Strategy against increased privatisation, competitive tendering and commercialisation of ECE institutions

Brosjyre

A group of four boys around a table in a kindergarten. All of them looking at the photographer
The Union of Education Norway believes that education should be a public service available to all. Photo: Tom Egil Jensen

Private and commercial players are gaining an ever stronger foothold in our ECE institutions. The number of ECE institutions run by commercial enterprises has risen sharply in recent years.

Publisert 20.03.2017

Strategy against increased privatisation, competitive tendering and commercialisation of ECE institutions

Also read the Norwegian version of the strategy

The Union of Education Norway (UEN) believes that

  • Education should be a public service available to all.
  • Public spending on education should benefit children and young people in its entirety and not generate profit for commercial enterprises.
  • Education content should not be commercialised. Responsibility for pedagogical content in Early Childhood Education Institutions (ECE institutions) and schools should rest with the leaders and teachers.
  • Increased privatisation and commercialisation weakens democratic control and governance of education in Norway.
  • Employees in private ECE institutions and schools must enjoy the same terms of pay and employment as their peers in public ECE institutions and schools.

Strategy against increased privatisation, competitive tendering and commercialisation of ECE institutions

Private and commercial players are gaining an ever stronger foothold in our ECE institutions. The number of ECE institutions run by commercial enterprises has risen sharply in recent years. For that reason the 2015 UEN National Congress decided that the union should take a stand, at every level, against increased privatisation, competitive tendering and commercialisation. In this strategy we will be setting out goals and means for this process.

The strategy aims to boost our efforts to combat increased privatisation, commercialisation and competitive tendering of ECE institutions provision. We shall be working for the sector to remain under public control and for public funding to benefit the children. The strategy also highlights the role and influence of the teaching profession in safeguarding equity and quality in our ECE institutions. Equally important is working to ensure that ECE institutions personnel enjoy good terms of pay and employment and that employee representatives have genuine co-determination.

Members working in the public and private sectors are equal

UEN members represent a variety of roles and positions in the education system, including in private ECE institutions. A trade union that is this broad-based and that aims to maintain its breadth must acknowledge that its members represent different fields of work with at times different challenges. We must respect our members and recognise their professional practices while at the same time making clear our objections to their employers’ commercial operations. The UEN shall oppose commercial employers while also respecting and recognising our members’ professional practices under these very employers.

Public funding should benefit the children

ECE institutions are a public responsibility. Only by keeping them under public control can we ensure equitable ECE institutions provision. Privatisation and commercialisation in the education sector and competitive tendering of public services are a threat to equitable education and political governance by elected institutions. When ECE institutions are privatised and commercialised, the local authority’s governance and control of the ECE institutions sector is reduced. This extends to both the content and the scope of the provision. We are now seeing that it is in many cases the local authority that has to adjust to the private providers, not the other way around. We are increasingly seeing power being shifted away from the national authorities towards commercial players with financial gain as their goal. Our national ECE institutions policy is losing its footing, and that is hampering our ability to ensure that public money benefit the children. However, it has transpired that it is possible to slow down privatisation and competitive tendering of ECE institutions provision if there is political appetite for it locally.

ECE institutions should not be a commodity, either nationally or internationally

The Norwegian education system is influenced by international trends. We are seeing increasing commercialisation of ECE institutions provision and services in both rich and poor countries. Power is increasingly shifting towards commercial players and private interest to the detriment of elected institutions, teachers, leaders and other professionals. These commercial enterprises are often multinationals operating in several countries. Commercial forces are also gaining influence and control over ECE institutions content and pedagogical practices, both in Norway and abroad. This may be in the form of teaching programmes, testing or consultancy firms. This commercialisation will weaken both democratic governance of ECE institutions and the role of the teaching profession.
Fighting commercialisation and privatisation in and of education is one of the main focus areas of the international teachers’ organisation Education International (EI). Its goal is to identify, stop and reverse commercialisation globally. The UEN is working with the EI to prevent increased privatisation, commercialisation and competitive tendering in all EI member countries.

Equal terms of pay and employment

Around half of all Norwegian ECE institutions are privately owned, and a growing proportion of them are owned by commercial owners who run ECE institutions for profit. Private enterprises offering educational and public services frequently change employers’ organisations and wage agreement areas to circumvent the terms of pay and employment agreed for similar public sector enterprises. Such switching is particularly common in the ECE institutions sector. It is especially on pensions that private owners can make savings. Private ECE institutions currently receive a fixed grant of 13 per cent of salary costs in municipal ECE institutions, but private ECE institutions owners do not spend the entire grant on pensions, and some of the pension grant is therefore turned into profit for the owners. Many private ECE institutions are fairly new and their employees young. Salary costs are lower because their employees have fewer years of service, and pension costs are thus lower than in public ECE institutions. They also offer poorer pension packages than the public sector.

