Societies’ relative use of private and public services is an abiding and significant issue of scholarly and policy interest. For higher education, however, there has hitherto been no comprehensive dataset and, accordingly, no extensive, reliable analysis of the private-public distribution. As this article provides both the dataset and the analysis, it allows us to discover both the size and geographical shape of global private higher education. Having grown greatly for decades, the private sector now holds a third (32.9%) of the world’s total higher education enrollment. We find striking patterns of concentration and dispersion. The several largest country systems account for much of the private enrollment but, simultaneously, private sectors now exist in all but a few systems; a stunning 97.6% of the world’s present enrollment is in systems with dual-sector provision. Societies no longer rely exclusively on public provision. We discover too that private enrollment concentrates mostly in developing regions, though it is noteworthy in developed regions as well. Asia and Latin America are the twin giants but in all regions, at least 10% of students are in the private sector.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Two different sorts of exceptions to the stated dearth bare mention here. (1) The major regional exception provides detailed data and analysis on Latin America, but takes us only to 1980 (Levy 1986). (2) A recent global piece reflects the major interest in gauging PHE quantitatively but focuses more on private growth than on the configurations produced by the growth (Buckner 2017) and is handicapped by using data on numbers of institutions, not enrollments (see footnote no. 7).
On only two countries, the UK and Israel, does PROPHE alter UIS designation in respect to private and public label.
Outside the USA, the most significant example of where PHE includes institutions limited in privateness is what the UIS and others label “government-dependent” private institutions, with ample publicness in finance and control; this phenomenon is rare outside Europe.
Certain kinds of private institutions (missionary schools, offshoots of businesses, correspondence schools, etc.) were often precursors to modern systems but almost all countries came to develop their modern systems predominantly through the public sector.
Number of institutions is the second most available type of data but a far off second and it is in any event a much inferior gauge of size, especially as so many institutions in PHE are tiny; where policymakers and analysts refer to PHE importance by private share of institutions, they exaggerate private importance.
The second ten countries in absolute private sector size are Mexico, Chile, Bangladesh, Colombia, Peru, Poland, Argentina, Venezuela, Malaysia, and France. Whereas Asia stands out in the top ten, Latin America stands out in this next ten.
India is the only country in the top ten where PHE equivalent to “government-dependent” has great weight.
While our mean of global private/total enrollment is 32.9%, the global mean of means across countries is 30.0% and the global median is 19.7%.
Unfortunately, policymakers and others sometimes characterize PHE in general by what they see of the USA. Given that the US’s PHE characteristics are exceptional, conflating US and global PHE is often a huge error.
A case could be made to add Taiwan (not included by UIS in its national listings) and Singapore to this article’s references to Japan and South Korea as developed countries with high private shares (both over 60%).
For developed and developing regions’ shares of global enrollment and population 2010, see http://www.prophe.org/en/global-phe/developed-vs-developing-regions/.
Only CANZ has less range, as it too lacks any country with a large private share, but also as it has only 3 countries with data versus Europe’s 44.
We separately explored the effects of omitting the systems largest in total enrollment but found no major difference from those shown through our principal exploration (omitting systems largest in private enrollment).
Roughly equal to India in total enrollment, the Chinese private share (19.6%) is well below Asia’s (42.1%) and even further below India’s 58.3%. Hence, whereas omitting India alone would modestly lower the regional average (to 35.9%), omitting both India and China would modestly raise the regional average (to 48.3%).
ADB. (2012). Private higher education across Asia. Mandaluyong City, Philippines: ADB.
Bjarnason, S. (2009). A new dynamic: private higher education. Paris: UNESCO.
Buckner, E. (2017). The worldwide growth of private higher education: cross-national patterns of higher education institution foundings by sector. Sociology of Education, 90(4), 296–314.
Geiger, R. L. (1986). Private sectors in higher education. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Hunt, S., Callender, C., & Parry, G. (2016). The entry and experience of private providers of higher education in six countries. London: Centre for Global Higher Education.
Jamshidi, L., Arasteh, H., NavehEbrahim, A., Zeinabadi, H., & Rasmussen, P. D. (2012). Developmental patterns of privatization in higher education. Higher Education, 64(6), 789–803.
Joshi, K. M., & Paivandi, S. (2015). Private higher education. New Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation.
Kinser, K., Levy, D. C., Silas, J. C., Bernasconi, A., Slantcheva, S., Otieno, W., … Lasota, R. (2010). The global growth of private higher education. CA: Wiley.
Kwiek, M. (2017). De-privatization in higher education. Higher Education, 74(2), 259–281.
Levy, D. C. (1986). Higher education and the state in Latin America: private challenges to public dominance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Levy, D. C. (1992). Private institutions of higher education. In B. R. Clark & G. Neave (Eds.), The encyclopedia of higher education (Vol. 2, pp. 1183–1195). New York: Pergamon Press.
Levy, D. C. (2013). The decline of private higher education. Higher Education Policy, 26, 25–42.
Mabizela, M. (2007). Special issue: private surge amid public dominance. In M. Mabizela, D. C. Levy, & W. Otieno, (Eds.), (Vol. 5). Senegal: Journal of Higher Education in Africa/ Revue de l’Enseignement Superieur En Afrique.
Marginson, S. (2007). The public/private divide in higher education: a global revision. Higher Education, 53(3), 307–333.
Powell, W. W., & Steinberg, R. (Eds.). (2006). The nonprofit sector: a research handbook (2nd ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press.
Shah, M., & Nair, C. S. (2016). A global perspective on private higher education. Cambridge: Elsevier Chandos Publishing.
Shils, E. (1973). The American private university. Minerva, 11(1), 6–29.
Slantcheva, S., & Levy, D. C. (Eds.). (2007). Private higher education in post-communist Europe (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Teixeira, P., Landoni, P., & Gilani, Z. (2017). Rethinking the public-private mix in higher education. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
About this article
Cite this article
Levy, D.C. Global private higher education: an empirical profile of its size and geographical shape. High Educ 76, 701–715 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-018-0233-6