Public vs. Private Schools: An International Perspective


America is not the world. In a debate of private versus public education, it is important to have a wide perspective to account for the diversity of the global environment.

PolicyMic Editors Jordan Wolf and Chris Miles tackled the question on a national level. However, using an international lens, it is clear that while most developed countries have great public university systems in place, developing nations often do not; they should turn to the private sector for educational needs.

Many developed countries outside the U.S. tend to favor public universities. For instance, Greece just recently began to recognize private college education. The 1975 Constitution of Greece states, "Education at university level shall be provided exclusively by institutions which are fully self-governed public law legal persons."

Australia has 38 public universities and four private ones, two of which are foreign universities, while Canada only accredited its first private liberal arts university without a denominational affiliation in 2002.

Developed countries are obviously able to offer high quality public education at a low cost. Based on the difference in median starting salary (one measure of education quality), “It would take an extra 17 years [for private university graduates] to make up for the difference in tuition for four years.” For this reason, and many others already explored by Miles, public education makes more sense in the context of developed countries.

Governments of developing nations, on the other hand, have fewer funds to devote to public education. They are also experiencing huge population growths, which can lead to massive overcrowding in public universities. In Africa, public universities are experiencing overcrowding, which leads to a decrease in quality of education. Private universities have alleviated the burden of public universities by absorbing many students.

That is not to say that private universities are the only institutions that offer quality education in developing countries. In Brazil, the reverse is true, particularly from the perspective of professors who vie for competitive and stable public university posts. Despite this, nearly 73% of Brazilian students attend private colleges, compared to only 45% in other Latin American countries. One Brazilian professor attributed this to the fact that public universities are unable to meet the demand for higher education.

As more people are able to afford private education, those who have no alternatives will benefit from a decrease in overcrowding, more attention from teachers, and more resources.

While the benefit of private universities in developing countries is restricted to those who can afford the tuition, alternatives exist. For instance, “budget” private schools, which cost one to two dollars a month, are a solution at the primary school level in developing countries and give low-income families more options. This has the potential to translate well in a tertiary education context.

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