Higher Education Privatization in Kuwait

A Study in the Processes of Policy Production

by Ahoud Al-Asfour (Author)
©2019 Monographs 280 Pages


Over the past four decades, higher education privatization became a common policy choice for higher education reforms in most emerging systems due to lack in public resources. In Kuwait however, similar financial pressures did not exist. Influenced by the "glonacal agency heuristic," the author investigates the processes of its policy production. Following a comparative qualitative approach, the book concludes that privatization is not a necessary outcome of globalization, but that the production of higher education privatization policies in Kuwait has involved a complex interplay of both local and global factors, with contextual realities playing a crucial role not only in the introduction of these policies but also in defining the form of privatization that is currently being implemented.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Abstract
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Chapter One: Introduction
  • Privatization and Higher Education
  • Higher Education Privatization in Kuwait
  • Research Questions
  • Research Approach
  • Book Structure
  • Chapter Two: Privatization and Higher Education
  • The Idea of Privatization
  • Typologies of Privatization
  • Theoretical Debates
  • Arguments in Favour of Privatization
  • Efficiency
  • Equity
  • Freedom of choice
  • Arguments Against Privatization
  • Expansion and Diversity
  • Globalization of the Ideology of Privatization
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Three: Policy Processes in Kuwait
  • Kuwait
  • Early Governance
  • The Oil and the Modern State
  • The Constitution
  • International Relations
  • Higher Education
  • Higher Education Governance
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Four: Research Methodology
  • Research Question(s)
  • Data Collection
  • Interviews
  • The Conduct of Interviews
  • Documents
  • Student Survey
  • Analysis of Data
  • Limitations and Challenges
  • Chapter Five: Local Pressures
  • Growing Demand
  • Consistency Across Public Policies
  • Making the System Efficient
  • The Pursuit of Quality
  • Socio-Cultural Challenges
  • Needs of the Changing Labour Market
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Six: Global Influences
  • International Education and Policy Formation
  • The Role of International Organizations
  • The GATS and Higher Education Privatization Policies
  • Embracing Regional Developments
  • The Absence of Coercive Actions
  • Soft Governance
  • Needs for Global Recognition
  • Policy Borrowing and Transfer
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Seven: Globalization, the State and Privatization Policies
  • Globalization from Above
  • Policy Processes and the Role of the State
  • Privatization and Public Bureaucracies
  • Privatization from Below
  • Recontextualization of Privatization
  • Legislative Adjustments and the Introduction of an Internal Scholarship Program
  • Responding to Social and Cultural Needs
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Eight: The Conclusion
  • Key Findings
  • Emerging Issues
  • Appendix 1: The Shift from the Traditional Rule and the Merchant Resistance
  • Appendix 2: Sources of Funds to Private Institutions
  • Appendix 3: Establishment of Private Universities Law (PUL 34/2000)
  • Appendix 4: PUL 34/2000’s Explanatory Note
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Chapter One: Introduction

Privatization has, over the past few decades, become a common policy preference worldwide. Savas (2000) argues that the trend towards the private sector and away from the state can be observed in most institutions. However, its introduction in higher education is the main focus of this book. The adoption of privatization has not been excluded in any specific country or territory; it is happening in one way or another in all of the world’s regions. Savas (2000), while commenting on the widespread implementation of privatization in practice among different political systems of the world, notes that:

Privatization is now commonplace throughout the world, in communist, socialist, and capitalist countries, in developed and developing countries, in democracies and dictatorship; more than one hundred countries have officially endorsed privatization and more [in] considering it. … It is no longer a partisan or ideological issue but a pragmatic and increasingly routine approach to governing and managing public services. (p. 315)

The spread of privatization is justified on a wide variety of grounds, in particular in terms of the now dominant neoliberal ideology that advocates increasing the role of the market over the role of the state. It is also supported by the widespread notion that states tend to fail in meeting public demands, and by the belief that rapid government growth will lead to increasing inefficiency (Savas, 1982, 1987, 2000). Accordingly, privatization in its various forms has been promoted with the assumption that it will provide more efficient and better quality public services.

