the Food and Beverage Manufacturing industry and the Restaurant industry.  If one’s aim is to measure overall business activity this double counting may be useful, but from the perspective of economic contribution it is value-added or gross domestic product that is of interest.

While very useful, economic multipliers have limitations.  For example they do not include the effects of increases in government consumption made possible by higher tax revenue, or the effects of changes in investment that may be required to expand output.  It is also implicitly assumed that all factors of production are in excess supply and that that there are no price changes (such as if a factor is in limited supply) which may lead producers to change inputs, thereby altering their production structure and hence the associated economic multipliers.

All of these limitations have the potential to undermine the result of multiplier analysis – the wider the attempted coverage of indirect and induced effects, the greater is the potential for miscalculation and error.  Rather like a stone thrown into a pond; the more the ripples spread out, the more likely they are to encounter some form of obstacle – ripples from another stone, a cross current, the embankment.

A superior, but more costly approach is to use a multi-industry general equilibrium model.  These types of models incorporate all of the key inter-dependencies in the economy, such as flows of goods from one industry to another, plus the passing on of higher wage costs in one industry into prices and thence the costs of other industries.

summarytable1

Our estimates show that in 2008 the economic impact of New Zealand’s export education industry was $2.1 billion, implying a four-fold increase since 1999.  Few industries would be able to claim an average growth rate of 16% pa for almost a decade.

Adolf Stroomberge

International education activity in Australia up 23 per cent from previous financial year

Australia is continuing to see rapid growth in the export of education (including higher education) services, and the associated generation of export income.  Today’s Australian Education International‘s AEI eNewsletter, which is well worth subscribing to if you are interested in GlobalHigherEd (which you must be if you are visiting this weblog!), includes a link to a new Research Snapshot (November 2008) that notes:

International education activity contributed $14.2 billion in export income to the Australian economy in 2007-08, up 23.4 per cent from the previous financial year. Over the 10 years to 2007-08, education exports have grown at an average annual rate of 16 per cent, compared with an average annual rate of 7 per cent across all services exports.

Here is a copy of a relevant table from the new Research Snapshot:

ausserviceexports

This document updates some data we profiled in our 24 June 2008 entry titled ‘Analysing Australia’s global higher ed export industry‘.

The international comparability of export earnings data is something we intend on focusing on this year. If readers of GlobalHigherEd entry have insights on this topic, or would like to prepare a guest entry on it, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kris Olds

Analysing Australia’s global higher ed export industry

The globalization of higher education and research is creating and attracting new players and new analysts. Credit ratings agencies have, for example, started to pay more attention to the fiscal health of universities, while fund managers are seeking to play a role in guiding the investment strategies of university endowments in the United States, and more recently Saudi Arabia.

On this broad theme, and further to our recent entry (‘New foreign student and export income geographies in the UK and Australia‘), the Reserve Bank of Australia released a June 2008 report titled ‘Australia’s Exports of Education Services‘. The Reserve Bank of Australia‘s:

main responsibility is monetary policy. Policy decisions are made by the Reserve Bank Board, with the objective of achieving low and stable inflation over the medium term. Other major roles are maintaining financial system stability and promoting the safety and efficiency of the payments system. The Bank is an active participant in financial markets, manages Australia’s foreign reserves, issues Australian currency notes and serves as banker to the Australian Government. The information provided by the Reserve Bank includes statistics – for example, on interest rates, exchange rates and money and credit growth – and a range of publications on its operations and research.

The scale and economic impact of this new industry is reflected in the Bank’s interest in the topic.

‘Australia’s Exports of Education Services‘ highlights key dimensions of the development of what is now one of Australia’s leading export industries such that it now generates $12.6 billion (2007 figures), and is Australia’s third largest export industry (see the two figures below from the report).

While the report is succinct, and can be downloaded for free here, I would like to flag three key themes from the perspective of the GlobalHigherEd analytical agenda.

