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Who pays for education in the future?

Shelf of Gradient Private vs Private Good

UNESCO noticed that most authors frame education as a private good. This means, next to placing the financial responsibility on the individual, that the individual learner is perceived as the main beneficiary of education. Education is understood to result in expanded opportunities for the individual, for example in the form of better job opportunities and higher income, as well as improved health and longer life expectancy.

In this vision, the choices for education offerings are similar to choices offered to consumers in a market. Many publications highlighted that in the future individuals will build their own educational pathways by choosing learning modules based on their personal needs and interests. However, this view mostly pertains to higher levels of education.

When it comes to primary and secondary schooling, authors rather emphasize the concept of learning as a common good. There is an assumption that the state should bear the costs of these years of schooling. Authors tend to state that a lack of basic education is not only harmful to an uneducated individual, but also to society and represents a threat to social cohesion.

Nevertheless, UNESCO observed that the theme of digitalization reinforces the idea of a private good throughout all levels of education. Many publications predict that digital solutions will be provided by private entities on a fee-based model and that this model will become dominant in teaching and learning. Learning platforms will put forward course offerings customized to meet individual needs.


Excerpts from the literature


“Globalisation requires states to reduce public spending, minimise welfare provision, and privatise as much as possible the welfare state, particularly education provision.”

  • This quote is extracted from a journal article, titled “Globalisation and the Future of Education in Africa”, written by Geo-Jaja Zajda and published in 2014. It presents the opportunities and challenges that globalisation offers to Africa and examines how public expenditure has been impacted by one aspect of globalisation, the tidal force of finance-driven reform.


“The coming decades will be defined by further government withdrawal in the primary sector.”

  • This quote is extracted from essay, titled “The Government and the Higher Education System of the Future”, which is part of a book, “Higher Education 2040: A Global Approach” written by Van der Zwaan and published in 2017. In his essay, Zwaan emphasises the importance of the role that the state plays in education but claims that less government interference leads to less homogenous educational institutions.


“In addition to (partly) publicly financed universities, the share of for-profit higher education will develop at a rapid pace.”

  • Extracted from the same essay above, the author believes that funding will form the key axis along which the differentiation of universities will further develop.


“In other parts of the world, private education has emerged as an alternative to underperforming public education systems, creating new financial barriers to quality learning.”


“Public-private collaboration can have a tremendous impact on shifting toward personalization in Education 4.0. Closer cooperation between education ministries and education technology companies, for example, can help ensure that innovation in this sector is channeled toward instruments that support the kind of personalization needed in classrooms.”

  • Extracted from the same report above, the author believes that closer cooperation between education ministries and education technology companies, for example, can help ensure that innovation in this sector is channelled toward instruments that support the kind of personalization needed in classrooms.


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