Savas (2000) identifies several major influences that have propelled the privatization movement globally. These influences include pragmatic, economic, philosophical, commercial, and populist rationales. While pragmatists look for better and more efficient government, the economists’ standpoint is that economic affluence should reduce people’s dependence on the state and increase their acceptance of the more effective privatized approaches. The goal of those who approach the matter philosophically is to achieve ‘less government’, with governments playing a smaller role vis-à-vis the provision of goods and services. This goal accords with the Jeffersonian view that the ‘government which governs least governs best’ (as cited in Savas, 2000, p.5). The goal of the commercial interests, on the other hand, is to generate more business opportunities by directing more government spending towards private firms, as they believe that public resources and government enterprises are better run by the private sector. The populist rationale is that privatization creates a better society that empowers people by offering them ←11 | 12→more choices in public services and by abolishing the power of distant state bureaucracies. In this way, the government’s ability to fulfil public needs has been questioned by most advocates of privatization. This scepticism of government ability is used by privatization advocates in justifying their preference for increasing the role of the market over the public by the assumption of more efficiency and better quality.

Broadly speaking, privatization can be defined as shifting the responsibility of delivering the services that were once provided by the public sector to private institutions, thus decreasing the role of the state and increasing the role of the market in meeting social needs. It is the act of reducing the role of the state and increasing the role of the market in providing goods and services. The idea of privatization is not a modern innovation. The utilization of the private sector to satisfy people’s need is not a recent practice. What is new in the contemporary context, however, is the contemporary deliberate use of privatization as a tool to improve the functions of the government. Over the last few decades, under the influence of the ideology of neoliberalism, the principles of privatization have been introduced into policy debate as a method to improve the performance of the public sector and to provide alternative financial resources in providing public services.

In their recent manifestations, privatization measures were initially introduced by the United Kingdom and the United States in 1979 and 1980, respectively. Palley (2004) has argued that, ‘the elections of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 can be viewed as inaugurating the formal period of neoliberal economic policy dominance’ (p. 6), and the trend towards privatization initiated, with the practice of selling government assets to the private sector. Since then the contemporary political utilization of the concept has been promoted broadly through a ‘neoliberal imaginary’ (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010), which advocates economic liberalization, deregulation, free trade, and open markets. Neoliberalism supports the privatization of public institutions, deregulation, and the enhancement of the role of the private sector generally in modern societies. It involves reducing state control, based on the ideological belief that unregulated market capitalism will deliver growth and widespread prosperity for all.

Undoubtedly, privatization has been promoted and implemented widely in various public arenas around the world, including higher education systems. At present it is rare to find any countries without a version of private higher education. Even rich welfarist countries such as the Arab Gulf States have witnessed a boom in private higher education over the past two decades. The focus of this book is on its introduction in higher education in the state of Kuwait.

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Privatization and Higher Education

Traditionally most higher education has been provided mainly by the state. However, recently the emergence of the private sector or the application of market principles into higher education sector has been increasing. Despite the historical precedent of privatization in the United States in particular, the introduction of privatized higher education in most developing systems is a relatively recent phenomenon. In these systems, in contrast to the situation a couple of decades ago, the share of private higher education has grown significantly across all world regions, creating dual systems of higher education.

James (1987) sums up the growth of private education into two categories: excess demand and differentiated demand for higher education (as cited in Tilak, 1991). The first indicates increased social demand for higher education that exceeds the public supply, where the private sector seeks to meet the unsatisfied demand. The second indicates the demand for different quality (presumably high quality) and content (for example, religious education) in education which also contributes to the growth of privatization. On the supply side, Tilak (1991) notes that ‘private entrepreneurs are ready to provide higher education either for philanthropic or other altruistic motives, or for profit … The dividends could be social and political gains, or quick economic profits’ (pp. 227–228).