First, reading through the report one cannot help but note the mercantilist approach that is infused in the analytical terms and data categories associated with the report, and Australian higher education ‘industry’ discussions more generally. From the dominant Australian perspective, global higher ed is unabashedly an export industry that needed to be created in a regulatory and ideological sense, and then subsequently, nurtured, reshaped over time, and more generally planned with strategic effect. Global higher ed is also situated within a broader array of educational services:

  • Higher Education
  • English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS)
  • Vocational Education and Training (VET)
  • Schools
  • Other Awards Sectors (e.g., “bridging courses and studies that do not lead to formal qualifications”)

Data on international student enrollments (1994-2007) using these categories is also available at the Australian Education International website (see the site too for clarification about source data and a key methodological change in 2001).

This strategic cum assertive/aggressive approach to the creation of ‘customers’ means that Australia will also ensure it has a capacity to monitor its primary competitors (especially New Zealand, the United States and the UK), and its emerging competitors (especially the group of countries that make up the European Higher Education Area, as well as Malaysia, Singapore, and China). Competition can occur through enhanced capacity to attract the mobile students who should have come to Australia, enhanced capacity to keep them at ‘home’ (via “import-substitution” policies and programs), or the external profile of weaknesses in the quality of Australia’s higher educational offerings, especially for fee-paying foreign students.

Second, the emergence of China and India as sources of mobile students is abundantly evident in the report (see Graph 5 and Table 4). Recall our 22 June entry, too, which presented data on Asian student numbers from the new Asian Development Bank (2008) report titled Education and Skills: Strategies for Accelerated Development in Asia and the Pacific. In short, Australia has strategically hooked into the highly uneven development wave evident in the ADB report, and shifted from ‘scholarship to dollarship’ (a phrase Katharyne Mitchell has used more generally) with respect to the country’s primary overseas student target. As the Bank’s report puts it:

Until the mid 1980s Australia’s involvement in providing education services to non-residents was directed by the Australian Government’s foreign aid program. Nearly all overseas students studying in Australia over this period were either fully or partly subsidised by the Australian Government, with the number of overseas students capped by an annual quota. Following reviews into Australia’s approach to the education of overseas students, including the 1984 Jackson Report, a new policy was released in 1985. This policy introduced a number of measures, such as allowing universities and other educational institutions to offer places to full fee-paying overseas students, which encouraged the development of Australia’s education exports sector. There were also changes in overseas student visa procedures aimed at helping educational institutions market their courses internationally. As a result of these changes, overseas student numbers increased significantly, and there has been a rise in the proportion of university funding sourced from fee-paying overseas students.

Third, the expansion of such a market, and the creation of significant export earnings, has created dependency upon full fee paying foreign students to bankroll a major component of the budgets of Australian universities (see Graph 4 above).

Thus, when between 15-20% of average annual revenue comes from “fee-paying foreign students”, especially the parents of Asian students, a condition of broad structural dependency exists, all ultimately shouldered upon household decision-making dynamics in places like Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Mumbai, Seoul and Singapore. And it should also be noted that the income streams being generated from these students are proportionally being reinvested into the enhancement of the faculty base; indeed, as the figure below from a new Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada report (Trends in higher education – Volume 3: Finance) demonstrates, Australia has seen a massive increase in student numbers (local + foreign) but relatively little faculty growth.

Is it any wonder then, that the Brisbane Communiqué Initiative, an initiative that we will profile in early August, was developed in 2006, largely in response to the Bologna Process?

The Brisbane Communiqué, and related initiatives in Australia, remind us that structural dependency upon foreign (Asian) students exists. Given this, Australia cannot help but be concerned about any initiative that might lead to the possible realignment of Pacific Asian (especially China), and South Asian (especially India) higher education systems to the west (aka Europe), versus the south (Australia), when it comes to the mechanisms that enable international student mobility.

