Jandhyala B. G. Tilak

Professor & Head. Educational Finance Department, National University of Educational Planning and Administration. New Delhi, India. Professor Jandhyala B. G. Tilak share with us some ideas and reflections about private and public higher education models.

Private and Public Higher Education

Geographically, where is private higher education predominant over public higher education? Why?

Historically private higher education has been predominant in South America and in other countries such as the Philippines. Japan and Korea are the two largest higher education systems that are ‘predominantly private’. While in Latin America and the Philippines religious bodies set up private institutions, it is modern market interests that are responsible for this in Japan and Korea. In many other Asian countries and other countries in general there is a huge private sector that is state-supported. In a sense, these three kinds of private higher education are different in nature, approach and functioning.

Although private higher education is not a new phenomenon, what is the current model of this issue?

There is no such thing as a good model of private education, as private education is inherently defective compared to public education. The private sector in economic growth is different from the private sector in education development. Everywhere the private sector in education is, by nature and effect, iniquitous, as it restricts the access of the economically weaker sections to higher education. Only in exceptional cases such as private universities in the USA (e.g., Harvard), may equity dimensions have been addressed to a fairly satisfactory extent, allocating huge funds for talented students coming from weaker sections. Nowadays most private institutions are inflicted with several diseases such as poor quality, inequity, high fees, etc., besides their making quick profits, following unfair practices in recruitment, admissions, etc. They also have no consideration for good higher education. They are becoming a liability to societies and a big hindrance for the development of sound and good quality higher education systems.

Is it positive that privatisation of higher education is one of the most important trends of the new century?

Unfortunately, yes. The waves of privatisation were also strong during the 1990s. But globalisation and privatisation are the two most important trends of the present decade; they are not only inter-related, but also mutually reinforce each other. Privatisation per se is not new; but the rate of growth and more importantly the nature of private higher education and also the pace at which society’s attitudes to private education change, which we are currently experiencing, were not anticipated a decade or two ago.

How are the governments reacting to this trend?

Very few governments are able to withstand the winds of privatisation. They are also not able to provide good quality public higher education. Some governments are following privatisation policies out of compulsion and very few with the conviction that private higher education is intrinsically good and desirable. The pressures are both from within and from outside – neo-liberal organisations. In fact, we also find many governments that are utterly confused about what to do – to privatise or not to privatise their higher education systems. So we quite often find conflicting and confusing policy statements, and a lack of clear perception. Some governments also seem to adopt laissez-faireism as an escape route.

Are private universities financed by public budget, in contrast with completely private universities, the ones that will really suffer the competitiveness of a global world?

Such institutions did serve a purpose, as the private trusts and individuals came and set up higher education institutions with their own limited resources, and depended on the state for funds in order to function. But from a financial point of view, they are not really private, as substantial amounts of their budget requirements are funded by the state. So they can be called ‘pseudo private institutions’. They also create different kinds of problems. Given the socio-political economy factors, these institutions prospered at the cost of public institutions, taking away disproportionately huge grants from governments and leaving little for public institutions. Or in simple terms, they contributed to what I describe as ‘private enrichment and public pauperisation.’

With respect to competition, they cannot be competitive anyhow, as they remain under the government system. In fact, the competition if any between public and private institutions is unfair competition because the concerns of the public and private institutions are completely different. Public institutions are obviously at a disadvantage in the competition in this regard.

Is the ‘cost sharing’ model the best way to insure the maintenance of the model of the private university financed by public budget?

The state financed private university system is rarely regarded as a cost-sharing model. Cost sharing models generally refer to tuition fees, or sharing between the government and the students, or between the government, students and the rest of society, say the corporate sector etc. In one sense all the discussion on cost sharing makes no sense. All costs from a macro perspective and in the long run are met by the people – the tax payers. The people meet the costs either by paying taxes, or by paying tuition and other fees, or by loans and other mechanisms. The question is which of these methods is good, the least defective, and yields maximum benefits. All have their own strengths and weaknesses. But I feel, of all of them, the best method of funding higher education is by financing totally through public financing out of tax and other revenues. An efficient and progressive tax system is the best alternative to all other forms of raising resources.

How do you justify the belief that private higher education is desirable? Is this belief applicable to all countries or only to those that are able to maintain them because there is sufficient income per capita?

As I have mentioned, all countries do not believe that the private higher education system is good and desirable. Even among the countries that encourage growth of private higher education they do not all believe it is best. But they follow such policies due to international and domestic pressures. Many in fact, realise that the problems the private sector creates are too many to solve. But alas, they feel they have no choice!

So then, Public University or Private University?

Only the societies that have strong public higher education systems can develop economically and socially; and the societies which are predominantly private in their higher education systems continue to remain underdeveloped, with the exception of Japan and Korea. The implication is simple and straight forward. The gains that public universities accrue are too large to forego and the costs of having huge private university systems are too high for any society to bear. The costs are educational, economical and social, and even political.


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