Nowadays private higher education is well-established and is still growing significantly in most countries, although some noted stagnation or only a slight increase in private shares of higher education, such as in some Central and Eastern Europe countries (Levy, 2009). The growth is illustrated not only in enrolment rates but also in the number of institutions across most of the world regions. Many scholars have documented the expansion of private higher education across regions, including Altbach (1991, 1999b, 1999c), Levy D. (2009) & (2010), Altbach & Levy (2005). Altbach (1999c), for instance, notes that ‘private higher education is one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing segments of post-secondary education at the turn of the 21st century’ (p.1). Umakoshi (2004) also visualized the phenomenon, across Asian states in particular, describing the rapid expansion of the private sector as a force ‘squeezing’ the public sector to a degree that eliminates any further public expansion.

Levy (2009) has developed a global typology that shows the reality of private higher education to be ‘wide-ranging’ and ‘multifaceted’ (p. 7). Asia comes first, having the largest concentration of countries with proportionally the largest private sectors. For instance, Japan, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea, which are over 70 percent private (Levy, 2009), with different variations across countries. Latin America shares the summit with Asia, although widespread ←13 | 14→private higher education has a longer history there. By the late 1970s Latin America was already approaching 40 percent privatization (Levy, 1986) and data indicates that this has reached 47 percent today (Levy, 2009). The United States, on the other hand, has the world’s most prestigious and long-standing tradition of private higher education, which excels in graduate education, research, funds and impact. It has retained a stable share of privatized higher education for decades, remaining between 20 and 25 percent (Levy, 2009). In Central and Eastern Europe, since the first half of the 1990s, the growth has been dramatic, from zero to substantial. This expansion and dramatic changes in enrolments is of course associated with the collapse of Communism. Privatization in Western European higher education, on the other hand, has mostly been in relation to changes in the finance and the management of public institutions, as in the case of the UK (Clark, 1998; Salter & Tapper, 1994). Sub-Saharan Africa has been late to modern expansion of private higher education, but the growth there is notable as well (Varghese, 2006). In Kenya, for example, the practice of public universities taking in private-paying students has increased to the point where one-fifth of all students are private-paying (Levy, 2009; Varghese, 2006). Most of the growth in privatization in Africans countries came during the 1980s and 1990s.

Apart from the long-existing private American universities in Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan since the 1950s, Levy (2009) has noted that in most Arab regions private higher education ‘is just beginning to register significant enrolment’ (p. 14). He also noted that ‘The Arab Middle East stands out as the region in which [private higher education] emergence is mostly planned and promoted by governments, often in partnership with European and United States universities [in addition to a number of Australian universities] as well as with occasional World Bank support’ (p. 14). He notes that the emergence of private education has become a widespread reality in a relatively short period of time, covering the great majority of countries in the region (United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, to name few).

Privatization in higher education is a general concept that encompasses a range of different policies and practices. In the higher education system, there are various practices that can be regarded as an exercise of privatization. Marketization, commercialization, decentralization, corporatization, deregulation and internationalization are all different practices that can fall under the general notion of privatization. However, in one way or another they are all functioning as a shift away from the state towards the market. These various practices produce a heterogeneous collection of institutions that can be described as private higher education. The most appropriate typology, I believe, is one that represents the existing private institutions on a continuum extended between two extremes of purely public and purely private provision and funding. In between these two extremes are various ←14 | 15→forms that include the participation of both public and private firms in ownership, administration, and funding of higher education institutions.

Private higher education can also be classified based on its function, ownership, and student population. Levy (2011) talks about identity institutions (religious and beyond), elite/semi elite institutions, and demand-absorbing/non-elite institutions. Several factors have shaped the diverse structure of private higher education. Ownership, source of funds, and regulations are three factors that can, to a large extent, identify the nature and the function of any private institution. Thus, the variation in the implementation of privatization across different countries is based on several factors that define the nature of privatization.