Kris Olds

New foreign student and export income geographies in the UK and Australia

I’ve been visiting the University of Warwick for the last two days and have noticed a serious level of international accent diversity at various campus sites, far more than was the case when I was a PhD student in Bristol in the mid-1990s. Not surprising, perhaps, given Warwick’s position as the third largest recipient of foreign students in the UK, as the Guardian coincidentally noted yesterday:

The universities with the largest numbers of international students.

2006-07 (latest figures)

1. Manchester University 8345
2. Nottingham University 7710
3. Warwick University 7435
4. Oxford University 6555
5. City University 6380
6. Cambridge University 6340
7. University College London 6135
8. London School of Economics 5980
9. Westminster University 5735
10. Birmingham University 5505

Grand total of international students in all years (ie not just in their first year) at all universities in the UK and including undergraduates and postgraduates was 351,470

A related graphic on the regional “hotspots” in the Guardian is here. Recall that the UK is the second largest recipient of foreign students in the world.

Meanwhile in Australia, the 5th largest recipient of foreign students in the world, Australian Education International just released an interesting Research Snapshot (May 2008) that captures some of the economic effects of receiving foreign students [note: if you click on the table a clear full screen version will pop up]:

This is a significant economic impact. The same snapshot notes:

Of the total export income generated by education services in 2007, $12.2 billion was from spending on fees and goods and services by onshore students, and a further $370 million was from other education services such as offshore students’ fees and education consultancy services3. Education services remains Australia’s 3rd largest export, behind coal and iron ore ($20.8 billion and $16.1 billion respectively), and the largest services export industry ahead of personal travel (tourism) services ($11.8 billion).

This said, there is a distinctive geography to the impact:

Thus, while aggregate data tables (e.g., from the OECD’s valuable Education at a Glance 2007) are important to assess, there is huge institutional and geographic variation regarding the integration of foreign students into any one nation, highlighting, again, the importance of breaking free of methodological nationalism.

Kris Olds

The ‘other GATS negotiations’: domestic regulation and norms

In our previous entries (here and here) in GlobalHigherEd we introduced the World Trade Organization (WTO) and explained the content and implications of the liberalization negotiation within the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The liberalization negotiation is the most well known activity within the scope of GATS. In fact, very often the GATS and education literature restricts the content of the agreement to its liberalization disciplines (that is, market access and national treatment).

However, other negotiations that are equally relevant to the future of higher education are also taking place, and specifically the negotiations on Domestic Regulation (DR) and Norms.

Discussion on these topics takes place as the logical consequence of the fact that the GATS is an incomplete agreement. In the Uruguay Round, the GATS was designed and signed, but member countries did not reach a consensus in sensitive issues, such as Domestic Regulation (Article VI) and the so-called Norms (Articles X, XIII and XV). So, after Uruguay, two working groups – composed by all WTO member countries – were established with the objective of concluding these articles.

Domestic regulation negotiations
Article VI establishes that the national regulation cannot block the “benefits derived from the GATS” and calls member countries to elaborate disciplines and procedures that contribute to identify those national regulations that states’ impose on foreign services providers that are ‘more burdensome than necessary’. The regulations in question include those associated with:

  • qualification issues (for instance, certificates that are required by education services providers),
  • technical standards (which can be related to quality assurance mechanisms), and
  • licensing requirements (which, in some countries and sectors might refer to conditions and benchmarks on access to the service).

One of the procedures that is being discussed in the framework of the Working Group on DR is a polemical ‘necessity test’. If this instrument is approved, Member States will have to demonstrate, if asked, that certain regulatory measures are totally necessary to achieve certain aims, and that they could not apply any other less trade-restrictive alternative.

Rules
In the framework of the Working Group on Rules, three issues are being discussed:

  • Emergency Safeward Mechanisms (Article X): These mechanisms, when settled, would permit to countries to retrieve some liberalization commitments – without receiving any sanction – in case that it can be demonstrated that the liberalization experience has had very negative effects. Southern countries are more interested in the achievement of strong mechanisms, while developed countries pushes for softer disciplines.
  • Government procurement (Article XIII): The Working Group examines how government procurement could be inserted in the GATS framework. Therefore, transnational services corporations could become public procurement bidders in foreign countries. Developed countries are most interested in strong disciplines in relation to this rule.
  • Subsidies (Article XV): In this case, Members are elaborating disciplines to avoid the “distortion to trade” provoked by subsidies.