Genuine co-determination

Genuine co-determination is essential in order to achieve equal terms for our members working in private ECE institutions. The UEN must be conscious of its principles surrounding the commercialisation of ECE institutions while also placing emphasis on being a professional and trustworthy partner in the ECE institution sector. To succeed with this partnership, we must work to ensure day-to-day oversight and transparency, and we must work to prevent commercial enterprises from using UEN’s policies as an obstacle to co-operation. For employee representatives to be effective drivers for good and consensual co-determination processes in this complex political landscape, they need special support from their trade union.

Differences between commercial and not-for-profit organisations

The UEN takes the view that private ECE institutions must be run on a not-for-profit basis to be entitled to public funding. Not-for-profit ECE institutions aim to balance their books, and their owners may not take a profit. This objective goes a long way towards ensuring that public funds benefit the children. Commercial players in the ECE institution sector, on the other hand, have profit as their primary goal. There are numerous examples of commercial providers making a substantial profit on their ECE institution operations. Like other commercial businesses, the same private owners receive public grants funded by taxpayers’ money. These public grants become part of the company’s overall profit. The ownership structure determines who receives the profit. The profit may be distributed across different levels of ownership, but regardless of who receives it, public money helps fund the gains made by private ECE institution owners and therefore do not fully benefit the children.

Our goals

  • Safeguard democratic control of the ECE institution sector and the teaching profession’s influence over methodologies and pedagogical practices.
  • Prevent increased privatisation and commercialisation from impeding democratic governance and control of our ECE institutions.
  • A ban on ECE institutions’ making a profit.
  • Existing public ECE institutions shall not be subject to privatisation or competitive tendering.
  • Clearer legislation, e.g. by introducing a maximum staff-child ratio and tightening the existing ECE institution teacher-child ratio to prevent profit at the expense of optimal pedagogical provision for children and young people.
  • Statutory right to terms of pay and employment for personnel in private ECE institutions in line with those in public ECE institutions.
  • Pension schemes for private ECE institution staff must be equal to public service pensions.
  • All private ECE institutions must be covered by collective agreements and be entitled to negotiations and co-determination.
  • Better inspection and control of private ECE institutions.

How do we reach these goals?

In order to succeed in our effort against increased privatisation, competitive tendering and commercialisation, all levels at the UEN must keep highlighting these issues. We must take part in the public discourse locally, nationally and internationally in order to form opinion against increased privatisation, commercialisation and competitive tendering. We must build alliances and work with politicians, other education sector employees and parents. To achieve this, we rely on highly trained employee representatives and members. We must enable people in all parts of the organisation to share experiences and knowledge. The goals set out in this strategy must be disseminated at all levels, and they should permeate our argumentation locally and nationally.

The issues listed below are key instruments that must be adjusted, supplemented and refined according to how the lobbying activities will be carried out.

To achieve our objective of stopping the spread of commercial ECE institutions, it is particularly important at a local level to:

  • Help form opinion by participating in the public discourse.
  • Lobby local councillors by systematically engaging in information-sharing and dialogue in order to prevent privatisation, commercialisation and competitive tendering.
  • Reinforce efforts to recruit members and employee representatives in order to increase the degree of organisation in private ECE institutions.
  • Work to make equal terms of pay and employment a criterion when putting contracts out to tender.
  • Be a driver for effective and consensual co-determination processes in municipalities that are considering competitive tenders and privatising municipal ECE institutions in which there are UEN members.
  • Offer adequate training and support to employee representatives in private ECE institutions and schools.
  • Help ensure that private ECE institutions are inspected when it is considered necessary.

To achieve our objective of stopping the spread of commercial ECE institutions, it is particularly important at a county level to:

  • Help form opinion by participating in the public discourse.
  • Provide information to and engage in a dialogue with county councillors and officials about the consequences of increased privatisation.
  • Enable professional learning communities and professional awareness amongst members and employee representatives in order to identify and prevent commercialisation of ECE institution content.
  • Demand collective agreements for all private ECE institutions in the county.
  • Educate local employee representatives on processes surrounding competitive tendering, privatisation and commercialisation in particular.

To achieve our objective of stopping the spread of commercial ECE institutions, it is particularly important at a national level to:

  • Help form opinion by participating in the public discourse.
  • Lobby the national authorities to change laws and regulations by highlighting the consequences of privatisation and commercialisation with a view to introducing a ban on making a profit on private ECE institutions.
  • Actively use Unio and the EI to form opinion.
  • Support the EI’s strategy on commercialisation and privatisation in and of education.
  • Ensure that all parts of the organisation have the knowledge and facts necessary to be credible contributors and to persuade politicians and public opinion.
  • Continue the work to negotiate and develop collective agreements with good pay, employment and pension terms.
  • Further develop and implement course materials on these issues to educate members and employee representatives.
  • Enable experiences to be shared at all levels within the organisation.
  • Work to place senior employee representatives in large ECE institution chains and companies.
  • Defend and further refine the provisions in the Basic Agreement on co-determination on issues concerning competitive tendering and privatisation of municipal enterprises.
  • Ensure good frameworks for co-determination in private enterprises by strengthening and refining the Basic Agreements.