The Emergence and Structuring of the Global Education Industry:
Towards an Analytical Framework
Antoni Verger, Christopher Lubienski, Gita Steiner-Khamsi
To cite this chapter: Verger, A., C. Lubienski, G. Steiner-Khamsi. (2016). “The Emergence
and Structuring of the Global Education Industry: Towards an Analytical Framework”. In
Verger, A., C. Lubienski, G. Steiner-Khamsi (eds). World Yearbook of Education 2016: The
Global Education Industry. New York: Routledge.
In an era characterized by globalization across myriad sectors, industries, technologies and
social movements, it may come as no surprise that we are also seeing the rise of an education
industry on a global scale. Of course, the participation of private interests in education is
hardly a new phenomenon. Parents and students seek individuals’ advantage through
education, and their interests are evident in activities such as paying tuition and fees,
fundraising, or taking up residence near a ‘better’ school. Yet, even as a largely state-
maintained sector, schools are not run on the philanthropic impulses of teachers,
administrators, education software developers, or textbook publishers, since each also seeks
some personal return in exchange for his or her efforts at educating children. One is
reminded that Adam Smith’s famous observation — ‘It is not from the benevolence of the
butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their
own interest’ — applies to the education sector as well.
But what is new here is the conception of education as a sector that is increasingly
globalized and managed by private organizations. That is, we are seeing the emergence of
the idea of education as a sector for investment and profit-making, where organizations,
practices and networks engaged in these endeavors take on an increasingly global scale.
Even though — or perhaps, because — education is often funded through public resources,
substantial avenues are available for penetration by private actors and organizations. Now we
are witnessing the emergence of whole trade associations dedicated to optimizing
opportunities for investors looking to capitalize on the education sector.
Such interest from investors makes sense, since, in most countries, education
spending makes up a significant portion of the GDP. Thus, as a discernable set of activities,
investments, and policies, education has long been considered as an industry sector, with its
distinct set of services and economic transactions. Of course, this sector, at least in most
developed nations, is dominated by state actors in terms of provision, regulation and
spending. Actors in the global education industry — or ‘GEI’ — see this spending as too
often ineffective, wasteful, and poorly leveraged by bureaucracies. Thus we are seeing with
the GEI an increasing attention from private, often for-profit organizations and investors
across a range of levels and activities, including an interest in investment, ownership,
servicing and management of education at different levels that have traditionally been within
the purview of the state. The emergence of the GEI has also meant the development of new
market niches that are often outside of traditional state control, such as test preparation, edu-
marketing, the provision of curriculum packages or school improvement services.
The rise of the GEI is not an isolated phenomenon, of course, as other sectors have
witnessed globalizing and marketizing trends as well. Indeed, in many ways it represents the
apparently inexorable growth of the market into many areas of life (Kuttner 1999; Sandel
2012). And as with other sectors, many of the economic and institutional trends we are
seeing around the education sector are shaped by political actors, often influenced by the
economic interests in the globalizing sector. That is, the GEI is not simply an organic
phenomenon in the economic sphere. Instead, it is shaped and enabled by public
policymaking. But that policymaking itself is often influenced by the private interests in the
GEI as they seek to set policy agendas, frame policy problems, and refashion regulatory
regimes to their advantage. While many of these political and policy efforts traditionally
played out at the national (or even more local) levels, as the global creature, GEI actors are
increasingly able to exert their influence on a transnational basis. GEI actors include multi-
national corporations and philanthropies with a global reach. The global scale of their
influence is evident in the scale of the networks in which they operate. At the same time,
local actors are often formally or informally subsumed into these larger networks, so that an
autonomous school in Malaysia may be adopting some of the same policies and curricular
packages as a school district in suburban Washington, DC. As transnational organizations
replicate their practices across borders, they are also building their infrastructure both
formally through corporate acquisitions, or informally, through partnerships and contracts
that broaden the scope of their activities. Thus, the GEI is the site of increasing horizontal
and vertical integration.
In this introductory chapter, we survey the rise, shape, and impact of the GEI,
providing a conceptual and theoretical framework to help us consider the GEI as a truly
global phenomenon proliferating across a discernable education sector. This approach helps
us to conceptualize the changing nature and the structural forces underpinning the GEI.
2. Definition, Facts and Figures
The GEI is an increasingly globalized economic sector in which a broad range of educational
services and goods, often on a for-profit basis, are produced, exchanged and consumed. The
GEI is constituted by its own sets of processes, systems of rules, and social forces, which
interact in the production, offer and demand of educational services and goods. Nonetheless,
despite its particularities, as with other industry sectors, education is becoming increasingly
a) the participation of actors and firms (the so-called ‘edu-businesses’), from both the
non- and for-profit sectors in the provision of education goods and services.
b) interactions and operations happening at a global scale, including the cross-border
supply of educational services (on-line courses, establishment of campuses abroad,
marketing in pursuit of international students, etc.).
c) competitive dynamics between edu-businesses, but also between edu-businesses and
conventional public providers, with the sometimes intended potential to incentivize
competitive behaviors of conventional providers. In fact, to become more efficient and
competitive within the global education market, public providers behave (and are being
managed) similarly to business actors.
d) for-profit motives as the main driving force behind the participation of private actors
(but also some state actors) in educational activities.
e) access to financial capital markets as a way to support the activities of the GEI and its
territorial and institutional expansion, including equity funds, venture capital and so
f) vertical and horizontal integration of edu-businesses, as well as mergers and
acquisitions between companies involved in the education sector, with Pearson as the
most clear illustration of this tendency (see Hogan et al. in this volume).
The GEI can be considered as an industry sector in expansion. Merrill Lynch-Bank of
America calculated in 2014 that the value of the education sector, globally speaking, is $4.3
(USD) trillion (see Robertson and Komljenovic in this volume). And GSV-Advisors (2012)
consider that the market size of the education for-profit sector is expected to grow by 17
percent in the next five years. In the US alone, the for-profit education industry revenues
more than doubled in the last decade, going from $60 billion in 1999 to $125 billion in 2012
(BMO Capital Markets 2014). Traditionally, there have been more market opportunities in
those sub-sectors and educational levels, such as pre-kindergarten and post-secondary
education, where the state is not so present. Nonetheless, in the last decade, we have
witnessed a significant penetration of primary and secondary education levels by the for-
profit sector as well. In fact, this is a development that has been apparent in both the global
north and the global south.
