Critical Literature Review on Education for All (EFA) and Private Sector Influence


The Education for All (EFA) movement is global in scope and involves a wide set of actors in various levels of its implementation. The EFA movement has become instrumental in progressing the 2nd Millennium Development Goal (MDG): Universal Primary Education (UPE) for all children in the world. EFA has been articulated through various international agreements and frameworks that serve to guide various actors including public institutions such as national governments, and bilateral and multilateral agencies, as well as private sector organizations such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foundations, and corporations. The multiple agreements and frameworks that were developed at global gatherings at Jomtien, Thailand and Dakar, Senegal highlight the importance of working collaboratively with various partners in order to successfully integrate UPE into national policy and ensure basic education is provided at the local level. For many developing and fragile states, including countries in Sub-Sahara Africa, international aid has become an instrument through which UPE can be delivered effectively to all children (Bhatta, 2010; Steer & Wathne, 2010). Providing aid for universal primary education further involves many public and private partners with multiple agendas creating dynamic power relations in the sphere of education provision (Rose, 2011). Much of the literature indicates a lack of understanding of the role and influence of the private sector in aid delivery and education provision. Therefore, a critical literature review was undertaken by this author in order to develop an informed research question on this topic. Careful analysis of the selected literature indicates that a worthwhile inquiry would be investigating the power dynamics involved in private sector funding in national education policy-making when implementing universal primary education in Sub-Sahara Africa.



The research process for this critical literature review involved searching various databases (ERIC, Academic Search Premier and Google Scholar) using multiple keywords and the use of booleans to include and exclude certain keywords and phrases from the search results. Keywords included: ‘foundations’, ‘private’, ‘policy’, ‘education for all’, ‘universal primary education’, ‘international aid’, ‘power’, ‘public-private partnerships’, and slight variations of these terms. The second step of the research process involved collecting and screening articles that were referenced in the articles found during the first step. The articles that were found to be most relevant to the topic of inquiry are represented below in Table 1. The range of topics present in the selected articles are intended to represent the broad influence of the private sector on aid, education provision and policy-making at the international and national levels. The third step involved analyzing the articles to extract common themes and critique their work.

Table 1. Basic Article Information

Author (Year) Topic Methodology
Bhatta (2011) Aid agency influence in national education policy-making literature review, case study
Hayman (2007) Donor perspectives and recipient visions of education and poverty reduction in Rwanda literature review, case study
Srivastava and Oh (2011) Private foundations, philanthropy, and partnerships in education and development literature review
Steer and Wathne (2010) Opportunities and constraints in donor financing of basic education literature review, semi-structured interviews, and case studies
Rose (2011) Achieving EFA through public-private partnerships literature review



The critical review revealed that there are multiple definitions for the agencies involved in international funding. For example, the terms, ‘aid agency’, ‘donor agency’ and ‘funding agency’ were used interchangeably between articles to mean the same thing. Furthermore, some articles expand and describe the broad categories of public and private agencies to include the various sub-levels including bilateral and multilateral public agencies, and NGO, foundation and corporate private agencies. Analysis of the selected literature indicates a strong need to clearly articulate and harmonize the definitions across the literature to progress the research agenda in this field.



Through a critical analysis of the selected articles, three major themes emerged in the literature that provide a strong rationale for this author’s research inquiry. The themes are: a growing influence of the private sector in international discourse on aid for education; the uncritical acceptance of international agreements and frameworks on education by national policy-makers in developing countries; and the need for a critical investigation into the influence of private sector partners within PPPs with national education policy-makers. The three themes relate generally to the under-researched and disorganized arrangement of private sector involvement in international aid for education provision. As such, consequences of this arrangement are further discussed in this paper including limitations of the selected papers.


A growing influence of the private sector on discourse 

Official Development Assistance (ODA) from bilateral and multilateral aid agencies has been stagnating over the last few years (UNESCO, 2008) while demand for aid in developing and fragile states have steadily increased (Srivastava & Oh, 2010; Steer & Wathne, 2010). According to Srivastava and Oh (2010), this resulted in an increase in the prominence of private sector funding in hopes of closing the gap between the supply and demand of aid. As a result, international policy circles have discussed including private partners through PPPs for delivery and have subsequently integrated it into the international policy frameworks, such as the EFA framework. However, Srivastava and Oh (2010) did not identify the proportion of education in the overall aid demand and whether PPPs and associated private partners specifically prioritized aid over other aid categories such as health.

