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Podcast Episode: Meet Christine Ellison

In this episode, Dr Christine Ellison gets the opportunity to discuss her PhD research with Professor Alan Smith and Dr Alan McCully.

When Uganda introduced Universal Secondary Education (USE) it did so by partnering with non-state providers. These Public Private partnership (PPP) schools were seen as a cost-effective way of extending access to secondary schools for previously marginalized groups. These partnerships ended in 2018. In Christine’s PhD research she examined the extent to which these schools achieved these policy goals and the political and economic factors that shaped their uptake and implementation.

View a transcript for this podcast

This is PEER, a podcast that explores key political economy issues of education in the context of conflict and crisis. I am your host Christine Ellison. In this series we are meeting some of the members of the PEER network, a group dedicated to exploring and democratizing such issues. And today it is my turn! In conversation with Professor Alan Smith and Dr Alan McCully, I get the opportunity to discuss my PhD research. When Uganda introduced Universal Secondary Education or USE it did so by partnering with non-state providers. These Public Private partnership or PPP schools were seen as a cost-effective way of extending access to secondary schools for previously marginalized groups. These partnerships ended in 2018. In my PhD research I examined the extent to which these schools achieved these policy goals and the political and economic factors that shaped their uptake and implementation.

Alan McCully:

Tell us why you were motivated to do this project in the first place

Christine Ellison:

I’ve been working as a researcher in this area of education and development um for about 12 years now um looking at how uh education can contribute to wider societal development goals and social transformation um and one of the really big things about that area that has always struck me is these kind of international development frameworks and global education goals and these huge challenges really that they pose for policy makers

So one of the things that really fascinated me was to what extent can partnering with non-state providers, who are often critiqued, on this point basis of the implications in terms of equity. How can PPPs help contribute to universally focused policies such as USE? And then on the other hand was like I find it pretty incredible that the literature has been so apolitical in Uganda um you know and we know that universal fee-free policies are very politically appealing and they have been used strategically to garner favour at key times and any question of provision of education by non-state providers always throws up questions you know and differing opinions on um you know handing over state resources to potentially um profitable providers just raises a whole range of questions. And the fact that this had been completely ignored in the Ugandan literature was pretty striking and it also made it very difficult to really understand why it was implemented in the way that it was, why it was then reversed, and kind of limited the potential learning for future programming in Uganda in terms of what comes next but also more you know throughout other countries in Africa who are also kind of starting to think about implementing these policies.

Alan McCully:

So clearly the experience that you’ve had in the past very much set the context for the study? How far do you think that your previous experience and maybe the positions that you’ve taken on PPPs how far might that have influenced the study itself?

Christine Ellison:

A lot of my work had been around education’s… it comes back to this question of these two roles for education and development. So, education in terms of how it, particularly secondary education, can create a profitable workforce for the future and in terms of developing the country economically. And then a lot of my work has been more in terms of the wider goals of education in terms of contributing to social transformation tackling forms of socioeconomic inequality. And areas of consensus and disagreement between those two discourses were very important for the way which parts of the policy were implemented well.

Alan McCully:

You mentioned quite often about at a time Uganda being the darling nation. Do you think that that had an impact on deflecting criticism of the policy? Did Uganda get away with things simply because the outside, the external world, wasn’t being that critical?

Christine Ellison:

I think that more so in terms of the 1990s when the focus was on the primary education and the pro-poor agenda. There was a definite symbiotic relationship between the international community and Uganda in terms of presenting it as being very pro-poor when actually a lot of the you know research now shows that there was so many you know inequities in terms of who benefited from UPE. I think more in terms of the secondary level what has happened is that basically the international community has kind of lost a lot of its seats at the table in terms of education policy and you know having their say in terms of that. And the ones that do are the world bank and to a lesser extent DFID and um it’s you know quite clear that the World Bank was a promoter of PPPs at the time whenever the idea was brought up to introduce it as well this way.

