IDEAS Event Report

“Successes and Challenges of Public Private Partnerships in Education”

Thursday, November 5th 2015

In 2011, IDEAS held an event on Public Private Partnership (PPPs) in the school system which was centered around sharing international experiences and creating buy-in from key policymakers in order to support the growth of PPP in schools. By then, PPPs in education were beginning to take off in Malaysia with the Prime Minister’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) playing a role in this.  The Malaysian Education Blueprint 2012 – 2025 (MEB), which discusses PPPs as one of the ways to improve the quality of education, and the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015 – 2025 Higher Education (MEB HE) were not launched yet.


Since this first event, PPPs in education have continued to grow. The PPPs under the MEB, namely the Trust Schools, have been in operation for nearly five years. Recently Ekuinas, a private equity company owned by the Malaysian Government, launched the ILMU Education Group, ILMU, an integrated multi brand education provider, another example of PPP in education.

These developments deserve discussion and reflection. For that reason, IDEAS held this forum. This aim of the seminar was for it to be a platform for the open exchange of experiences from participants of PPPs in education in addition to identifying the successes and challenges facing PPPs in education with schools, tertiary education and technical education and vocational training. It seeks to address questions on how PPPs in education in Malaysia can be further promoted and improved.


Panelists were Tengku Nurul Azian Tengku Shahriman, Director, Education and SRI Human Capital Development, PEMANDU, Tan Jing Kuan, COO of Brighton Education Group and Ian Comfort, Group CEO, Academies Enterprise Trust, United Kingdom. The session was moderated by Dzameer Dzulfikli Co-founder and Managing Director of Teach for Malaysia.



Tengku Azian (TA) began the presentations with an overview of PPPs in the education sector. She touched upon the the areas that PPPs  could play a role in and the current examples in operation. She noted a few more areas where more work needs to be done in infrastructure PPPs (only one example of that currently in Malaysia – that of EPSOM schools), education service delivery (besides public schools and Trust School program) and demand side financing programs (e.g. voucher programs). She observed that, “Clearly there is a lot of benefit if we push for PPP as it will reduce operational burden.” She went on to say that, “I’m a great believer in raising competition in the school sector quality will rise…it will give parents more choice.” She also went over the areas that there was some work being done on PPPs such as TEVT, Special Education Needs or will have a bigger role for private sector to play such as Highly Immersive Programme, Dual Language Programme.

This was followed by a presentation by Tan Jing Kuan (JK) who elaborated on the work that Brighton Education Group does and their involvement in the PPPs sector not only in Malaysia but other Asian countries such as China, Myanmar and Cambodia. His presentation focused on the financial aspect of schools and PPPs. In his opinion, schools received more than enough money to run sustainably but school leaders and principals need to learn how to be more efficient and effective with their spending. He suggested that the “silo” budgeting method be removed. Additionally, he suggested that other antiquated regulations with regards to budgeting that were set by the MOE and MOF be removed to allow school leaders to equip their schools better and run their schools like CEOs. These suggestions and experiences came from his time with the Trust School programme. He ended his presentation by asking how we can make PPPs financially viable and sustainable – whether is should be using government budgets, CSR funds or external funding by fee paying students.


The third presentation was made by Ian Comfort (IC) via a Skype call. He presented about his organisation – Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) which runs the equivalent of Trust Schools in the UK. However, he emphasised that Academies are not like Trust Schools in Malaysia – they are handed all assets – land, buildings, financial reserves, equipment and staff. He also explained that in the first few years the Academies were established the growth was slow – only 200 in ten years however, in the last five years the numbers of Academies had grown to 5000. He noted that this was due to political will. He noted that one of hte major differences between the Malaysian Trust School model and the Academies in the UK was the fact that staff in Malaysia remained under the payroll or the government i.e. they remained civil servants and could not easily be removed. Whereas once a schools was converted into an Academy in the UK, the staff was handed over to the private operator as well. As a result the Trust can choose to pay their teachers any amount they wished so long as they were performing well. He also added that all Trusts are held accountable for performance and there are also regulations that they have to comply to. Additionally, he noted that academies in the UK are subject to a 7 year rolling contract which is more favourable for businesses. AET being the largest Trust running academies with two percent of all existing academies under them has been able to gain economies of scale and is one of the largest users of IT infrastructure essentially uses Google UK for free.  Their schools also work in clusters – collectively working to drive up standards in the schools.


A few of the key questions asked and responses during the session are listed below. These are not verbatim but  are paraphrased.

Hiring and firing teachers – how did it came about in the UK?

IC: Teachers are subject to annual performance appraisals – but it is done by govt bodies who had no idea what they are doing. Even one year of a bad teacher in a child’s life – it will impact them for a long time to come – timing is important need to be quick and decisive

JK: The right to hire and fire is absolutely crucial . But the other end other end of the scale-  the right to promote and the right to promote etc (the motivational aspect – the “carrot” part of it) is important too.

TA: Right to hire and fire is crucial and not only in PPPs. Performance appraisal (3 years underperforming – should be taken out of system)  – it has undergone two years of pilot and what we discovered in the data is that 90% of teachers are performing as expected – this worried PEMANDU so they looked further into it and realized that teachers didn’t really know what they were doing with the appraisal so. Should be a licensing for teachers.

When do you see the outcomes change for example in the Academies in the UK?

IC: In 2013 only 25 schools were judged to be good by ofsted, as of yesterday is was 60% of the schools under AET. Primary schools change quicker than secondary schools ( approximately 2 years for primary schools and 5 years for secondary school).

How does evidence of student outcomes comes into the conversation?

IC: There are shifts but not seismic shifts in students performance in the academies in UK

JK: there needs to be KPIs in the contract and for Brighton it is incorporated into the agreements with government. Baseline tests are done in operations of other countries where Brighton operates Myanmar, China to gauge improvements.

How do young organisations/NGOs get involved in PPPs?

JK: Make connections at conferences such as these.

To what extent is the lack of progress of PPP in Malaysia in schools linked to the mindset of skepticism?

IC: Is it the mindset of the govt and civil servants or the teachers and head teachers. If you have a government that will see change through then there will be a change in the mindset. Three governments over the life of the academies. During Tony Blair’s time growth was slow – slow since a lot of money had to be pumped in to runt he Academies. Then the coalition government led by David and Cameron – during this time Michael Gove changed the rules and made it much easier hence the large growth in Academies since.

TA: In Malaysia there is a difference in the various levels of education. K-12 is dominated by the government hence it will take time for PPPs to enter this area. While in tertiary education the story is difference 10-15 years ago our then Education Minister, now PM, liberalised the sector as IPTAs could not deal with the demand of tertiary education hence IPTS were pushed to open up.


At the end of the event Tengku Azian also promised to hold a lab by PEMANDU Education sector to come up with a framework for PPPs in education by the third quarter of 2016.

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