Reconsidering Privatization in Cross-Border Engagements:
Published in the Higher Education Policy (see link to full article in gray box below).
The Sometimes Public Nature of Private Activity
By Jason E. Lane and Kevin Kinser
ABSTRACT: Around the globe, the trend toward privatization has become a pervasive topic in the field of higher education. This is for good reason: Most countries have seen growth in private-sector colleges or a diversification of revenue streams in public colleges and universities.
Privatization trends have typically been analyzed from the perspective of the institution and its relationship with the sponsoring state. The recent phenomenon of international cross-border higher education, however, represents a more complicated picture as it involves more than one government.
Some governments are now seeking to import foreign education providers in order to bolster their domestic higher education offerings. At the same time, many higher education institutions now operate as multinational enterprises, decoupling off-campus partnerships and branch campuses from the nation where the home campus was initially chartered and funded to serve. This movement toward offshore activities can be seen as one of the most extraordinary forms of privatization in the public sector: universities developing into multinational enterprises pursuing increased revenue and prestige.
But adjusting the analysis from the relationship between the institution and the home government to the relationship between the institution and the host government can demonstrate the sometimes public nature of private activity. In many developing nations, governments are looking to foreign institutions, irrespective of their public or private status at home, to complement the existing state-sponsored institutions in achieving public ends. In the host country, such institutions are usually considered non-governmental organizations and often operate under regulations distinct from state-sponsored higher education; but some are still designed to pursue public goals of the host government.
This paper examines the concept of privatization through cross-border educational initiatives, and argues that the public and private nature of cross-border higher education can only be fully understood when considering the relationship with both the home and host countries. The analysis is based on comparisons of how governments in Qatar and the Malaysian state of Sarawak use foreign education providers to support government goals, and how those seemingly public purposes throw some traditional concepts of privatization into question.