6 July 2018

The UN Human Rights Council – the top global human rights body – adopted on 5 July 2018 a resolution emphasising with unprecedented consensus the urgent need to better regulate private education providers in order to address the negative impacts of the commercialisation of education, and to do so following human rights principles.

The resolution urges all States “to put in place a regulatory framework to ensure the regulation of all education providers, including those operating independently or in partnership with States, guided by international human rights law and principles, that…  addresses any negative impact of the commercialization of education” (paragraph 5).

The resolution, which was adopted without the need for a vote, highlights the increasing consensus among States regarding the human rights requirement to regulate education providers and to address the negative impacts of commercialisation in education. The resolution includes, for the first time, two paragraphs (4 and 5) on the regulation of private actors in education in the core of the text, which States did not question during the negotiations of the text. It also further clarifies and strengthens the language by specifying that States’ regulatory frameworks must “ensure the regulation of all education providers”, unambiguously requiring to regulate private providers.

This is the fourth resolution in as many years to outline the concerns over the growth of commercialisation of education. It comes against a background of a massive expansion in unregulated private education providers in developing countries in the last 15 years. This trend raises human rights concerns about commercial actors, such as Bridge International Academies, which attracted complaints from human rights organisations worldwide.

The 2018 text provides significant support for States, in particular in the Global South, that have been struggling in the last years to bring order into the myriad of private providers operating in their education systems. Uganda and Kenya have gained attention in the last months for their attempts to close private schools that negatively impact children’s rights, including multinational for-profit companies supported by powerful donors that seek to operate with disregard for human rights standards in order to reduce costs.

This year’s resolution also welcomes “the development by experts of guiding principles and tools for States” as part of the steps to implement the right to education. This reflects the support from States for processes such as ongoing efforts of a group of experts to develop Human Rights Guiding Principles on private actors in education which will operationalise existing human rights law in the context of the growth of private actors in education. These Guiding Principles, which were also welcomed during the Council discussions, will beadopted in early 2019 and help States fulfil the Human Rights Council’s requirement to put in place a regulatory framework “guided by international human rights law and principles” (paragraph 5).

The signing organisations will continue working with all interested stakeholders to strengthen public education delivery and to ensure that all actors in education are accountable and operate in accordance with human rights law.

Signatories: Amnesty International, Equal Education Law Centre (South Africa), Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Initiative for Economic and Social Rights (Uganda), Right to Education Initiative