Alan Smith:

Could you summarize briefly if you had a chance meeting with the Ugandan Minister of Education what the thesis is about and what your main findings are?

Christine Ellison:

So the thesis examines the contribution of PPPs to Universal Secondary Education in Uganda and it started by really trying to assess the policy in terms of the objectives that it set out for itself. So by analysing the policies I identified three ways that it aimed to impact access to secondary education. so they were:

  1. increasing the number of schools by partnering with non-state partners
  2. removing the financial barrier by paying tuition fees for eligible students and
  3. improving the quality of secondary education by fostering school choice

Then I examined these three aspects in terms of the empirical data and carried out interviews with policy makers to understand some of the processes around why they have the outcomes that they did. Overall in terms of um the technical aspect in terms of how they impacted the distribution of access to secondary education PPPs were very similar in most aspects to government schools but in looking at the focus group discussions it became clear that in being so similar it didn’t change the conditions of access for people who would have previously been marginalized. So people who couldn’t afford the fees in government schools, couldn’t afford the fees and PPP schools. People who couldn’t get to a you know government school because it was too far, also couldn’t get to a PPP school and people who couldn’t get into a government school because the selection criteria was too high you know also couldn’t in a PPP school and so in not changing any of those conditions, it’s just contributing it’s part of the same system and reinforces existing inequalities and patterns of exclusion.

Alan Smith:

Okay and if you had one more minute with him and he said what would be a better way of getting equitable access, universal access, to secondary education what would you suggest?

Christine Ellison:

well I think you know there’s the technical answer and there’s a political answer and I think the technical answer is that I would reprioritize resources to basic education and ensure that everybody has access to that level before they can transition through. Politically, that’s not going to happen really because the policy legacy has already been set, it’s a very politically favourable policy for the government. And so I think really the answer is more about having different people um involved making more space for the international community and government officials to come together to kind of look for areas where they can push through these more equitable reforms as part of Universal Secondary Education

Alan Smith:

So are you actually saying then that the introduction of universal secondary education has disadvantaged primary school children?

Christine Ellison:

Yes I think that’s a key point. The resources that have been that have gone to use have really put pressure on the primary school sector and it’s very clear that the primary sector is not delivering access to all um of Uganda equitably and without having that firm base you can’t transition, you cannot have a universal secondary education programme.

Alan Smith:

As people who don’t specialize um in you know this field uh maybe don’t see much of a distinction between PPPs and private schools could you clarify is there any distinction and if so what is it?

Christine Ellison:

I guess the distinction is really the memorandum of understanding so there’s lots of different ways that PPPs can be constructed but it’s basically a partnership between government and um and non-state sector

Alan Smith:

So does that mean that uh schools created through PPPs have more constraints on them than just simply freestanding private schools that they’re allowed to operate

Christine Ellison:

Well that’s the theory behind it, is it’s a kind of way to make use of the theoretical efficiencies and quality gains of the private sector but with the checks and balances of the government.

Alan McCully:

On Museveni’s role, I think you bring out quite clearly the way in which he has used elections, he’s used education to boost election progress and so on. But is there an argument that the very fact that he has personally identified with education has meant that that has overall it has been beneficial uh to educational development in Uganda? So is it predominantly a constructive or a destructive element of the situation?

Christine Ellison:

well that’s interesting, in terms of the amount of resources that it’s been allocated it’s always been one of the you know higher up levels. I guess my point would always come back to the incentives that um the government is working with are still pushing towards physical, visible outputs and increase in numbers and you know while it focuses it on education it’s not necessarily um you know for in the way that others with more equity agenda might want. Also because you know a lot of these are a lot of the key kind of policies like UPE and USE have been introduced at these kind of key election times means that they are by necessity kind of rushed through and so you know you talk to policymakers who kind of said well there’s nothing you can do it’s a campaign pledge, it just has to take precedent over everything else. So important work that’s maybe going on in terms of you know other aspects of education programming just has to be kind of put to the side while these big visible campaign pledges get pushed through and not necessarily in a most well thought out or well-planned way just simply because of the timing and how they’ve been brought in.