The GEI is involved in the production of a broad variety of educational services and
goods. Some sources, however, tend to use the concept of the GEI to refer to a rather
delimited set of activities. For instance, James Tooley (2005), in the book The Global
Education Industry likens this concept to the expansion of private schooling into developing
contexts.1 More recently, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD) has also adopted the notion of the GEI, basically to refer to Information Technology
(IT) edu-businesses. In particular, for the OECD (2014), the GEI is represented by those
companies selling educational resources and services of a technological nature to schools,
including e-books, software, courseware, learning devices, learning platforms, or dedicated
IT solutions. Nonetheless, and despite the centrality and emergence of both the IT industry
and for-profit private schools, in this book we consider that the Global Education Industry
also involves other rising sub-sectors, activities and modalities of educational provision that
transcend them. They include school improvement services, on-line education, tutoring or
supplemental/ ‘shadow education,’ edu-marketing, consultancy services for governments and
schools, testing preparation services, and so on.
Thus, one of the more recent developments that reflects the strength and dynamism
acquired by the GEI is the penetration of business actors in new market niches such as those
mentioned. However, there are at least two other developments that reflect the major
centrality being acquired by education industry actors in contemporary societies and
economies that deserve to be highlighted. They are, first, the increasing role of GEI actors in
educational politics, including their capacity to settle education policy agendas and frame
1 In the only reference that this author makes in the book to something similar to a definition of the GEI is when he writes:
‘This monograph aims to give a flavor' of the private education sector in developing countries – what I call the ‘global
education industry’’ (Tooley 2005: 27).
education regulation at different scales (Ball 2012); and, second, the intensification of the
links between financial markets and the GEI. In relation to the latter, private investors seem
to consider the education industry as a sector in which it is more and more worthwhile to
operate. In fact, operations in the stock market (and in NASDAQ in particular) concerning
the education industry have increased rapidly in the last decade. According to GSV advisors,
only eight of these operations were active in the year 2002, whereas 127 operations were
identified in 2011.
3. Conditions for the GEI’s Emergence and Expansion
While factors such as private interests in education have been at play for ages, recent years
have seen the emergence of a global education industry that is qualitatively distinct from
anything that preceded it. Certainly, the scope and scale of the GEI is new, as is its degree of
both horizontal and vertical integration. The relatively recent emergence of this phenomenon
raises questions as to why it is happening at this point in history, and why it is taking the
shape that it is.
Multiple reasons are behind the emergence and expansion of the education industry in a
broader range of activities and territories. In this section, we focus on those that we consider
to be more relevant or to have a more direct effect in the GEI’s expansion. They include:
economic globalization as a driving force of both an increasing educational demand and an
intensification of cross-border supply of educational services; the commodification of
schooling as a positional good for families; the financialization of the education sector (from
both the demand and the supply sides); recent changes in the governance of education
(including education decentralization and the adoption of global education policies such as
accountability and curricular standards); the emergence of an evidence-based policy
paradigm; and the intensification of the IT to learning relationship.
The Globalization of the Economy: Increasing Educational Demand and Cross-Border
In a globalized economic environment, in which competition between economic actors and
territories intensifies, education is treated as a key instrument of international
competitiveness. In fact, education and training are among the few public policy instruments
that, in a more open and liberalized economy, states can legitimately activate in an effort to
promote their industry without being accused of altering the rules of free trade (Fernandez
and Hayward 2004). At the same time, many countries and world regions aspire to become
‘knowledge economies’ (e.g. to adopt an economic development model that is more intense
in knowledge products and services) and logically see education as a key asset to this
purpose. To some extent, the knowledge economy has currently become a powerful
economic imaginary (cf Jessop et al. 2008) that makes governments, but also private
companies, more willing to invest in education, as well as to presume that the strengthening
of the effectiveness of their education systems is desirable and, on occasions, urgent.
Overall, companies and governments operating at multiple scales (local, national and
regional) consider education as a strategic asset to develop their economies and to provide
the labor market with the new skills and human-power profiles that are more aligned with the
current economic environment. Yet, even as the causal link between a nation’s educational
and economic development might not be as clear as is commonly assumed, especially in
education reform rhetoric, there are clear benefits to individuals and families for investing
resources and effort into education (Benavot 1992; Labaree 2007; Ramirez et al. 2006).
Indeed, beyond states and companies, also for those individual citizens who do not want to
be left behind in an increasingly flexible and dualized labor market, education is more and
more perceived both as a positional good — a symbol or site of competition for prestige —
and as a worthwhile investment. All these forces converge in a higher demand for education
at all levels, a demand from which a broad range of edu-businesses directly benefit.
The globalization of the economy promotes interdependence and openness to trade
among a broad range of national territories and economic sectors. Since the 1990s, with the
constitution of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in the Uruguay Round,
the international trade regime contemplates and favors the liberalization of all sorts of
services, including education services. According to some observers, the constitution of the
GATS became an inflexion point in the development of the global education industry
(Robertson et al. 2002). This is due to the fact that the GATS, as well as other regional and
bi-lateral trade in services agreements that came after, have given enormous facilities (of a
fiscal, legal and administrative nature) for edu-business when it comes to access education
markets abroad, and sell their education services internationally (Verger 2010). In
international trade jargon, the modes of educational services commerce that are being
promoted by free trade agreements are:
a) Cross-border supply: provision of a service between countries at a distance. In the
case of education, this mode is seen in e-learning or all types of distance learning
b) Consumption abroad: students move to a foreign country to consume educational
c) Commercial presence: the service provider sets up a subsidiary abroad. Examples of
this are universities or international chains of schools with headquarters in one country
setting up a branch campus/school in another country.
d) Presence of natural persons: a researcher or a lecturer moves to a foreign country to
provide a service.
