Myth 1: It is time to break the myth that state and non-state actors can be clearly distinguished.

The debate about the role that non-state actors should take in education is divisive. Discussion is made all the more difficult because of the prevalence of myths circulating on the theme. A series of blogs on this site will cover the 10 myths listed in the 2021/2 GEM Report on non-state actors, aiming to spark discussion. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Discussion of non-state actors in education typically involves a binary classification: public and private schools. But in practice, the landscape is more complex and distinctions are far less clear cut.

Non-state providers are a very diverse group. Non-state actors are highly heterogeneous. They have diverse views on their role in education. They enter the education sector for diverse reasons related to ideas, values, beliefs and interests. Many enter into formal or informal organizational arrangements with government, including contracting and public–private partnerships, which blur distinguishing lines.


While actors usually have a defined purpose (e.g. provision, finance, regulation, management), with agreed terms of reference (e.g. objectives, time period, resource-sharing), the processes governing them are not neat, orderly, linear, rational or collaborative. Power between and among state and non-state actors is not equally shared or balanced.

Standard data collection does not reflect the many different links between state and non-state actors in education. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) is the main source of data on enrolment in public and private institutions. It defines private education institutions as those that are ‘not operated by a public authority but controlled and managed, whether for profit or not, by a private body (e.g. non-governmental organization, religious body, special interest group, foundation or business enterprise)’. One dimension of non-state provision usually not captured in the data relates to non-state actors operating schools that are owned by the state. Analysis for this report of 211 country profiles on our PEER website found that this was the case for private actors in 29 out of 96 countries, for faith-based actors in 17 out of 83 countries and for other non-state actors in 19 out of 81 countries.

The UIS definition of private schools also does not capture the distinction between private schools that receive public funding and those that do not. Analysis for the 2021/2 GEM Report showed how intertwined state and non-state education is: there are government-aided non-state schools in 160 out of 181 countries: These include private schools in 115 countries, faith-based schools in 120 countries, and non-governmental organization (NGO) and community schools in 81 countries.

The line between state and non-state tertiary education is particularly blurry. Non-state actors are involved not only in service provision at the tertiary level but also in financing and influencing public institutions and the sector as a whole.  A well-known example is the United Kingdom, where most universities are regarded as public and receive significant government funding but are controlled by non-state actors and therefore considered private in international statistics. The rise in cross-border provision of tertiary education further complicates the lines of ownership and regulation. Branch campuses of public tertiary education institutions in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States are deemed private institutions in Malaysia. In Viet Nam, RMIT University and British University Vietnam, operated by public institutions, are considered private universities, while the Vietnamese-German University and the University of Science and Technology of Hanoi, also known as the Vietnam-France University, are listed as public.

The University of Nairobi, the oldest and biggest public university in Kenya, receives the majority of its funds from private sources and applies a business approach to governance, focused on income generation and increasing the institution’s entrepreneurial practices. The International Islamic University Malaysia is consider a public institution by law but governed by the Companies Act, with a board of governors that includes five members from Muslim countries and a representative of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. In Viet Nam, a university was founded as a training centre for a subsidiary of a state-owned enterprise. The subsidiary was later privatized, but the university still claims affiliation with the parent state-owned enterprise.

Blurred distinctions can threaten the transparency behind policy-making decisions. Blurred distinctions between state and non-state actors stretch as far as individuals changing hats, switching from representing state organizations to non-state ones; non-state actors who are dedicated to supporting state education; and organizations who are entrusted with protecting and promoting public education but may undermine it with their actions.

Blurred distinctions make designing effective governance arrangements complex. In Western Cape, South Africa, for instance, when the responsibility for turning public schools around was handed over by the state to private actors, the state kept the regulatory responsibility to manage the contract, but the nature of accountability for public service delivery was changed.

Definitions will influence perceptions about the role of non-state actors. The myth that state and non-state actors can be clearly distinguished interferes with understanding how individual actors work and if there is support for their actions.  For instance, NGOs vary in the extent of their support to non-state, and in particular, private providers of education. A survey for the GEM Report of Global Campaign for Education members demonstrates a relatively diverse range of positions. Among 49 respondents, 43% expressed a negative view of for-profit provision but 12% were supportive; likewise, 41% expressed a negative view of public–private partnerships, while 20% were supportive. About one third of respondents in both cases expressed a mixed view. By contrast, two thirds of respondents were supportive of non-profit actors, such as community and NGO schools, appreciating their contribution to supporting children in hard-to-reach areas.

Dispelling the myth that state and non-state actors can be easily distinguished is important before beginning to tackle other questions related to non-state actors, which is why it features first in our report. It helps us move beyond using two broad categories (i.e. private or public) that are not always precise, and instead to ask the more significant questions about how to ensure quality, equity and inclusion in education when non-state actors are involved.

Read the 2021/2 GEM Report to find out more.



  1. I disagree. State and non state actors can be distinguished clearly by their ownership, control, purpose, and ultimately, by the interests they serve.

  2. Difficulty to Demarket The State and Non State Ownership Paradigm in Education: Eduaction, Myth and It’s Expansive Definition during the Digital Era

    Hello colleagues! Happy Anniversary to UNEVOC-UNESCO.

    Firstly, I must state that the style hereby is as a review for a journal article, on relevant areas. It is my first time working on a blog.


    Here in Ethiopia, we have a mini blackout since the WiFi outlet is turned off overnight. My mobile data is very limited too and I have not familiarised myself fully as to how to customize the optimisation of my mobile data/credit. Such limitations can not always define sectors since social class as a state of mind, work ethic, Organisation Behaviour can demarket various sectors. For instance, the engagement of the staff, team work directive and appraisal policy as taskforce can be down to socioeconomic group, often indicated by educational attainment and this defines social class and the class struggle thereof.