Alan McCully:

So mixed methods… I like that the way you formulated that sort of the interface between the quantitative and the qualitative. In your own work what are the relative strengths of each approach?

Christine Ellison:

The quantitative data for me was very important in terms of highlighting this fact about the being very similar in all of these different respects um whenever you look at you know for phase for example it was literally within um you know a few Ugandan shillings between you know most of the school types in the different regions so i think that you know that was a really necessary part. I also think that um the regression analysis was very important to highlight that they were not located in terms of where the policy was aiming for them to be located but it was very difficult to see to get much more from that regression analysis in terms of where um you know there might have been over or under supply and that’s why i went with the spatial analysis. It was my first time you know working with that um type of analysis but I found it really really helpful in terms of um seeing in particular just the band between Kampala down to the South which very obviously mapped onto you know where the main road goes through the capital kind of honing in on the main you know points by the distribution. And also seeing that that north-eastern aspect very clearly is split from the rest of the country in terms of all the you know water in um Lake Victoria i think those parts of it wouldn’t really have come out in you know any other type of um data analysis. And then um in terms of the qualitative I mean I think that that was always very important in terms of seeing what the implications were for different people and um to bring home this fact that even though they’re similar it didn’t change the fact that people who couldn’t go to a government school still couldn’t go to you know um a PPP school. So I think in terms of contextualizing that quantitative data and um saying what that meant in terms of um people’s lives and who was able to enrol was very important

Alan Smith:

Just a couple of questions around the enabling environment. The first one is, what do you think were the main factors in the enabling environment that led to the adoption uh of USE?

Christine Ellison:

I think USE was very much um so a global kind of education goal that Uganda does have this kind of portrayal as an early adopter of these kind of policies and one that fit very well with its more nationally driven development agenda in terms of modernizing the workforce and that kind of um rhetoric. So there was a lot of overlap in terms of the international community and the Ugandan government in terms of pushing for USE. And then in terms of PPPs, I think that was again an area that fit very well with Uganda’s kind of approach to things in terms of being an early adopter of PPPs and had used it in a lot of infrastructure projects um as well as being something that the key donor in the education policy field at that time, the world bank, um you know was a keen promoter of. And I think that this uh rhetoric… I find it interesting the way that it came across um mostly in the education sector plans and the financial modelling that the development partners kind of fed into the policy process in terms of really reinforcing this fact that this was not a policy that they could afford to do.

Alan Smith:

You’re maybe going to say something about the implementation side but before you do that, you’d mention the World Bank there. I mean we often tend to talk about this international community and international discourses etc as a kind of homogenous group but are there particular bilateral donors for example who are advocating for PPPs? What about uh the UN organizations? How do international NGOs some of the big ones where do they sit in relation to the this debate are they just one big homogenous international lobby?

Christine Ellison:

So really from what conversations with um the policymakers was that although there were lots and lots of voices World Bank’s was very much the kind of key voice to be heard. And what I think was interesting is that um in particular DFID was there as an advisor so put kind of um you know technical reports or uh tools to try and plan for um you know where to locate schools and that type of thing but wasn’t really taken up whereas world bank really engaged in like the policy dialogue and the more political aspects of it and seems to have um well by everyone’s account had a much more larger steer in the way things went. And then in terms of other actors there was a charitable organization with a policy side to it that was what produced a lot of reports just about the equity side of PPP’s which I think were definitely recognized by people but there was no way for those types of organizations to really get into the actual policy process. I think an important thing was that these education sector working groups had finished by the stage that this policy was being um conceived so whereas they would have had a lot more input in terms of UPE and around that time of that pro-poor agenda by the time that it came to this, that kind of wider policy dialogue had really been shut down.