Economic competitiveness is promoting educational demand at higher education levels.
However, we cannot forget that, especially in low-income countries, the number of children
without any access to the most basic education is still high. According to the Education for
All Global Monitoring Report, in 2011, 57 million children were still out of school
(UNESCO 2014). Due to the passivity of both governments from the South and the
international community in the face of this reality, the out-of-school children represents a
huge market opportunity for private education providers and investors, including the so-
called low-fee private schools chains. This private schooling modality, which differentiates
itself from more conventional private education in the sense that is supposed to be
‘affordable’ for the poor even while it is for-profit, is expanding in Sub-Saharan Africa and
South-East Asia, but also to a less extent in several Latin American countries (Srivastava in
The Commodification of Schooling
Even as nations often treat education as a key element in increasing their economic
competitiveness in a globalized world, individuals and families are apparently embracing the
idea of education as a privatized, individual good. As noted, the rhetoric surrounding global
education reform often conflates individual and collective economic benefits of schooling.
Thus, just as nations strive to increase their competitive advantage in the global marketplace
through improved education, families in those nations often compete for sought-after spots
for their children in what are perceived as relatively better schools. Even open-access
education systems often see families competing to place their children higher up in the
hierarchy of schools, as education becomes a positional good with social cache connected to
one’s particular consumption, and not only a route to enhanced employment prospects.
As scholars such as David Labaree (2007) have demonstrated, this is not necessarily a
new phenomenon, as education systems often reflect a self-contradictory mix of individual
and collective goals. However, as education policy has increasingly emphasized the market
mechanisms of choice and competition that is evident in the growing global education
industry, the ‘good’ of schooling itself is often commodified, as ‘consumers’ vie for the
better services. Arguably, the education system itself is not ‘privatized’ as nations open up
their systems to the GEI. After all, it is not clear the degree to which schooling exhibits the
classic characteristics of both rivalrousness and exclusivity associated with private goods,
since governments may still play a role in funding, ensuring access, or otherwise regulating
the sector. However, the fact is that parents and policymakers appear to be perceiving
education as a privatized good for which they must use their resources and advantages to
compete for desirable spots, at the expense of other consumers.
As mentioned above, private investors and commercial banks are willing to invest in
education businesses due to their potential profitability. Such an availability of national and
international credit comes also from public finance initiatives, among which the International
Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank credit facility for the private sector, stands out.
In 2001, the IFC declared education, together with health, as a priority sector by establishing
the ‘Health and Education Group’ (see Robertson and Komljenovic, and Srivastava in this
volume). This organization justified this shift toward ‘public services’ after detecting, on the
one hand, a ‘gap left by the public sector’ and, on the other, that families were ‘more willing
to pay for education than in the past, understanding its contribution to a child’s future
success and associated family stability’ (Mundy and Menashy 2012: 86). In the year 2011,
the IFC reported cumulative investments of over $500 million to 63 education projects, most
of them focusing on postsecondary education, in a broad range of Southern countries
(Mundy and Menashy 2012). Similarly, as Santori, Ball, and Junemann demonstrate in this
volume, companies like Pearson purport to straddle the for-profit and civic sectors by
creating publicly-facing, civic-minded learning corporations using business capital and
But not only private providers resort to financial markets do develop their activity.
Many public universities, in the context of the relative public spending decline of the last
decade, have become increasingly involved in financial operations. Thus, an important
portion of the universities’ finances is implicated in derivatives purchases, debt management
affairs and even in complex real state operations. In countries like the Netherlands, the
deepening of the financialization of the economy of some of the most emblematic
universities has generated important cash flow issues that have put at risk the ‘core
businesses’ of these universities, such as research and education (Engelen et al. 2014).
Finally, not only education providers, including universities and schools, resort to
financial markets to sustain or expand their activity. Demand for credit also comes from
students and their families. This is especially true in those countries where governments have
tended to substitute scholarships for students’ loan policies and/or where the college or
university fees have tended to increase (Metcalf 2005).
International Trends in the Governance of Education
The rapid dissemination and adoption of a range of global education policies including
accountability systems and the common core standards are opening market opportunities to a
broad range of edu-businesses. The establishment of common core standards at the curricular
level is helping companies selling school materials to enjoy of a broader market in territorial
terms, since their books, software or other type of materials – as far as they ascribe to the
standards in question- will have validity at a broader scale. On their part, accountability
policies are putting pressure on schools and districts to deliver educational results aligned
with monolithic metrics, especially when these policies are accompanied by the application
of rewards and sanctions according to results. As a response to accountability pressures,
many schools and/or districts are more willing to resort to consultancy firms and to other
types of experts offering school improvement and testing preparation services (see Gunter in
On many occasions, analogous pressures come from international education
assessments such as the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). It
has been broadly studied how these international assessments derive into political and media
pressures on many governments (Waldow et al. 2014, Sellar and Lingard 2014). As a
consequence, these governments are temped to adopt short-term fixes and solutions to their
performance issues such as those being offered and sold within the global education industry
Finally, countries that have witnessed higher levels of education decentralization tend
to be more conducive to education privatization trends of a different nature (Lubienski
2014). Especially in developing countries, the municipalization of education has meant the
underfunding and devaluation of public education in multiple locations, and consequently
the private sector has expanded. The fact that local governments do not always have the
appropriate technical and political capacity to deliver education in an effective way, leads to
middle class families exiting the public sector and enrolling their children in private schools.
Furthermore, as shown by Adrião et al. (2009) in the case of Brazil, local governments tend
to supplement such technical and political weaknesses by buying ‘reform packages’ and
other education consulting services to private consultancy firms.
