World Education Support Personnel Day on 16 May is an excellent opportunity to remember their invaluable contribution to quality education. They work in dozens of different roles, providing services in occupational therapy, psychoeducation, special education, remedial education, computer science, driving school buses, preparing meals in school, college and university cafeterias, providing early childhood education services, and so on. It is hard to imagine that a government that privatises or contracts out these services would achieve the same level of commitment to young people and adults in the education system.
Yet the privatisation and outsourcing of these services is a very real issue of which we must be fully aware. Several states are considering them as a way of rebalancing their budgets, despite numerous studies showing the contrary, including that of the IRIS  Institute for Research and Socioeconomic Information, which concludes that the outsourcing of public services:
- Is often more expensive than originally forecast;
- Does not guarantee better implementation deadlines;
- Does not ensure better quality or efficiency;
- Invariably leads to a loss of expertise;
- Contributes to making government activities less transparent
Moreover, privatisation and outsourcing lead to lower wages, poor working conditions, and increased inequalities.
The effects of privatisation and outsourcing
The Centrale des Syndicats du Québec (CSQ) has nine federations in the education system representing professional, teaching, and support staff, from early childhood education to university. They have all collected concrete examples of privatisation and subcontracting, as well as information on their effects.
Primary and secondary school sector
The years of severe budget cuts in Quebec during the 2010s have almost normalised the use of external services to perform work usually done by school staff. This practice has seriously weakened the public school system, with damaging consequences for students, staff, and organisations that have not necessarily seen the savings anticipated.
Inequitable access to professional and support services for students, a loss of coherence in actions aimed at supporting them, the lack of stability and durability of the services offered, and the fragmentation of the school team are among the impacts identified. The repercussions on staff are clear, particularly on their sense of belonging and the collaboration between the different categories of staff.
The ability of unions to represent all employees in a bargaining unit ( unité d’accréditation in French) is undermined by the use of external workers, either from the private sector or a range of organisations.
The higher education sector has not been spared when it comes to privatisation and outsourcing. Increasingly, education systems are responding to the imperatives of economic growth, turning teaching and research into income-generating resources. Entrepreneurship leads to self-generated revenue streams for higher education institutions, which governments unfortunately use to justify cuts in funding. In the end, the very nature of the public higher education sector is altered.
Early childhood education
The early childhood education and care sector has been marked by a significant wave of privatisation, which began around 2008-2009 when the ruling Quebec Liberal Party increased tax credits for private sector childcare. It intensified in 2015 when the government introduced income-tested childcare fees. Previously, childcare fees were C$5.00 a day per child (about €3.50). This was compounded by austerity measures that have greatly damaged the regulated  and subsidised early childhood education sector.
The number of places in private, unsubsidised childcare centres skyrocketed between 2009 and 2018, with an increase of 867%. Meanwhile, in the public system, spaces in early childhood centres (ECCs) increased by just 9%, and spaces in regulated and subsidised family day care centres increased by just 4%.
The privatisation of childcare services has had an effect on the overall quality of services offered in Quebec. The early childhood literature is very clear on the matter: the quality of services offered is distinctly higher in public ECCs than in private child care centres and the number of complaints is four times lower than in the private sector.
Keeping up the trade union fight
The use of privatisation and outsourcing weakens public services and inexorably leads to a loss of public confidence in them. It is important to counter these practices and protect our public services.
Trade unions need to develop public campaigns that promote the tangible benefits and democratic values that underpin public services, to counter the narrative that the private sector is better, that outsourcing is a lesser evil, and that the public sector does not perform well.
In this regard, the COVID-19 pandemic was a powerful reminder that having a strong public education system is the only way to coordinate an effective and equitable response for the entire population.
The struggles waged by the CSQ against privatisation and outsourcing are part of the public campaign led by Education International, Go Public! Fund Education. It is essential that education unions around the world join forces to build inclusive, quality public education for all. Together, we must mobilise to ensure that public education systems are fully funded and not subject to budget cuts, austerity measures, and privatisation.
INSTITUT DE RECHERCHE ET D’INFORMATIONS SOCIO-ÉCONOMIQUES (2013). La sous-traitance dans le secteur public : coûts et conséquences, (June) [online], 60 p. https://cdn.iris-rechehe.qc.ca/uploads/publication/file/Sous-traitance-WEB-03.pdf
by the Early Childhood Education and Care Act (ECECA) and its regulations (ECECR).
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.