Alan Smith:

And so the other question is really probably the implementation side of it because it was really about how important were the international donor donors and discourses in influencing the original commitment to USE? How important were they in then cancelling the policy? What was the sort of dynamic between the international and the national discourses there?

Christine Ellison:

I mean from the interviews again it was very clear that this was something that they did not want to happen at all, they did not want to it to be reversed. So by this stage DFID had moved back into bilateral programming so DFID and the world bank were kind of the key players by this stage. And DFID funded a policy review basically to highlight you know the implications of um reversing the policy. World Bank it’s more informally conversations of them again the rhetoric of how many students would not have access to um schooling. But that was something that came again really clearly from the interviews the fact that it was just hugely seen as a political decision… they weren’t getting what they needed from the PPP aspect of it

Alan Smith:

What do you think give them the confidence, the government or Museveni, the confidence to sort of go in the face of international sort of encouragement?

Christine Ellison:

I think that’s the thing that’s the difference between government decisions or policy level decisions or these almost like you know the campaign pledge type stuff. It is seen almost as beyond influence. It’s a really personalized area of policy tied to his presidential pledge but also education in itself is personally tied to him and his wife and it was just this particular area was he could do what he liked.

Alan Smith:

So did he cancel it because it wasn’t achieving what it said it would? Or is because he thought it was it was failing and he wanted to disassociate himself from it?

Christine Ellison:

No, that’s what I originally thought actually to be honest. I did think it was more that. Because at the time for example Bridge which weren’t a PPP but are associated with that area were coming under a huge you know attack in Uganda for various things. But I think it was a lot more to do with wanting to renationalize the secondary sector and for it to be them in particular being seen to prepare the kind of productive workforce

Alan Smith:

When you were doing the interviews or any of the other data that you’ve used, is there a general consensus within the population you think that this would improve quality?

Christine Ellison:

I think it’s one of those things that people say they kind of do you know like whenever I was doing the interviews people at the end I would often ask them that question of do you think that PPPs can deliver this type of um universal program and most of their responses would be well you know in terms of learning outcomes these schools do better. So there is a general rhetoric of it. But there was one very interesting quote where um one of the development partners said you know that these types of tools are good for quality but that was the wrong tool for the issue in hand which was very much about access. That kind of sums it up you know people it was like an added value type thing that people kind of added into conversations of you know oh also it’ll increase quality but it wasn’t the issue that people were trying to solve.

Alan McCully:

When it’s all said and done was the fundamental weakness of the policy the size of the payments made per individual pupil? It strikes me reading it that given what that that was inadequate that the scheme was never going to fulfil its possibilities?

Christine Ellison:

It’s interesting isn’t it because that is the finding but it’s also the justification for the way that it was implemented you know. So it’s both um the cause of its failure but also the justification for the way that it was done. For me it’s just more of a kind of a stark warning to other countries that are wanting to do this. This isn’t this isn’t a solution to the fact that you don’t have enough money to fund this properly.

Alan McCully:

Yes because they fundamentally, they haven’t got the funding. And then as you’ve already pointed out the knock-on effect back on UPE because money has been drained into just being spread too far.

Where can your thesis contribute to that greater understanding then?

Christine Ellison:

Well I think there is it’s definitely the question of technical answers in and of themselves aren’t particularly easy for policymakers to act on. Political ones in and of themselves aren’t particularly easy for them to act on. It comes back to this idea that if I was given the technical answer it would be to re-prioritize basic education and just stop that USE policy at this point and wait until you’ve reached much higher levels of completion across the whole country before you know redirecting funds into um this type of policy but that’s just not going to happen in this kind of political context. Everybody works with in their own kind of frame of incentives and government is going to be incentivized by these kind of short-term highly visible outputs. USE is a very politically attractive one which may push politicians to maybe introduce it as a campaign pledge at key electoral times but just to be aware that if you don’t have enough money and it comes up as a suggested solution that PPPs are the solution, that is not necessarily going to sit well with your incentives and what you are trying to gain from it.