In an era where policy embraces a discourse of evidence-based decisions, policy-makers
purportedly rely more than before on what scientific evidence says when it comes to their
policy decisions, although there can be substantial variation by country, sector, and scientific
discipline — and the use of research evidence in education policy is often one of the weaker
connections (Oreskes and Conway 2010; Specter 2010). This approach has also been
appropriated as a key strategy of the GEI. Although often in a selective way, evidence is
strategically used by edu-businesses and/or their philanthropic arms to frame and package
their preferred policy solutions in front of governments and other education stakeholders. For
instance, as Hogan, Lingard, and Sellar show in this volume, Pearson often uses the images
and language of experimental sciences (including laboratories, researchers with data,
microscopes, etc.) in the promotion of its products such as the so-called Education Efficacy
Framework. These authors use the metaphor of the ‘medicalization’ of educational research
to refer to this promotional strategy through which edu-businesses pretend to coat their
products with rigor and make them accordingly more appealing.
Technology and Learning
Currently, information technologies are often seen — correctly or not — as a key driver of
quality learning processes and better access and learning outcomes, often by tech
entrepreneurs interested in reforming and marketizing education. This, together with the
importance that many governments and international organizations give to promoting digital
skills through education as a way to raise the employability of their population, is
contributing significantly to facilitate the penetration of the IT industry into educational
systems and schools. This is a trend not only affecting developed countries, but also
developing ones through policy programs like the one-to-one (Valiente 2010). In fact, in
many developing countries technology is seen as a cost-effective way to compensate for
teacher shortages and insufficient teachers’ training.
Despite the global dimension this phenomenon is acquiring, according to the OECD,
in most countries, the relationship between IT firms and the education system is still too
informal and ruled by a sort of ‘‘wild west’ of commercial practice’ (OECD 2014: 3). This
tends to end up with expensive and/or inappropriate purchases that do not necessarily fit the
schools’ educational needs. Because of this reason the OECD has started promoting a
partnership approach between the IT industry and governments as a more effective way to
bringing technological innovations and devices into the everyday practices of schools. These
new developments and normative debates are clear indicators, in any case, of the rising of
the IT sector, which is mainly in hands of transnational private firms, in the global education
policy field, often with demonstrable ties to political actors.
4. Researching the GEI: Conceptual and Heuristic Tools
For neoclassic economics, industry sectors are mainly seen as constituted by interactions
between rational and self-interested actors offering and/or looking for goods and services. In
a free market economy, these relations are conceived as competitive and as (self-) regulated
by agents’ access to information and choice, and by the mechanism of price — a mechanism
not typically mediated by competition in the state-run education sector. Nonetheless, our
perspective to the GEI phenomenon is substantially different and rather builds on
sociological and political science approaches. These approaches put emphasis on non-
economic and non-material factors in the configuration and structuration of markets. In
particular, these approaches emphasize the role of institutional contexts and social relations
(and relations of power in particular) as key drivers in the making, maintaining and
transforming of industry sectors such as the GEI (Berndt and Boeckler 2009). It is from this
perspective that we find it appropriate and useful to conceptualize the GEI as a social field.
The concept of field, in the way it was advanced by Pierre Bourdieu (1993), forces us
to think of the GEI as a structured social space with its specific institutions, forms of agency
and power practices; in this space, different actors struggle for the expansion, transformation
and/or reproduction of the field, as well as for having an advantageous or dominant position
in it. Despite being open to the participation and involvement of a broad range of actors, a
field is far from a flat terrain but a three-dimensional space. Not all the actors have the same
power and capacity to mobilize the different types of capital (social, economic, symbolic,
etc.) that are necessary to achieve their objectives within the field in question (Lingard et al.
As any other social field, the Global Education Industry should be seen as a quasi-
autonomous field with its own logics of action and practice, but one that at the same time is
embedded in broader social and economic structures. Overall, the GEI field interacts and to
some extent depends on the events and on the configuration of other fields, including the
field of politics, the international development field, the global education policy field and the
global economy field, to name the most relevant.
Main Actors in the Field
The GEI field includes a broad range of actors. At the center of the field, we find the so-
called edu-businesses, a very broad category of economic actors involved in the production
of educational goods and services that includes:
a). chains of private schools, such as GEMS, ARK, Bridge International Academies,
and the Omega schools. Many of these chains operate under for-profit motives and
are contributing to diversify the private schooling sector that has been traditionally in
hands of religious or NGO-based providers;
b). big education corporations and conglomerates, with companies such as Pearson,
which provides a broad range of publishing and educational services, and IT/software
companies, such as Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett Packard or Blackboard standing out;
c). consultancy firms, which go from big transnational corporations such as
PriceWaterhouseCoopers or McKinsey that have broad portfolios, and apply business
logic to education, to a wide but disperse constellation of individual consultants,
some of which focus more exclusively on education;
d) philanthropic foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the
Hewlett Foundation, which are formally autonomous from the corporate matrices,
but that are usually implicitly aligned with the business strategy of their funders and
e) advocacy networks, which emerge when edu-businesses and other type of private
corporations come together in a more or less formal, more or less stable way to
advocate for educational changes. An example of a well-organized corporate-based
advocacy network in education is Todos pela Educacao in Brazil (see Martins and
Krawczyk in this volume), or the Gates funded effort to bring charter schools to
Washington (see Au and Lubienski in this volume).
So far, we have referred mainly to corporative (or collective) actors. However, the GEI field
is fertile in individual policy entrepreneurs and boundary spanners, who tend to play a key
role in promoting education ‘innovations’ that favor the expansion of the GEI, in part due to
their capacity to strategically connect different organizations and to transit across different
fields. Michael Barber and James Tooley are probably two of the most renowned actors of
this type in the GEI literature. Barber was a close advisor of Tony Blair in the UK in the
1990s, whose role is key to understanding the market-oriented nature of the New Labour
policies in education at the time (Fitz and Hafid 2007). In the 2000s, Barber was hired by
McKinsey, where he produced the well-known 2007 report How the World’s Best-
Performing Schools Come Out on Top, and is currently the chief education adviser of the
Pearson corporation. Apart of being located in powerful organizations, Barber’s policy
influence relies on his personal contacts and on his strategic situation as a ‘broker’ on a
broad range of policy networks. For his part, James Tooley, a professor at Newcastle
University, is deeply involved in the low-fee private school business from multiple facets: as
a researcher, as an advocate, as a funder and, more recently, as the owner of a chain of low-
fee private schools called Omega. Tooley’s presence as a speaker is remarkable in all types
of international events on private education, and has also received numerous awards from
organizations such as the Templeton Foundation and the International Finance Corporation.