Generally speaking, declining public budgets for higher education, and the lack of public funds to meet the rapidly growing demand for higher education, have greatly contributed to the rapid growth of privatization, although growing national and international market forces have also played a role. The costly nature of higher education, to a great extent, has stimulated governments’ policy choices to privatize their higher education and abandon a commitment to its ‘publicness’. From a theoretical perspective, the classification of the benefits provided by higher education for individuals and society as a whole has been considered in terms of a contrast between a public good and a private good. Advocates of privatization regard higher education as a private good, since they argue that higher education offers individual returns. That is to say, individuals should be expected to pay for their own education since they are the main beneficiaries of this education. Opponents of privatization, on the other hand, view higher education as a public good, and appeal to the positive benefits that higher education provides to the society as a whole.

In recent years, the advocates of private higher education have also relied upon other rationales. They have argued that rapid technological developments have placed a huge financial burden on the higher education sector when it comes to preparing human resources for the knowledge economy. It is claimed that the public sector is mostly incapable of coping with these rapid changes due to an inherent lack of flexibility and excess of bureaucracy.

Since rapid technological developments have changed the nature of higher education, technologically intensive higher education requires extensive resources that most governments either lack or prefer not to spend on, thereby making some degree of privatization both desirable and perhaps even inevitable.

From a policy perspective, privatization has been promoted globally through various means. International or transnational organizations have played a crucial role in the global spread of privatization policies. The role of organizations such as the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary ←15 | 16→Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the promotion of privatization policies has been frequently discussed and debated in the literature (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010; Tilak, 2009a). Furthermore, privatization has often been imposed by international agencies on developing countries through structural adjustments plans (Rizvi, 2006), often involving ‘coercive strategies’ in the negotiation of financial settlements in the granting and repayment of loans to those agencies who mostly act as lenders.

What this short discussion suggests is that financial pressure is often the primary explanation for the adoption of privatization in higher education around the world. On this account, privatization is introduced as a way of reducing the requirements from the public budget for the higher education sector. This reduction is rendered necessary due to the increased demand that exceeds the public provision in many countries. This explanation, however, does not apply to the Kuwaiti context. Kuwait is one of the richest countries in the world (Kuwait’s GDP per capita is about US$40,000), mainly due to its oil wealth, with a small population of citizens that roughly exceeds one million. Thus, Kuwait has no financial limitations that would result in any shortages in the budget required to expand the public supply for higher education. Nor does it face any financial crises that would place it under the control of the international organizations that promote privatization policies through coercive strategies such as structural adjustment programs. Nevertheless, privatization has also been implemented in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti government has followed the global trend in seeking to privatize its system of higher education. The question arises then as to why, how, and in what form privatization has been implemented in Kuwait.

Higher Education Privatization in Kuwait

Traditionally and since the establishment of Kuwait University (KU) in 1966, five years after independence, higher education was provided publicly, free from any charges – as a right secured for citizens by the state’s Constitution. As stated in article 40:

Education is a right for Kuwaitis, guaranteed by the state in accordance with law and within the limits of public policy and morals. Education in its preliminary stages shall be compulsory and free in accordance with law.

In the Constitution explanatory note (article 40) has been explained:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (June)
Kuwait OR GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) Policy Process Private Higher Education Globalisation
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 279 pp., 19 fig. b/w, 9 tables

Biographical notes

Ahoud Al-Asfour (Author)

Ahoud Al-Asfour is Assistant Professor at the Department of Educational foundations and Leadership at the College of Basic Education - PAAET in Kuwait. She completed a master’s degree in Education Policy International at the University of Melbourne and received her PhD in Higher Education Privatization Policies in Kuwait from the same University in Australia in 2015. Her main research area is comparative education.


Title: Higher Education Privatization in Kuwait
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282 pages