Analyzing the response of 70 interviews with public and private aid agencies, Steer and Wathne (2010) identify that education does not have a secure position in international discourse and the prioritization of aid may lose ground relative to other issues in a rapidly changing global context. However, they also found that private involvement is a widely debated topic within international circles and respondents identified the need to understand more on the topic considering that international frameworks and national policies are increasingly including the private sector in education policy and provision.

Despite the insecure position of education aid in international discourse, the role and influence of the private sector is being felt on national policies that mirror the international policy frameworks. In a case study of donor and recipient perspectives in Rwanda, Hayman (2007) identified that the national education policy of the Government of Rwanda closely resembled international policy frameworks. In Nepal, Bhatta (2011) identified a similar trend where national policies mirrored international policy frameworks which resulted in the provision of private education by non-state actors, such as NGOs, teacher cooperatives and private operators. Some of these policies resulted in dynamic power relations between private providers and national policy-makers because of conflicting policies that did not match the needs of the local population. These conflicts are discussed in subsequent sections of this paper. While Hayman (2007) and Bhatta (2011) identified identical international and national policies in different countries, neither elaborated on the role of private influence on national and international policy, rather, they simply identified a growing prominence of non-state actors in education provision.

In an analysis of the role of PPPs in national education provision, Rose (2011) identified the growing prominence of private sector partners in education provision that may be a response to the inaccessibility and poor quality of state education provision. Rose identifies various challenges and benefits of such private involvement through PPPs using many case studies and examples in developing and fragile states. Unfortunately, according to Rose (2011), despite an active policy debate there is limited documentation of the experiences of PPPs in practice.

ODA from bilateral and multilateral agencies is a structured system of aid, supported by international agreements and frameworks, whereas contributions from the private sector are relatively unconstrained from any international agreements and frameworks. As evidenced in Nepal and Rwanda, the relative freedom of the private sector may cause disruptions and unequal power relations between partners. Therefore, a more critical understanding of the private sectors involvement in international and national discourse is urgently needed.


Uncritical acceptance of international agreements and frameworks

Various international agreements and policy frameworks on education, most notably the EFA framework, have guided national education policy-makers in developing countries to adopt and implement education policy without a critical investigation into whether those policies would function properly in the public and private provision of primary education in specific country contexts.

Bhatta (2011), Hayman (2007), and Steer and Wathne (2010) reveal that many aid agencies construct their own funding policies based on the EFA framework. Consequently, recipient countries are pressured to mirror aid policies in their own national policies in order to be eligible for external funding from aid agencies. Bhatta (2011) conducted a literature review and descriptive analysis of the influence of the EFA framework in Nepal and found that the Ministry of Education (MoE) was relegated to managing aid agencies and aid delivery instead of developing and maintaining its own distinct education system based on national priorities and needs. The decreased role and importance of the MoE resulted in the narrowing of opportunities for local ownership and provision of education, which were identified to be crucial in a sustainable national education system (Bhatta, 2011).

Drawing on the example of the education sector in Rwanda and its integration of international education policy frameworks, Hayman (2007) reported on the considerable influence of donor agencies’ policy priorities–which reflected international frameworks– and how they conflicted with the increasing need for autonomy of the Government of Rwanda. The tensions created between the conflicting policies of the international frameworks, aid agencies and the Government of Rwanda resulted in an unbalanced allocation of funding to various education sectors. For example, some education sectors such as lower secondary, vocational training, and early childhood care and development were neglected because of pressure to prioritize basic education with a limited national budget that was dependent on external aid. In both of the countries of Nepal and Rwanda, conflicting policies and priorities between international frameworks, aid agencies and national governments created tensions that resulted in an uncritically examined and vulnerable education sector.

When Steer and Wathne (2010) analyzed data from semi-structured interviews with various aid agencies, they discovered that international frameworks had a strong effect on the priorities of aid agencies and their funding. These priorities created unique funding constraints when working with recipient national governments whose own priorities based on the unique needs of their population did not necessarily reflect the policies of the aid agencies. The conflicting priorities resulted in unsustainable funding practices and even the withdrawal of funds that did not fit the priorities of both the aid agency and national government. This supports the analysis of Bhatta (2011) and Hayman (2007) in the countries of Nepal and Rwanda, respectively.