According to Stephen Ball, one of the keys of Tooley’s success is that he ‘is a persuasive
storyteller who is able to put faces and figures into the neo-liberal imaginary’ (2012: 40).
In the GEI field, as it happens in any other industry sector, business actors do not
operate in an isolated manner. They depend on a broad range of other actors, with whom
they can interact in a more cooperative or conflicting way. Among them, we find regulators
(including national and sub-national governments, and international organizations), public
providers, workers (and their organizations), private capital and clients (including
governments, students and families). In fact, the interaction of edu-businesses with these
other actors is fundamental to understand their position in the GEI hierarchy as well as the
configuration and evolution of the field itself.
Among all the non-business actors, even in an era of withdrawal of formal
government structures, the role of the state is quite relevant here. The state is a key
institution in the making, maintenance and modification of industry sectors. Welfare regime
literature tends to think about the state vs. the market in the provision of public services,
often in a zero-sum conception where more of one means less of the other. However, far
from this dichotomist thinking, we conceive the state, especially in a neoliberal context, as a
key ally in market making processes. In a global marketplace, the role of the state focuses on
maintaining and promoting economic competitiveness at different scales. To this purpose,
states can create the space where markets can thrive, regulating entry to the marketplace for
providers and consumers, often providing funding, compelling use, enforcing contracts,
protecting competitors (and competition), and often being ‘captured’ by the competitors
themselves They promote pro-market regulation in different spheres as well as ‘the
international competitiveness of domestically-based (although often transnationally-
organized) industries’ (Cerny 2010: 17). As stated similarly by Au and Lubienski (in this
volume), the competition state ‘supports the creation of markets in all areas in which they do
not yet exist, including in state-administered goods and services’ such as education.
Analyzing the GEI as a Social Field
According to Bourdieu (1993), any social field is a field of forces. In his view, such forces
are activated by social actors who compete against each other, on the basis of the powers at
their disposal, to achieve a position of relative dominance in the field. This idea, which is
very actor-centered, has been further developed by sociologists of markets, such as Jens
Beckert (2010), according to whom there are three main forces that, from an analytical point
of view, are particularly relevant in structuring fields. These are networks, cognitive fames
and institutions. Networks refer to the more or less stable sets of relationships between
political, social and/or economic actors, which work as channels of influence and, on many
cases, as more or less formal governance mechanisms. Cognitive frames refer to the types of
ideas that social, political and economic actors mobilize to advance their vision of societal
problems and preferred solutions. And institutions can be broadly defined as sets of rules,
norms and procedures in which actors develop their economic activity and their political
strategies (Campbell 2004; Ball 2012).
Networks, cognitive fames and institutions, due to their capacity of constituting any
industry field, shape the conditions of competition in which edu-businesses intervene, and
are key elements to understand the social and economic stratification of the GEI field.
However, it is also important to consider that not only governments, but business actors can
also try to activate and shape these elements for different reasons. In fact, several chapters in
this book focus on how edu-businesses activate networks and ideas to shape institutional
rules and normative frameworks usually for their economic interest, but also to advance their
ideological agenda (see Au and Lubienski in this volume). Networks, cognitive fames and
institutions are three social forces that can be analyzed separately, but it needs to be
acknowledged that they exert their influence simultaneously. According to Beckert (2010:
Network positions can be used to influence institutional rules and dominant
cognitions; institutions can be a resource to force changes in networks and to
influence mental maps; ideas that are influential in the field can be used to advocate
changes in institutional rules and network composition.
Networks seem to play an important role in the GEI literature, to a great extent due to their
properties as sites of policy influence. According to Fligstein (2007), if firms are embedded
within the right networks and have the appropriate connections, they can solve their resource
dependence problems more easily, and have more chances to reproduce or expand their
business activity successfully. Businesses actors and their representatives tend to be inserted
in a range of policy networks, usually in a causal or informal way. Networks are often
sustained through social and personal relationships, conversations, face-to-face meetings,
social events, discussions, consultations and so on. At a global level, for instance, social
events, annual meetings or international conferences — such as the IFC Private Education
Conference or Qatar’s Foundation World Innovation Summit Education (WISE) — are key
spaces to connect companies, investors, policy entrepreneurs and governments within the
GEI. It is worthwhile to bear in mind that this informality might result in a virtually invisible
and inaccessible infrastructure, which is something that generates serious concerns among
network analysts (see Olmedo in this volume). Nonetheless, despite this apparent
informality, private players are organizing themselves more openly and are even being
accepted as legitimate participants in national and global governance structures (see for
instance Menashy in this volume on the inclusion of the private sector in the Global
Partnership for Education board).
Finally, we would like to remark that the GEI is a dynamic and constantly changing
field. Furthermore, this is a fluid field that, as we have highlighted in this chapter, is
expanding and globalizing. However, the globalization of the education industry does not
mean that it can be isolated from its closer social and institutional context. Rather the
contrary, the configuration of the social forces that make up the education industry varies
according to mediating factors such as the welfare regime, the administrative tradition or the
political culture that prevail in particular contexts. Hence, the configuration, dynamism and
implications of the GEI field vary accordingly in different places.