In this episode, Dr Christine Ellison gets the opportunity to discuss her PhD research with Professor Alan Smith and Dr Alan McCully.

When Uganda introduced Universal Secondary Education (USE) it did so by partnering with non-state providers. These Public Private partnership (PPP) schools were seen as a cost-effective way of extending access to secondary schools for previously marginalized groups. These partnerships ended in 2018. In Christine’s PhD research she examined the extent to which these schools achieved these policy goals and the political and economic factors that shaped their uptake and implementation.

View a transcript for this podcast

This is PEER, a podcast that explores key political economy issues of education in the context of conflict and crisis. I am your host Christine Ellison. In this series we are meeting some of the members of the PEER network, a group dedicated to exploring and democratizing such issues. And today it is my turn! In conversation with Professor Alan Smith and Dr Alan McCully, I get the opportunity to discuss my PhD research. When Uganda introduced Universal Secondary Education or USE it did so by partnering with non-state providers. These Public Private partnership or PPP schools were seen as a cost-effective way of extending access to secondary schools for previously marginalized groups. These partnerships ended in 2018. In my PhD research I examined the extent to which these schools achieved these policy goals and the political and economic factors that shaped their uptake and implementation.

Alan McCully:

Tell us why you were motivated to do this project in the first place

Christine Ellison:

I’ve been working as a researcher in this area of education and development um for about 12 years now um looking at how uh education can contribute to wider societal development goals and social transformation um and one of the really big things about that area that has always struck me is these kind of international development frameworks and global education goals and these huge challenges really that they pose for policy makers

So one of the things that really fascinated me was to what extent can partnering with non-state providers, who are often critiqued, on this point basis of the implications in terms of equity. How can PPPs help contribute to universally focused policies such as USE? And then on the other hand was like I find it pretty incredible that the literature has been so apolitical in Uganda um you know and we know that universal fee-free policies are very politically appealing and they have been used strategically to garner favour at key times and any question of provision of education by non-state providers always throws up questions you know and differing opinions on um you know handing over state resources to potentially um profitable providers just raises a whole range of questions. And the fact that this had been completely ignored in the Ugandan literature was pretty striking and it also made it very difficult to really understand why it was implemented in the way that it was, why it was then reversed, and kind of limited the potential learning for future programming in Uganda in terms of what comes next but also more you know throughout other countries in Africa who are also kind of starting to think about implementing these policies.

Alan McCully:

So clearly the experience that you’ve had in the past very much set the context for the study? How far do you think that your previous experience and maybe the positions that you’ve taken on PPPs how far might that have influenced the study itself?

Christine Ellison:

A lot of my work had been around education’s… it comes back to this question of these two roles for education and development. So, education in terms of how it, particularly secondary education, can create a profitable workforce for the future and in terms of developing the country economically. And then a lot of my work has been more in terms of the wider goals of education in terms of contributing to social transformation tackling forms of socioeconomic inequality. And areas of consensus and disagreement between those two discourses were very important for the way which parts of the policy were implemented well.

Alan McCully:

You mentioned quite often about at a time Uganda being the darling nation. Do you think that that had an impact on deflecting criticism of the policy? Did Uganda get away with things simply because the outside, the external world, wasn’t being that critical?

Christine Ellison:

I think that more so in terms of the 1990s when the focus was on the primary education and the pro-poor agenda. There was a definite symbiotic relationship between the international community and Uganda in terms of presenting it as being very pro-poor when actually a lot of the you know research now shows that there was so many you know inequities in terms of who benefited from UPE. I think more in terms of the secondary level what has happened is that basically the international community has kind of lost a lot of its seats at the table in terms of education policy and you know having their say in terms of that. And the ones that do are the world bank and to a lesser extent DFID and um it’s you know quite clear that the World Bank was a promoter of PPPs at the time whenever the idea was brought up to introduce it as well this way.