    This can be stating the obvious, yet, the main premise hereby is that demarkation between government, non government and private sector can be the right categorisation and, of course, there is difficulty to demarket them as clear cut entities. But organisation behaviour, change, reform and development does reshape reality in the short and long run. For instance, in tuition fee paying UK Universities, their brand can be catahorised as having charitable status. Charities can also function within such establishmemts. The state is the government so to speak and your blog post seemed to demystify the myth but the categorisation need to be these three sectors and their subsets, without sidelining individual experts. The pitfall of hybridization is that muktiagency and multistakeholder work can lack being joint-up, of equal footing nature, multicultural and multidisciplinary. Yet, goal 17 of the SDG dictates the fact that partnetship for the goals is quintessential. We do somehow need to collaborate, as knowledge transfer partners, to say the least. Strong Institutions is another goal of the SDG and coming together as one and delivering as one, as the motto of the United Nations dictate is important.

    Eduaction, Myth and It’s Expansive Usage during the Digital Era

    Beforehand, I was listening to current affairs, specifically, the briefing of the Committee on the Second Homecoming, which culminates along with the completion of the Hajji pilgrimage of year 2022, and this Ethiopian movement is labelled as “Eid to Eid”. The first round was for Christians earlier on during this year.

    Normally, it is unlike me to read further, for the sake of enlightenment, in Wikipidia, about some Islamic terms, yet I did anyway. More often than not, I prefer the credibility of other encyclopedias. Surprisingly, the references thereby, including various Islam Encyclopedias are rich for the “Esoteric meaning of Islam” and related links, including the two unknown letters on Kuran, which is the holy script. It is intriguing becuase the literal meaning of such words or the book, even the Koran states, are concealed. Yet, during this Eid Mubarak season known as the Ramadan Kareem fasting, many are upholding the fact that the Koran is conceived and then inked. The Pen, as the leader Mohamed the Prophet proclaimed, is the most important creation. There is a Surat, which I believe means chapter, in the daily edited Wikipidia which can wipe out a section, about The Pen. Perhaps I have failed to understand this part for esotoric ideals are mystical, to me anyway.

    On another level, it is head knowledge that for Christianity that this kind of “passive interest”, let alone a full blown inclination, can often be dubbed as a wrongful immersion in Myth, which is short for Mythology. But people watch Dan Brown movies and do read books on such genre anyway and the myth buster for such “myth”, some being filmed in the Vatican is usually found in the internet.

    Global Education Monitoring and The Myths Thereof

    Ironically, the Global Education Monitoring Report lists so many myths and one of them is discussed hereby. It is freedom in a way to read about myth since Occult and Esotoric ideals, whether dubbed as Myth, metaphysical or mystical,to be mocked or downplayed or even labelled as hearsay, do interest me and several others. But I do not have free time to fully explore their Historiography. As already mentioned, the references in Wikipidia are unbelievably from the high end, including Academic Press from Routeledge but be mindful that new editors may extinct such species assuming the daredevil stance.

    The premise of the blog is about myth so that believing that a sector is clear cut is not to be the normality and formality. That is an enrichment to Organisation Behaviour as a discpline. Social class, I argue, definrs or demarks private and public education run as bottom up policy or parents’ expert leadership within or independent of education establishments, perhaps with clusterised teams, norming their ideas whilist others ajourn to find their niche market. Classism can not be the case to be a claimed hereby since the University of Leicester in Britisn had also a slogan, or more of a promotion of the brand, which reads as “Elite without being Elitist”.

    After all, the SDG on Education is not about politics at British school gate by the so-called yummy mums in happy wedlocks, non streamlined dress sence, swaying hips, outspokenness leading to informality and coercion at school gates which form such pseudo teams that run sleepovers that falter to allow us to learn about their belief systems, yet, with hypocracy, they can shun Halloween school parties which have “fun and disco” as the main themes. There is more. School governance and leadership at teritary level has to erradicate such intricacies in informal networks and mainstreaming emotional intelligence as such. Some argue that intelligence quotient is irrelevant, so streamlining, formality and virtues can not be sidelined as dogma. They are pillars to emotional intelligence and independent education. More so, enterprenerial skills can be upheld for the SDG only through valuing partnership or creativity for the higher good. The avalanche of techology and service realted innovative stance needs to be monitored during the fourth industrial revolution.

    Leaving the monitised agglomeration aside, no one should pay for the aforementioned behaviours one way or another unless it is their innate pathway. This is not the Montisorri Way. Overall, emotional intelligence and opportunity cost of time have value. Who walks the talk? For Whoes Interest? The whole picture can be different should this be labeled as formalised organisational partnership since hierarchy, some sidelining or silencing expertise, and the competition thereof, would have been entertained as professionalism which creates another circuit for membership or service delivery payment, as privatisation, or academisation to borrow the British term. Innovation, is the mantra of this era and those who question it are the trouble makers or are obsessed with critique. So, in a world whereby the Big Pharma and Corporate Giants play their games, Education is also branding into “privatisation”, indeed, with the illusion of delivering, since repression of leadership with diversity at heart gives way to a default position assumed by some who lack knowledge in ethics, equity and emotional intelligence. This fosters Neocolonialism further afield.

    Again Have a Jappy Twentieth Anniversary to UNEVOC-UNESCO


    Lul Admadachew

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