5. Writing about the Global Education Industry: The Chapters in the Book
As editors of this volume we invited authors from different research areas to consider the rise
of the GEI. One group of contributors represent policy studies scholars with a keen interest
in understanding the role of business in shaping and selling educational reforms. The other
group of contributors is composed of comparativists who ponder the breath-taking pace with
which privatization, public-partnership, and the business complex have expanded across the
globe, penetrating arenas as vast as education and aid. For this group, education constitutes
one of many niches where multinational companies managed to find a lucrative market. As a
corollary, investigating how business operates in the education sector enables them to dig
deeper and understand the logic of the global education industry. One of the research
questions they set out to address is whether doing business in education is in any way
different in terms of agency, rationale, or operationalization, than buying and selling goods
and services in other sectors. The list of interesting research questions is too long to
enumerate in this introductory chapter. Moreover, the authors are context-specific in their
analyses and represent a wide range of theoretical orientations. At the same time, they share
a common interest in investigating GEI empirically and understanding the different facets of
the phenomenon conceptually. In this section, we briefly sketch out the three parts of the
book in order to identify a few common threads as well as differences among the authors of
The first part of the book deals with the role of the GEI in shaping education
agendas. Business involvement in education is not a new phenomenon, as we have noted.
Some scholars in fact would argue that business influence comes and goes cyclically (Tyack
and Cuban 1995). It disappears periodically, typically because of public outrage over some
scandal, and then reappears after a while. Yet it seems that the most recent wave of business
involvement has a greater systemic impact and is more global in nature. Without any doubt,
the universal beliefs in the right to education and lifelong learning explain why the most
recent iteration of education business could expand in every corner of the world. Long before
entrepreneurs discovered education as a commodity that functions as an economy of scale,
the term ‘policy entrepreneurs’ was coined in policy studies. The term denotes professionals
who propagate or lobby for a particular reform agenda with the intention of having political
impact. Some of the questions that the emergence of policy entrepreneurship raises in the
education sector are: What if the policy entrepreneurs are first and foremost business
entrepreneurs and only secondarily policy experts? Are they likely to advocate for particular
educational reforms that are good (for) business? If they do so, how do they manage to make
governments ‘buy’ into their private vision of public education? The first five chapters of the
book examine the impact that business has had in a number of areas, including on the charter
school movement in the United States (Wayne Au and Christopher Lubienski), curriculum
reform and teacher education in the United Kingdom (Antonio Olmedo), the organization
Global Partnership for Education (Francine Menashy), and the ‘Todos pela Educação’
movement in Brazil (Erika Moreira Martin and Nora Rut Krawczyk). Finally, the authors of
‘Better (Red)TM than Dead? Celebrities, Consumption and International Aid’ (2008) and
Brand Aid: Shopping well to save the world (2011), Lisa Richey and Stefano Ponte, reflect
on how brand aid and glamor aid shape conceptions of education and development and how
they ‘market’ the people in developing countries to consumers in the global North.
Wayne Au and Christopher Lubienski break the myth that the global education
industry is exclusively interested in ‘for-profit business models for schooling’ (see Chapter
1). In their empirical study of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they trace the role of
the Foundation in advocating for, funding, creating networks, and supporting legislative
changes, first in the Foundation’s home state (Washington State) and then nationwide for the
charter school reform movement. They find, for example, that the Yes On 1240 campaign
(Washington Coalition for Public Charter Schools) was in great parts either directly funded
by the Gates Foundation or by donors connected with Gates. A total of nine Gates-connected
donors donated just over $8.32 million of the $10.9 million campaign to promote public
charter schools in the State of Washington.
‘Philanthro-capitalist’ policy advocacy is also the subject of analysis in the chapters
written by Antonio Olmedo (Absolute Return for Kinds) and Francine Menashy (Global
Partnership for Education). Olmedo’s chapter contributes to the scholarship on ‘philanthro-
capitalism’ or ‘charitable business’ which by now is an established research field with
critical analyses on how businesses either set up their own facilities or attempt to shape
public services, including education, in their micro-cosmos, that is, in the regions or districts
in which they produce or do business.
Olmedo’s chapter focuses on the ‘charitable business’ Absolute Return on Kids,
which bundles up with businesses, including the GEI giant Pearson, to offer teacher training
courses (titled ‘Teaching Leaders’) that focus heavily on measurement and accountability.
Needless to state, businesses such as Pearson, Cambridge Education, PWC, Mattrix
Knowledge Group or A4e have put a value chain in operation that is lucrative for each and
every element in the chain: they reap profit from providing training to teachers by selling
modules, books that accompany the training, testing of teachers and — to illustrate the big
numbers the education industry is dealing with — testing the twenty students or so per
teacher at each grade and each subject throughout their education career because they made
us believe in the great value of lifelong testing.
In her chapter, Francine Menashy investigates how foundations attempt to advocate
for more private sector involvement in the world largest public-private partnership in
education: the multilateral aid organization Global Partnership for Education (GPE). She
analyzes key documents of the GPE Board of Directors for the period 2009 and 2014 and
carried out interviews with former and current board members and staff. During that period,
the foundations and companies held a single seat in the GPE Board of Directors.
In the chapter on entrepreneurship in the Brazilian education sector, Erika Moreira
Martin and Nora Rut Krawczyk Erika trace the history of private sector involvement to the
administration of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002), which encouraged the
corporate sector to assume more responsibility toward public welfare, especially in
educational matters. With the same argument of social responsibility, Brazilian businesses
launched in 2006, with financial backing from the Inter-American Development Bank, the
initiative ‘Todos pela Educação’ (All for Education). Considered a powerful think tank in
education, its influence is today much larger than merely disseminating in script and media
their vision of education in the form of ‘good practices.’ Todos pela Educação uses the entire
repertoire of influencing education policy in Brazil, ranging from monitoring progress to
lobbying politicians for changes in legislation.