Alan Smith:

Could you summarize briefly if you had a chance meeting with the Ugandan Minister of Education what the thesis is about and what your main findings are?

Christine Ellison:

So the thesis examines the contribution of PPPs to Universal Secondary Education in Uganda and it started by really trying to assess the policy in terms of the objectives that it set out for itself. So by analysing the policies I identified three ways that it aimed to impact access to secondary education. so they were:

  1. increasing the number of schools by partnering with non-state partners
  2. removing the financial barrier by paying tuition fees for eligible students and
  3. improving the quality of secondary education by fostering school choice

Then I examined these three aspects in terms of the empirical data and carried out interviews with policy makers to understand some of the processes around why they have the outcomes that they did. Overall in terms of um the technical aspect in terms of how they impacted the distribution of access to secondary education PPPs were very similar in most aspects to government schools but in looking at the focus group discussions it became clear that in being so similar it didn’t change the conditions of access for people who would have previously been marginalized. So people who couldn’t afford the fees in government schools, couldn’t afford the fees and PPP schools. People who couldn’t get to a you know government school because it was too far, also couldn’t get to a PPP school and people who couldn’t get into a government school because the selection criteria was too high you know also couldn’t in a PPP school and so in not changing any of those conditions, it’s just contributing it’s part of the same system and reinforces existing inequalities and patterns of exclusion.

Alan Smith:

Okay and if you had one more minute with him and he said what would be a better way of getting equitable access, universal access, to secondary education what would you suggest?

Christine Ellison:

well I think you know there’s the technical answer and there’s a political answer and I think the technical answer is that I would reprioritize resources to basic education and ensure that everybody has access to that level before they can transition through. Politically, that’s not going to happen really because the policy legacy has already been set, it’s a very politically favourable policy for the government. And so I think really the answer is more about having different people um involved making more space for the international community and government officials to come together to kind of look for areas where they can push through these more equitable reforms as part of Universal Secondary Education

Alan Smith:

So are you actually saying then that the introduction of universal secondary education has disadvantaged primary school children?

Christine Ellison:

Yes I think that’s a key point. The resources that have been that have gone to use have really put pressure on the primary school sector and it’s very clear that the primary sector is not delivering access to all um of Uganda equitably and without having that firm base you can’t transition, you cannot have a universal secondary education programme.

Alan Smith:

As people who don’t specialize um in you know this field uh maybe don’t see much of a distinction between PPPs and private schools could you clarify is there any distinction and if so what is it?

Christine Ellison:

I guess the distinction is really the memorandum of understanding so there’s lots of different ways that PPPs can be constructed but it’s basically a partnership between government and um and non-state sector

Alan Smith:

So does that mean that uh schools created through PPPs have more constraints on them than just simply freestanding private schools that they’re allowed to operate

Christine Ellison:

Well that’s the theory behind it, is it’s a kind of way to make use of the theoretical efficiencies and quality gains of the private sector but with the checks and balances of the government.

Alan McCully:

On Museveni’s role, I think you bring out quite clearly the way in which he has used elections, he’s used education to boost election progress and so on. But is there an argument that the very fact that he has personally identified with education has meant that that has overall it has been beneficial uh to educational development in Uganda? So is it predominantly a constructive or a destructive element of the situation?

Christine Ellison:

well that’s interesting, in terms of the amount of resources that it’s been allocated it’s always been one of the you know higher up levels. I guess my point would always come back to the incentives that um the government is working with are still pushing towards physical, visible outputs and increase in numbers and you know while it focuses it on education it’s not necessarily um you know for in the way that others with more equity agenda might want. Also because you know a lot of these are a lot of the key kind of policies like UPE and USE have been introduced at these kind of key election times means that they are by necessity kind of rushed through and so you know you talk to policymakers who kind of said well there’s nothing you can do it’s a campaign pledge, it just has to take precedent over everything else. So important work that’s maybe going on in terms of you know other aspects of education programming just has to be kind of put to the side while these big visible campaign pledges get pushed through and not necessarily in a most well thought out or well-planned way just simply because of the timing and how they’ve been brought in.