The need for a critical investigation into PPPs in practice and in research

A major theme that ran through the selected literature is the need for a critical investigation into the influence of private sector partners that are in partnerships with national education policy-making partners. Furthermore, Srivastava and Oh (2010), Steer and Wathne (2010), and Rose (2011) identify a general lack of research and data on the role of the private sector in the EFA movement at national and international levels considering its elevated prominence in the discourse and frameworks.

Srivastava and Oh (2010) specifically identify an uncritical ideological acceptance of partnerships and philanthropy that have been popularized and prioritized in international agreements and frameworks on education. They continue to analyze the historical context in which the role of private foundations have risen in prominence based on contested claims of the neutrality, efficiency and effectiveness of private funding over public bilateral and multilateral funding. However, none of the articles specifically identify instances of wrongdoing on part of the private sector partners. Srivastava and Oh (2010) only mention the historical context of colonialism and imperialism that continue to effect national policy-making and relationships with bilateral and multilateral aid agencies. Using specific examples and case studies would have strengthened their argument.

Steer and Wathne (2010) emphasize the role of leadership in public and private aid agencies. Leadership was identified in its ability to set organizational priorities of aid agencies and their aid allocation. Interestingly, Steer and Wathne (2010) report on an instance where one leader had considerable influence over another leader that resulted in a pledge of US$ 500 million in support of basic education. This instance presents a rare opportunity to analyze leadership relations that results in major monetary transfers. Unfortunately, despite the major consequences of leadership in aid allocations, there is a major gap in research into the personal motivations of leaders. Steer and Wathne’s (2010) semi-structured interviews with public and private aid agencies presented a good opportunity to collect more data on leadership within aid agencies. Unfortunately, there is a lack of critical engagement on the topic in their paper.

Much of the data used in the selected literature on the private contributions to aid are mostly based on reporting of US-based private NGOs, foundations and corporations where there are more rigid policy instruments to judge effective aid (Srivastava & Oh, 2010). Srivastava and Oh speculate on the growing number of private sector contributions to aid for education from organizations outside of the US, including from the emerging economies and China and India, and other ‘Southern’ countries. Furthermore, there is a lack of tracking of monetary transfers between organizations for the purpose of education aid and provision. For example, Switzerland was reported to be the largest recipient of aid from private American foundations. Considering that Switzerland contains many UN agencies, it may be that these funds are further transferred to other countries. An increase in data and tracking of monetary transfers would contribute greatly to the burgeoning private sector influence on international aid for education.


Relevance to research question and conclusion

Through an analysis of the selected literature, this author discovered an urgent need to expand and articulate the research agenda in the role and influence of private sector funding in national education policy-making when implementing universal primary education in Sub-Sahara Africa. Srivastava and Oh (2011) specifically identify Africa as region where there are potentially significant opportunities for contributions in education because of their adoption of international agreements and frameworks–indicating a willingness to work with external partners– and opportunities for improvement to current educational conditions. Unfortunately, there is a current lack of data on the involvement of private sector aid in developing nations in which to guide research analysis. On the other hand, this presents an opportunity to conduct primary research and data collection on an urgent and contemporary topic.

Furthermore, based on reports from UNESCO (2008), aid allocations from ODA has been stagnating over the last few years. Srivastava and Oh (2011) speculate that the private sector may increase their contributions to international aid in order to fill the gaps left behind by ODA contributions. If indeed this occurs in the near future, there needs to be a wider and more informed research literature to guide these developments in international aid and education provision to ensure a basic education for all children.



Bhatta, P. (2011). Aid agency influence in national education policy-making: A case from Nepal’s “Education for All” movement. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 9(1), 11-26.

Hayman, R. (2007). Are the MDGs enough? Donor perspectives and recipient visions of education and poverty reduction in Rwanda. International Journal of Educational Development, 27(4), 371-382.

Rose, P. (2010). Achieving Education for All through public–private partnerships? Development in Practice, 20(4-5), 473-483.

Steer, L., & Wathne, C. (2010). Donor financing of basic education: Opportunities and constraints. International Journal of Educational Development, 30(5), 472-480.

Srivastava, P., & Oh, S.-A. (2010). Private foundations, philanthropy, and partnership in education and development: Mapping the terrain. International Journal of Educational Development, 30(5), 460-471.

UNESCO. (2008). Overcoming inequality: Why governance matters. 2009 Education for All Global Monitoring Report. UNESCO, Paris.

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