Lisa Richey and Stefano Ponte focus on the marketing aspect of business and
scrutinize what marketing does to those for whom ‘charitable business’ supposedly collects
or spends money — that is, for the child, the poor, and the underdeveloped. They show:
that, in Brand Aid, the problems themselves and the people who experience them are
branded and marketed to Northern consumers (through celebritized multi-media
story-telling) just as effectively as the products that will ‘save’ them. (Richey and
Stefano, Chapter 5)
Part Two of the book focuses on the ambition of GEI to improve public education system by
privatizing it, that is, by using public funds for contracting the services of private providers
of a different nature, often education corporations and consultancy firms. We entitled the
second part as selling school improvement. Anna Hogan, Sam Sellar and Bob Lingard start
out the second part of the book with a succinct analysis of the business strategy of the largest
global education company: Pearson plc. They zoom in on the 2013 Efficacy Framework of
Pearson to understand how ‘Pearson is looking for and creating opportunities in the
education market globally and with a stated social purpose for this investment’ (see Chapter
6, italics by chapter authors). However, Pearson CEO John Fallon commented in the 2012
annual report on the great prospects for business when Pearson starts expanding into
Our growth prospects are also fuelled by a remarkable socio-economic trend: in this
decade, the global middle class will almost double in size to more than three billion
people. Nearly all of that growth will be in the developing world. That’s important to
many industries but especially to ours, because as consumers join the middle class
and earn higher incomes, they tend to invest more in education – either to advance
their careers or give their children a good start in life. (Joe Fallon, cited in Chapter 6)
It is important to keep in mind that, as banal as this may sound, business-minded policy
entrepreneurs do truly believe in the salutary effect of having multiple, competing providers
in education. For them, privatization of education resolves the three challenges in education:
access, equity, and quality. The bottleneck in supply, negatively affecting the poor and those
in remote areas, will supposedly get remedied by opening education up for non-state
providers who happily get involved in the education sector because they see a lucrative
business awaiting them. Perhaps the boldest move in this regard is the advice given by
McKinsey Company, financed by DFID and taken by the Government of Punjab to invite
entrepreneurs to step forward, establish new schools and claim vouchers provided that the
new school is in a location without a school or with a ‘failing school.’ Pakistan and Chile
have been early laboratories for the education industry. We therefore invited Rabea Malik
and Shailaha Fennell to consider the experience in Pakistan and Daniel Friedrich the new
developments in Latin America. Fennell and Malik examine how, with the passage of time,
private actors have been increasingly involved in education politics and policies in Pakistan.
They demonstrate it by looking at three main spaces:
(i) the service delivery space, where the emergence of low-fee private actors has been
particularly noticeable, (ii) the policy space, traditionally inhabited by multi- and bi-
lateral donors and, where there has been the emergence of the international
development consultancies (IDCs) is becoming evident, and (iii) the public-private-
partnership space, that has seen the rise of contracts between the state and both
national and international business actors to provide, deliver and manage education.
Friedrich makes a fascinating comparison: he contrasts the success of Teach for All in Chile
and the failure of the same program in Argentina. In Chile, a country notorious for its
voucher system that is foundering after many years of experimentation, privatization and
deregulation, Teach for All was enthusiastically embraced as the new herald that would fix a
fragmented and unequal school system. This was not the case at all in Argentina; Teach for
All, established in 2007 and already working in more than 35 countries, set up operations in
Argentina too but lacked clients. Friedrich’s chapter focuses on the local encounters with
global reform packages, notably, with Teach for All.
Finally, two of the chapters in Part Two deal with backstage as well as frontstage
advisors of governments and institutions: ‘consultocracy’ in England (Helen Gunter and
Collin Mills) and business consultancy in higher education (Gili Drori). Gunter and Mills
present a nuanced contextual analysis of the consultancy business in the UK education by
dissecting in compelling detail what is ‘offered, what is taken, and what is used’ in terms of
advice given by over 50 consultants in the National Literacy Strategy. Drori draws on two
empirical studies on the branding in academia in which she and her associates collected
emblems of over 1,000 universities worldwide which are complemented with a case study of
universities in Israel to investigate the advance of managerialism in higher education.
The third part of the book presents novel research on new market niches. It
comprises noted scholars who have shaped the study of education businesses in major ways.
Part Three starts out with a chapter written by Diego Santori, Stephen J. Ball and Carolina
Junemann. Without any doubt, their classification of business enterprises in education,
presented in Chapter 11, is a foundation for future generations of scholars to delve into this
new and fascinating area of educational research. They differentiate between specialized
non-profit investment ventures (e.g., New Schools Venture Fund), specialized financial
advisors (e.g., Global Silicon Valley Advisors), specialized education private equity
investors (e.g., Kaplan Ventures), specialized incubators and accelerators (e.g. Imagine
K12), and specialized funds (e.g., the World Bank, with a $150 million equity stake in
Laureate Education, Inc. through the International Finance Corporation). Using the Pearson
Affordable Learning Fund (PALF) as a case, the authors lay out a succinct sociological
analysis of global business actors that benefit from, and propel, globalization in education.
Higher education is starting to become the ‘United States’, ‘Chile’ and ‘Pakistan’ of
the education sector: the vast territory where business is able to expand rapidly and with little
regulation. In their chapter ‘Unbundling the university and making higher education
markets,’ Susan L. Robertson and Janja Komljenovic observe and interpret remarkable new
phenomena in higher education, such as, for example: INTO University Partnerships Ltd that
created its first two joint ventures in 2006 with the University of East Anglia and the
University of Exeter to attract international students. By 2015, it had expanded to 22
ventures, assisting universities in the United Kingdom, United States and China to recruit
students from abroad. The sky seems to be the limit for profits made in such higher
education businesses. INTO, for example, sold in 2013 a 25 percent stake of its business for
more than USD $100 million. Other businesses, analyzed in the chapter are Laureate
Education, Quacquarelli Symonds Limited, and LinkedIn. In 2015, LinkedIn made headlines
in the media for setting up a business in which it sells data on the job placement and careers
of its graduates. The next step is setting up a university ranking system based on
employment criteria, challenging the current systems that focus on academic issues such as
selectivity, research grants, publications, etc.
Also focusing on tertiary education, Eva Hartmann investigates the ‘parallel
universe’ of information and communication technology (ICT) certifiers. Hers is an
interesting theoretical argument:
In order to study ICT certifiers in the context of privatization, we need to go beyond a
notion of privatization that merely focuses on the opening up of public education to
private, for-profit providers.
