31 May 2022

On 16 May, RTE hosted an international and trilingual discussion on privatisation in higher education, bringing together academics from three continents to discuss how the commercialisation of tertiary education is affecting students, teachers and institutions across the world.

The session was a registered side-event to the third UNESCO World Higher Education Conference, at which we were delighted to welcome academics including Flavio Carvalhaes and Rosana Heringer, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; Jean Alain Goudiaby, University Assane Seck of Ziguinchor; Thibaut Lauwerier, University of Geneva; and Fernanda Saforcada, University of Buenos Aires. The event was moderated by RTE’s Executive Director, Delphine Dorsi. 

Whilst each academic provided rich insights into the specificities of their own national and regional contexts, common themes emerged in terms of the genesis and impact of privatisation on higher education systems. Among these commonalities included the wide-ranging impact of the pandemic on privatisation, as well as the pervasive influence of colonialism in shaping university provision in Africa and Latin America. Furthermore, the extent to which neo-liberal economics and politics have constrained the public sector and facilitated the mass expansion of privatisation in higher education, particularly as demand for higher education has grown was discussed, as indeed was the blurring of the boundaries between the public and private as a mechanism for increasing privatisation. 

In brief, each academic introduced topics of particular relevance to their national contexts, and to their own research. Fernanda Sacofarda discussed several critical issues with regards to privatisation in Latin America, including ‘hyperprivatisation’ in the region, and the blurring of boundaries between the public and the private in terms of distinctions, funding, and financial assistance to students. 

Flavio Carvalhaes and Rosana Heringer of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro discussed both the expansion of higher education in Brazil and the growth of distance learning, which has mainly taken place in the private sector. In particular, they focused on the marketisation of higher education and concentration of expansion in the private sector, with its corollary impacts on access and deregulation. 

Jean Alain Goudiaby, of the University Assane Seck of Ziguinchor, considered the historical dimensions of Senegalese higher education, the growth in demand in recent years and the concentration of higher education institutions in Dakar. His presentation also considered issues regarding quality, selective training in public institutions and the impact this has on gender inequality, hierarchies, and territorial inequalities. 

Finally, Thibaut Lauwerier of the University of Geneva discussed trends and impacts in privatisation in France and Switzerland, focusing on the growing involvement of the private sector and the increase of private funds in higher education, in addition to two studies focusing on the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic and its relevance with regards privatisation. 

More than 90 people attended the event, which can be viewed here in the following languages:








Pluri-lingual (English, French and Spanish)