Private higher education is now the fastest growing segment of higher education. The massive expansion of private higher education institutions (PHEI) is a relatively new, and somewhat unexpected, phenomenon in the history of higher education. This dissertation examines the growth of private higher education worldwide, and asks: What explains the worldwide expansion of private higher education? Specifically, under which conditions do nation-states shift responsibilities for structuring educational opportunities away from the state towards the market?

To that end, the project focuses on the role of international governmental organizations (IGOs) in the diffusion of global models for higher education policies. My project relies on a combination of sources: It draws on policy documents produced by various stakeholders to examine dominant models for higher education systems. It also examines the effect of national budgets as well as international pressures on the decisions of nations to promote the expansion of the private higher education sector. Finally, the dissertation includes an explicitly comparative case study of nations that have predominantly public higher education systems with nations relying primarily on private non-profit, and private for-profit institutions. This project will be the first of its kind to apply a combination of qualitative and quantitative, longitudinal analysis to investigate the factors that have furthered the privatization of higher education around the world.

Broader Impacts Findings from this research may advance our understanding of how complex globalization dynamics affect social policies pursued by nation states. In addition, this research project will produce original dataset to be disseminated not only in the academic community, but also among national and international policy makers. By collecting never-before-compiled data on the year of privatization, the dataset will be the first step towards conducting causal analysis of the effects of privatization on outcomes such as access and equity. As such, findings from this research will provide insights for international and national policies that may ultimately contribute to improve access and equity in systems of higher education worldwide.

Project Report

sectors. Rejecting the idea that nations independently decide to expand their private higher education sectors solely because of national buget pressures, this research project aimed to understand the global discourse that encourages the founding of private universities, and then, what nation-level factors affect founding rates. The project compiled a database of 600+ documents on higher education policy from UNESCO and the World Bank. These documents were then analyzed using qualitative and quantitative research methods. The analysis suggests that prior to the 1990s, higher education was considered a "national" enterprise, and was structured around higher education for building the local political leaders, and training individuals for their future roles in the economy. During the era of globalization (post-1990), the fall of the USSR and the rise of neoliberalism brought an acceptance of the private market as a provider of public goods. Globalization brought the opening of markets, increasing inter-connectedness, and mobility, and so, higher education discourse is increasingly oriented towards global competitiveness. In this world, the result is that the whole definition of "sector" occurs — the private sector is defined in relation to the public sector. Emphasis on the public sector does not disappear, but its role is redefined to be a "strategic" role. The second part of this project examines where and when private universities have expanded around the world, to understand how global discourse is being diffused to nations with very different economic realities and different cultural histories. The project created two databases -- the first includes university founding dates and sector, and the second collects data from 1950-2005 on student enrollments in universities. Using regression analyses, the findings suggest that private universities have grown faster in certain regions of the world than others. Despite having few private universities in the Middle East, East Asia, and Central and Eastern Europe in 1970s, there has been great growth in these regions in terms of the number and density of private universities. Using regression analyses, this growth is linked to a number of national factors, including whether the country was under a structural adjusment policy by the World Bank, and the level of integration the country experienced into international organizations. Additionally, before 1990, historal coonial legacies seem to be an important factor -- and French colonized countries are less likely to have private universities. However, in the era of globalization (post-1990), colonial legacy has no impact on the number of private universities. The database of universities, founding date and enrollments over time will be available for the public to download in the near future.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Saylor Breckenridge
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Stanford University
Palo Alto
United States
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