Lessons for PPPs in Higher Education
Lessons to learn on public-private partnerships in higher education
Colleges and universities are places of education. These are institutions responsible for molding the future leaders of this world. Bright ideas, born out of the malleable minds of those intellectually curious, come to life during lectures given in places as simple as old classrooms.
However, the fact remains that higher education institutions (HEIs) have to stay relevant and up-to-date with not only their educational programs but also their business strategies. Educators and administrators are important members of the school but they do not make up the entire institution. Outside the classroom, there is a tremendous amount of work left for the rest of the staff: Finance, Communications, Marketing, Human Resources, etc.
Therefore, an institution must look into its sustainability as it fulfills its role in developing society. Longevity is seen by many as a testament to an organization’s stability. Excellent business policies and plans are, therefore, an important part of the thriving educational ecosystem.
The PPP solution
Generally, institutions turn to public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a means to save on costs or to deliver projects as efficiently as possible. An example of this would be the $1.2 billion expansion project of the University of California Merced. The budget was approved in 2015 by the public school’s regents and the campus was done with the help of private companies by the third quarter of 2020. Many were amazed at not just the stunning facilities that sprawled all 8,195 acres of the campus, but also how the project was delivered on time and on budget.
Then there is the aspect of incorporating PPPs into higher education program delivery, when several public institutions allow private institutions to deliver the former’s curriculum in other jurisdictions.
In Ontario, the government has taken a supportive stance on PPPs, recognizing the value of innovative and entrepreneurial partnerships in helping institutions and their communities thrive and prosper. Its policy is guided by these principles: support public colleges to become financially competitive and in turn invest that benefit in their campuses and local communities; reinforce communities by encouraging international students to study in campuses outside the Greater Toronto area and stay there after their studies; and preserve and intensify Ontario’s reputation as a leader in postsecondary education and as a great place to reside at and work. One good example is St. Lawrence College in Eastern Ontario, which currently has two partnerships – one with Alpha International Academy in Scarborough and another with Canadian College in Vancouver.
Perhaps, it is more important to revisit PPPs today, as the world is currently battling with the coronavirus pandemic. This time, not only are budgets the concern, but also logistical challenges—with restrictions in place like physical social distancing—as well as the dwindling student enrollment, especially in the international education sector.
Lessons for partners
Drafting a good PPP is easier said than done. It may take months to a few years before two institutions come to an agreement. But presuming the right partners are selected and the target goals are set out for everyone to accomplish, a PPP could provide both institutions with a lot of benefits.
For public institutions, they manage to widen their influence outside the four walls of their campuses. They also increase their student capacity without overcrowding. They also have the chance to tap into the expertise of these private institutions in their own respective fields.
For private institutions, they are presented with the potential of a fresh revenue stream, and enjoy the backing of public institutions, thus, increasing their status when compared with other educational institutions in their area.
There are unfortunate cases, however, when these PPPs would not be as smooth-sailing and would raise controversy.
In May 2019, students from Arizona State University accused the institution of corruption allegations as it profited off students’ contract with online publisher, Cengage. The university and Cengage have been cleared of the allegations, however, public trust in the university has taken a hit.
A book published by the World Bank, “The Role and Impact of Public-Private Partnerships in Education” (2009), stated the following recommendations to help improve a PPP in the role of education.
Performance standards should enable accurate and straightforward measurement of school quality and efficiency. Particular emphasis should be given not only to quantitative measures such as standardised tests, but also to qualitative ones, such as parent surveys and school inspections.
Private schools must meet certain operating requirements and performance and curriculum standards. Only when such eligibility criteria are met should public funding be disbursed.
Education ministries should reward innovation, including with monetary awards, and revoke subsidies when sanctions are appropriate.
In some cases, governments should help private schools with capacity-building interventions before beginning voucher programmes.
PPP programmes should fall under the authority of a specialized group of experts, who can manage funding to privately operated institutions and enforce standards.
A PPP in higher education mirrors just about most business partnerships. There are ideas to be discussed, parameters to be set, risks to be understood and goals to be achieved. At the end of the day, a strong PPP could all be contingent on both the partners’ organization cultures, business policies and ethics.
Arakelian, E. (2020, August 6) Merced 2020 Project Wraps; Stands as Largest Public-Private Partnership Completed in U.S. University of California Merced. Retrieved from https://news.ucmerced.edu/news/2020/merced-2020-project-wraps-stands-largest-public-private-partnership-completed-us.
Arizona State students demand investigation into Cengage tech partnership (2019, May 2). U2B. Retrieved from https://u2b.com/2019/05/02/arizona-state-students-demand-investigation-into-cengage-tech-partnership/.
Ontario Supports Innovative College Partnerships: New Policy Ensures High Quality Student Learning. (2019, November 12) Ontario. Retrieved from https://news.ontario.ca/en/release/54568/ontario-supports-innovative-college-partnerships
Public College-Private Partnerships: Minister’s Binding Policy Directive (2019, December 23). Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/pepg/Audiences/colleges/public-college-private-partnerships-mbpd.html
Richards, E. (2019, July 22) Key things universities should consider before entering a public-private partnership. U2B. Retrieved from https://u2b.com/2019/07/22/key-things-universities-should-consider-before-entering-a-public-private-partnership/.
Patrinos, H.A. et. al. (2009), The Role and Impact of Public-Private Partnerships in Education. Governance and Social Development Resource Centre. Retrieved from https://gsdrc.org/document-library/the-role-and-impact-of-public-private-partnerships-in-education/.