Alan McCully:

So mixed methods… I like that the way you formulated that sort of the interface between the quantitative and the qualitative. In your own work what are the relative strengths of each approach?

Christine Ellison:

The quantitative data for me was very important in terms of highlighting this fact about the being very similar in all of these different respects um whenever you look at you know for phase for example it was literally within um you know a few Ugandan shillings between you know most of the school types in the different regions so i think that you know that was a really necessary part. I also think that um the regression analysis was very important to highlight that they were not located in terms of where the policy was aiming for them to be located but it was very difficult to see to get much more from that regression analysis in terms of where um you know there might have been over or under supply and that’s why i went with the spatial analysis. It was my first time you know working with that um type of analysis but I found it really really helpful in terms of um seeing in particular just the band between Kampala down to the South which very obviously mapped onto you know where the main road goes through the capital kind of honing in on the main you know points by the distribution. And also seeing that that north-eastern aspect very clearly is split from the rest of the country in terms of all the you know water in um Lake Victoria i think those parts of it wouldn’t really have come out in you know any other type of um data analysis. And then um in terms of the qualitative I mean I think that that was always very important in terms of seeing what the implications were for different people and um to bring home this fact that even though they’re similar it didn’t change the fact that people who couldn’t go to a government school still couldn’t go to you know um a PPP school. So I think in terms of contextualizing that quantitative data and um saying what that meant in terms of um people’s lives and who was able to enrol was very important

Alan Smith:

Just a couple of questions around the enabling environment. The first one is, what do you think were the main factors in the enabling environment that led to the adoption uh of USE?

Christine Ellison:

I think USE was very much um so a global kind of education goal that Uganda does have this kind of portrayal as an early adopter of these kind of policies and one that fit very well with its more nationally driven development agenda in terms of modernizing the workforce and that kind of um rhetoric. So there was a lot of overlap in terms of the international community and the Ugandan government in terms of pushing for USE. And then in terms of PPPs, I think that was again an area that fit very well with Uganda’s kind of approach to things in terms of being an early adopter of PPPs and had used it in a lot of infrastructure projects um as well as being something that the key donor in the education policy field at that time, the world bank, um you know was a keen promoter of. And I think that this uh rhetoric… I find it interesting the way that it came across um mostly in the education sector plans and the financial modelling that the development partners kind of fed into the policy process in terms of really reinforcing this fact that this was not a policy that they could afford to do.

Alan Smith:

You’re maybe going to say something about the implementation side but before you do that, you’d mention the World Bank there. I mean we often tend to talk about this international community and international discourses etc as a kind of homogenous group but are there particular bilateral donors for example who are advocating for PPPs? What about uh the UN organizations? How do international NGOs some of the big ones where do they sit in relation to the this debate are they just one big homogenous international lobby?

Christine Ellison:

So really from what conversations with um the policymakers was that although there were lots and lots of voices World Bank’s was very much the kind of key voice to be heard. And what I think was interesting is that um in particular DFID was there as an advisor so put kind of um you know technical reports or uh tools to try and plan for um you know where to locate schools and that type of thing but wasn’t really taken up whereas world bank really engaged in like the policy dialogue and the more political aspects of it and seems to have um well by everyone’s account had a much more larger steer in the way things went. And then in terms of other actors there was a charitable organization with a policy side to it that was what produced a lot of reports just about the equity side of PPP’s which I think were definitely recognized by people but there was no way for those types of organizations to really get into the actual policy process. I think an important thing was that these education sector working groups had finished by the stage that this policy was being um conceived so whereas they would have had a lot more input in terms of UPE and around that time of that pro-poor agenda by the time that it came to this, that kind of wider policy dialogue had really been shut down.

