UNICEF/Altaf Ahmad

Private education has grown faster in South Asia than any other region in the world

A new report released today shows that non-state actors in South Asia are more involved in every aspect of education systems than in any other world region. Highly competitive examination pressures and dissatisfaction with public schools led to the highest levels of enrolment in private institutions in primary and secondary education than in other regions, but also to extensive private tutoring and an explosion of education technology companies.

Support for public provision is mostly high​

With fragmented systems stretched during the pandemic, and evidence of a shift of students from private to public schools, the report calls for a review of existing regulations on non-state actors and how they are enforced. While access to education has grown faster than in any other region in the past few decades in South Asia, learning levels are more than one third below the global average and growing more slowly than in the rest of the world. It recommends that all state and non-state education activities be viewed as part of one system, supported and coordinated by ministries of education so that quality and equity can be improved.

The report draws on the global comparative research by GEM Report, and the contributions of six partners from the Region: BRAC; the Institute for Integrated Development Studies; the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka; Idara-E-Taleem-o-Aagahi; the Center for Policy Research; and the Central Square Foundation. Combining the experiences of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, it looks at occasions where the growing advent of private education has put equity under pressure but also at positive practices that have created cohesion across all actors involved.

Non-state actors are influential across all education levels in the region. In early childhood, the private sector is often the main provider, educating 93% of children in the Islamic Republic of Iran, for instance. At the primary level, private schools educate a quarter of students in Nepal, over a third in Pakistan and almost half in India. Low-fee private schools have flourished. Out of all new schools established in India since 2014, 7 in 10 are private independent schools. In Bangladesh, a quarter of primary and almost all secondary school enrolment is in private institutions. International schools have grown alongside the demand for English-language education, effectively doubling in Sri Lanka between 2012 and 2019.

Tertiary education is increasingly private due to insufficient public supply, covering over half of enrolment in Afghanistan by 2020. In Nepal, the limited capacity of the main public university in the country led to the establishment of non-state campuses. Teacher training institutions are also often private with teacher education only provided exclusively by the state in two countries, Bhutan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 2020, more than 90% of recognized pre-service teacher education institutions in India were privately funded through student fees.

Competitive education systems and labour markets have led to a surge in private tutoring, putting pressure on household finances. In Sri Lanka, the percentage of households spending on private tutoring increased between 1995 and 2016 from 41% to 65% of urban households and from 19% to 62% of rural households; it increased in Bangladesh between 2000 and 2010 from 28% to 54% in rural areas and from 48% to 67% in urban areas. The popularity of private tutoring has led to a rise of coaching centres; in India, their number may run into the hundreds of thousands.

An accompanying online education website to the Report, PEER, managed by the GEM Report, contains profiles for every country in the region listing the regulations each have on non-state actors in the region. It shows that existing regulations focus more on non-state schools’ establishment and inputs than on equity and quality in the system.

A large part of the reason for the growth of private education in the region is the fact that governments spend far less than the recommended 15% of total public expenditure on education.

In South Asia, households account for the largest share of total education spending (38%) among all world regions. Their share is particularly high in Nepal (50%), Pakistan (57%) and Bangladesh (71%). In 2017-18, average household expenditure per student attending a private-unaided school in India was over five times than that spent on a student attending government school. In addition, 13% of families saved and 8% had to borrow to pay for school fees. In Bangladesh, around a third of families borrowed money for their children to study at private polytechnics.

Multiple events are being organised across the region to discuss the findings from the report, aiming to bring education actors together to reflect on the way education systems are built and who is missing out. Join the discussions:

INDIA – New Delhi. November 2nd 10:30-4:30 PM

Location: India Habitat Centre and LIVE online

Hosted by the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report and partners Central Square Foundation and Centre for Policy Research. Featuring speakers including

  • Atishi Marlena, Education activist and champion, AAP Delhi Legislative Assembly member
  • Vrinda Sarup, former Secretary Ministry of Education
  • Padma Sarangapani, Professor and Chairperson of the Centre of Excellence in Teacher Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  • Dhir Jhingran, Founder Director of Language and Learning Foundation
  • Anjela Taneja, Public Services and Inequality Policy and Advocacy Lead, Oxfam International
  • Manos Antoninis, Director, GEM Report, UNESCO

INDIA – New Delhi. November 3rd 4:00-6:30 PM.

Hosted by the Centre for Civil Society, Muni International School, Uttam Nagar, New Delhi.

See here for more event details.

Register here to join the event in-person or online.

INDIA-Mumbai. November 11th

Location: Mumbai, Board Room, New Campus, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, V. N. Purav Marg, Deonar, Mumbai

This event will include a presentation of the report’s findings relevant to Teacher Education in South Asia followed by a panel discussion with four of the study participants across India, Afghanistan and Nepal – Ms. Dymphena Dias, (Muktangan), Srivathsan Ramaswamy (Co-Founder of Madhi Foundation), Mr. Aminulhaq Mayel (SCA, Afghanistan), and Dr. Shanta Dixit (Rato Bangala, Nepal). Registration link: https://bit.ly/TISS_NATES


Islamabad, 7 November

Lahore, 9 November

Karachi, 11 November

Additional details available at bit.ly/southasia

NEPAL- Kathmandu. November 10th

See more information

Location: IIDS Campus, Mandikhatar, Kathmandu, Nepal

Hosted by the Institute for Integrated Development Studies.

Registration here

Regional launch with SAARC. November 14th 10:00- 4:00 PM

The in-person event for SAARC country representatives will examine the Report’s evidence-based recommendations for governments and other key education stakeholders across the region to ensure strong equitable systems for the effective realization of SDG 4.

Email k.linkins@unesco.org to RSVP.


Download the report

Download the summary

Visit the webpage to access all resources and background material



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