It is widely recognised that investment in education is crucial to foster economic growth, to improve competitiveness and social cohesion, to raise citizens’ standards of living and well-being, to foster redistribution of wealth and to provide citizens with the skills and competences they need for coping with labour-market transitions and the repercussions of economic crisis. One major threat recently emerging is that on the grounds of budgetary constraints, some countries have tended to increase their reliance on the private sector, often justifying it on the neoliberal assumption of quality and efficiency gains. Budget constraints have encouraged governments and administrations at all levels to look for other ways to finance education: for example by promoting public/private partnership or by widening the spaces for private, commercial and financial actors in education. Moreover, especially in CEE countries, funding issues and privatisation of certain education services/institutions are going hand in hand with education system reforms.

At the occasion of the ETUCE CEE Round Table in Bucharest, 19-21 October 2015, Dorota Obidniak, ZNP-Poland, rang the alarm bell of on-going education privatisation trends in Poland. As she reported, several recent cases of privatization have raised the disappointment of teacher unions leading to a new wave of unions’ protests. First, more than 2000 public schools were closed, second, more than 500  public schools were transferred by local governments to external parties (foundations, associations, partnerships) private schools spread as never happened before and third, teacher working conditions are deteriorating.

ZNP reported as an example that in the rural municipality of Hanna, near Lublin, in Poland, parents have been deprived by the opportunity to enrol their children in public schools. As from 2008, every public school in Hanna turned into a private school. This shift has been justified by the need of savings. The major of Hanna affirmed indeed that “Most of the local government’s educational spending was for teachers’ salaries and related expenses – they ‘consume’ about of 90% of the subsidy. Teachers ruin local budgets. This is the truth”. In Leśniowice, the municipal authorities decided to turn associations into schools. In parallel, other public school in the villages nearby had been closed to drive students in these schools. However, the transfer of schools in Leśniowice has not resulted in a considerable reduction of public budget. As Ms Obdniak stated “the myth has proved false. The only result is that despite the fact that the schools are now run by associations rather than by public authorities, their upkeep has not become cheaper for the State.”

The consequences for quality education are appalling. In private schools the Teacher’s Charter does not apply and working conditions are therefore worst. Teachers’ salary is lower in private schools and teachers lose their social protection rights, with deteriorating effects on teachers’ status and overall quality. Martin Romer, ETUCE European Director recalled the consequences of increasing privatisations on quality of education “EI and ETUCE argue that the role of private providers in financing, delivering and managing education institutions and/or education services hampers equity of access and participation in education, reduces education to a commodity rather than a public good, and undermine education as a human right. Wherever teachers are, in public or private education institutions, teacher unions should be present, in order to defend their rights and advocate for quality of education.”