Alan Smith:

And so the other question is really probably the implementation side of it because it was really about how important were the international donor donors and discourses in influencing the original commitment to USE? How important were they in then cancelling the policy? What was the sort of dynamic between the international and the national discourses there?

Christine Ellison:

I mean from the interviews again it was very clear that this was something that they did not want to happen at all, they did not want to it to be reversed. So by this stage DFID had moved back into bilateral programming so DFID and the world bank were kind of the key players by this stage. And DFID funded a policy review basically to highlight you know the implications of um reversing the policy. World Bank it’s more informally conversations of them again the rhetoric of how many students would not have access to um schooling. But that was something that came again really clearly from the interviews the fact that it was just hugely seen as a political decision… they weren’t getting what they needed from the PPP aspect of it

Alan Smith:

What do you think give them the confidence, the government or Museveni, the confidence to sort of go in the face of international sort of encouragement?

Christine Ellison:

I think that’s the thing that’s the difference between government decisions or policy level decisions or these almost like you know the campaign pledge type stuff. It is seen almost as beyond influence. It’s a really personalized area of policy tied to his presidential pledge but also education in itself is personally tied to him and his wife and it was just this particular area was he could do what he liked.

Alan Smith:

So did he cancel it because it wasn’t achieving what it said it would? Or is because he thought it was it was failing and he wanted to disassociate himself from it?

Christine Ellison:

No, that’s what I originally thought actually to be honest. I did think it was more that. Because at the time for example Bridge which weren’t a PPP but are associated with that area were coming under a huge you know attack in Uganda for various things. But I think it was a lot more to do with wanting to renationalize the secondary sector and for it to be them in particular being seen to prepare the kind of productive workforce

Alan Smith:

When you were doing the interviews or any of the other data that you’ve used, is there a general consensus within the population you think that this would improve quality?

Christine Ellison:

I think it’s one of those things that people say they kind of do you know like whenever I was doing the interviews people at the end I would often ask them that question of do you think that PPPs can deliver this type of um universal program and most of their responses would be well you know in terms of learning outcomes these schools do better. So there is a general rhetoric of it. But there was one very interesting quote where um one of the development partners said you know that these types of tools are good for quality but that was the wrong tool for the issue in hand which was very much about access. That kind of sums it up you know people it was like an added value type thing that people kind of added into conversations of you know oh also it’ll increase quality but it wasn’t the issue that people were trying to solve.

Alan McCully:

When it’s all said and done was the fundamental weakness of the policy the size of the payments made per individual pupil? It strikes me reading it that given what that that was inadequate that the scheme was never going to fulfil its possibilities?

Christine Ellison:

It’s interesting isn’t it because that is the finding but it’s also the justification for the way that it was implemented you know. So it’s both um the cause of its failure but also the justification for the way that it was done. For me it’s just more of a kind of a stark warning to other countries that are wanting to do this. This isn’t this isn’t a solution to the fact that you don’t have enough money to fund this properly.

Alan McCully:

Yes because they fundamentally, they haven’t got the funding. And then as you’ve already pointed out the knock-on effect back on UPE because money has been drained into just being spread too far.

Where can your thesis contribute to that greater understanding then?

Christine Ellison:

Well I think there is it’s definitely the question of technical answers in and of themselves aren’t particularly easy for policymakers to act on. Political ones in and of themselves aren’t particularly easy for them to act on. It comes back to this idea that if I was given the technical answer it would be to re-prioritize basic education and just stop that USE policy at this point and wait until you’ve reached much higher levels of completion across the whole country before you know redirecting funds into um this type of policy but that’s just not going to happen in this kind of political context. Everybody works with in their own kind of frame of incentives and government is going to be incentivized by these kind of short-term highly visible outputs. USE is a very politically attractive one which may push politicians to maybe introduce it as a campaign pledge at key electoral times but just to be aware that if you don’t have enough money and it comes up as a suggested solution that PPPs are the solution, that is not necessarily going to sit well with your incentives and what you are trying to gain from it.

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