DR and Rules negotiations are different to the liberalization negotiations in the sense that the former are not developed progressively (i.e. round after round). On the one hand, once each country reaches an agreement, consecutive negotiations on these areas will not be necessary. On the other hand, DR and Norms affect all sectors indiscriminately because, in contrast to liberalization negotiations, they are not negotiated sector by sector.

The outcome of the Working Groups on DR and Rules will thus modify the balance between the legitimate capacity of the states to prosecute certain social objectives (for instance, in relation to the access and quality of public services such as education) and the obligation to guarantee a free trade environment for transnational services providers.

Given the importance of these ‘other’ negotiations in the GATS, our view is that the education community should make sure that they also keep a watchful eye on them. GlobalHigherEd readers might find the information in the periodic publication TradeEducation News, launched by Education International, a useful way of doing this.

Antoni Verger and Susan Robertson

‘Frontier markets’, the International Finance Corporation, and development

The University World News is carrying a report this week on a conference to be held (14-16th May, 2008) in Washington DC, hosted by a less well known outfit in the World Bank Group – the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Better known to most is the IFC’s cousin, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, generally referred to as the World Bank.

The conference, titled ‘Investing in the Future: Innovation in Private Education’ will invite participants to discuss what the IFC regards as the significant benefits for developing countries of engaging the (for-profit) private sector in delivering tertiary education.

The IFC is currently the largest multilateral agency funding private education in the world. One way of understanding the difference between the World Bank and the IFC is that while the World Bank finances projects with sovereign guarantees, the IFC finances projects without sovereign guarantees.

In other words, the IFC is primarily active in private sector projects, and in this respect it is a profit-oriented financial institution. Like a bank, IFC lends or invests its own funds and borrowed funds to its customers, and expects to make a sufficient risk-adjusted return on its global portfolio of projects.

Over the past decade, the IFC has taken a keen interest in the education sector. In 2001 the IFC published its Education Sector Strategy (with advice from the Education Sector of the World Bank). According to the IFC, the role of the private sector lies in both the provision and financing of education. This role is expected to grow, with increased pressure for more education as a result of the Education for All initiatives, and as human capital formation is advanced as a result of knowledge economy policies.

From 2000 to 2007, IFC provided $237 million in financing to 37 private education projects in 20 developing countries. The projects had a total value of $839 million.

However, rating agency Standard and Poor’s 2007 Annual Report on the IFC has suggested the most profitable and secure investments are likely to be in the higher education as opposed to the schooling sector.

Its current medium term investment strategy is to open up ‘frontier markets’ in Africa and the Middle East (Standard and Poor’s, 2007).

In an interview with the University World News, IFC Executive Vice-president Lars Thunell is quoted as saying:

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.

Claims that for-profit private firms necessarily provide more efficient and better quality services, including in sectors like education is vague, and the evidence provided to date is thin.

However, the more important issue is that, like the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) (see our recent report on the GATS), the IFC sees education as a ‘frontier market’ in the emerging economies, and is willing to lend funds to investors in order to advance this project. It is also ready to ‘up’ its levels of investment in order to help this project along.

We will likely see more of the IFC as efforts to advance the privatization of education move ahead and developing countries are seen to be ripe for the picking. What is crucial, then, is that we become better informed about actors, like the IFC, and their role in the global governance of higher education. This will enable us to see the very complex way in which this sector is not only developing but is being strategically progressed by actors that are often off the analytical radar of many people and institutions.

Susan Robertson

15 May update: see Inside Higher Ed‘s story ‘The private sector role in global higher education‘ for a report from Day 1 of the conference. See also this report on the conference by World University News.