(Hartmann, Chapter 14)
Hartmann presents a sophisticated analysis of ‘endogenous privatization’ (Ball) and provides
a classification of different types of certifiers to demonstrate that today’s certification
industry represents a decentralized, fragmented, and diversified field of transnational
certifiers that no longer requires a government, a legislative body, or a profession for
accreditation or legitimization.
The last two chapters of the book bring us full circle back to the first entry point for
business: schools. Prachi Srivastava, one of the first authors to publish on low-fee public
schools in developing countries, explores the evolution of low-fee private schools from ‘one-
off mom-and-pop teaching shops’ in schooling micro-ecosystems (e.g. individual villages,
slum communities, and urban neighborhoods), to their coexistence with corporate-backed
school chains and service providers (Srivastava, Chapter 14)
A manifestation of this second wave of corporate-run or corporate-backed low-fee
private schools, Pearson’s Affordable Learning Fund targets specifically low-fee private
schools where the tuition ranges from USD $0.65 a day (Omega Schools) to USD $5 a
month. Some of these enterprises, such as Bridge International Academies, are business
conglomerates that operate in a dozen countries or more of sub-Saharan Africa and South
Asia and receive funding from venture capital and private investment firms, personal
investors as well as bilateral aid. Contrary to the expectations of GEI, Srivastava expresses
doubt as to whether the corporate model of low fee private schools is likely to be scaled up.
The edited volume ends with a chapter on GEMS (formerly known as Global
Education Management Systems), written by Natasha Ridge, Susan Kippels and Soha
Shami. As the authors point out, the GEMS corporation has been compared to a hotel chain
for using a differentiated fee structure with different levels of service. In fact, GEMS
Founder and Managing Director Sunny Varkey himself unabashedly points out the
philosophy of ‘you get what you pay for’ as one of the key features of the GEMS business
strategy: ‘We adopted the airline model of economy, business, and first class to make top-
notch education available based on what families could afford’ (Sunny Varkey; cited in
Chapter 15). In its home city, Dubai, it enrolls one-quarter of all private school students. In
2014, GEMS ran seventy schools (in UAE, United States, United Kingdom, Kenya, India)
and employed over 11,000 people worldwide. Throughout the book one cannot help but
wonder: How do business tycoons in the GEI manage to make their business look like a
charitable organization? The last chapter in this book provides a succinct answer: GEMS
hooks up with UNESCO, OECD, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Brookings Institute and
other reputable organizations. The Varkey Foundation granted, for example, US$ 1 million
to UNESCO’s Global Partnership for Women’s and Girl’s Education program in Kenya and
Lesotho and another undisclosed amount for UNESCO’s school principal leadership
programs in India, Ghana, and Kenya. These programs did not benefit GEMS but rather
enabled UNESCO to receive funding for its programs. In the case of the GEMS corporation,
UNESCO replicated the favors and appointed Varkey as Goodwill Ambassador for
Education Partnerships. Ridge, Kippels and Shami round up this book with several social
network analyses that demonstrate the kinship of the global education industry with
governments, international organizations, think tanks, and charitable organizations.
6. To Conclude
Of course, proponents in favor of increasing the participation of private interests in education
see advantages to the rise of the GEI. Certainly, the sets of policies manifested in the GEI
allow for and encourage the use of private resources and capital in public education — a
state-run sector that is often starved for funding. At the same time, proponents see
advantages not just to accessing private resources to the public sector, but also management
approaches and principles that have proven successful for businesses and could conceivably
be applied to schools as well. As we will see, this is not only an argument coming from
businesses themselves, but also from private philanthropies built on business success, which
then try to aid education both with investments and ideas. Another apparent advantage to the
sets of policies represented in the GEI is that it thus allows the participation of new entrants
— individuals and organizational forms — in educating a wider swath of the population that
is typically served effectively by state systems. For example, online providers, teacher
cooperatives, or education entrepreneurs are thought to offer new and innovative ideas that
could afford opportunities for students underserved in the current system.
Still, there are obvious concerns voiced by critics and skeptics of the GEI in general,
or of some of its individual actors. To the well-known concerns on market segmentation and
educational inequalities as a consequence of education commodification, several scholars
refer also to the challenges posed by the GEI in terms of democracy and accountability. The
shift in authority from the state to private actors could arguably make sense on grounds of
efficiency, but also necessarily entails some degree of undermining democratic control of
public education (Lubienski 2006). Moreover, the professional autonomy and rights of
teachers, as well as the local control of communities over their schools, may be undercut by
the shift in authority to private, corporate, and global actors. Similarly, it is reasonable to
question whether the shift in accountability structures away from democratic modes to
corporate/consumer arrangements reshapes the orientation of education as a public good.
That is, corporations are legally accountable primarily to their stockholders and must work
first and foremost to create returns for those investors (Bakan 2004). Yet the interests of
investors are not always aligned with those of clients or customers, or — in this case —
those of students, their families, or their communities. As Bakan notes (cited in Ridge et al.
in this volume):
Unlike public institutions, whose only legitimate mandate is to serve the public
good, corporations are legally required to always put their own interest above
everyone else’s. They may act in ways that promote the public good when it is to
their advantage to do so, but they will just as quickly sacrifice it—it is their
obligation to do so—when necessary to serve their own ends (p. 117-118).
Thus, between apparent advantages and pronounced concerns about the GEI, there is much
that remains to be known. While there have been multiple studies on individual aspects of
the GEI, often as it is manifested in individual countries, researchers need to better
understand the conditions — both globally and nationally — which promote the expansion
of GEI. This could entail cross-case analyses focusing on different countries, regions or
localities. But it might also involve more in-depth studies of transnational organizations
themselves, or include examinations of their partnerships, collaborations, or networks.
Perhaps most importantly, researchers will need to conduct rigorous analyses of the effects
of GEI actors, with particular focus not only on the claims made on their behalf — for
example, in terms of increasing investment, innovation, and effectiveness — but also on the
impacts on the education of all children, and particularly those from marginalized and
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