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The Governance of Educational Welfare Markets

A Comparative Analysis of the European Social Fund in Five Countries

Edited By Daniel Pop and Cristina Stanus

This book is a first exploratory inquiry into possible educational selectivity effects of the European Social Fund (ESF). It assesses the extent of the gap between the social policy objectives set through regulatory competences in multi-level governance and the structure of incentives it breeds in practice, with a broad range of implications for the capacity of the government to control for an equitable distribution of services at the community level. The chapters emphasize the educational selectivity involved in national policy decisions concerning ESF implementation in the five countries, the role of informal mechanisms in fine-tuning implementation, the negative effects of formalization and failures in accommodating the complexity of goals which characterizes the ESF, as well as the overall fairness of ESF implementation towards the most disadvantaged groups in society. The empirical analysis suggests that social-service delivery contracting as an instrument of governance is no longer regulating against risks for beneficiaries, but fuels increased social division in access to public services.
The book is the result of the Educational selectivity effects of the European Social Fund project (July 2012 and December 2013), developed with the support of the Education Support Program of the Open Society Foundations.
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1 Introduction: Conceptualizing educational service delivery markets created through the ESF

← xiv | 1 → CRISTINA STĂNUȘ AND DANIEL POP

1 Introduction: Conceptualizing educational service delivery markets created through the ESF

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This book approaches domestic policy tool choices concerning the accomplishment of EU policy objectives, as embedded in the European Social Fund (ESF), which result in the creation of a quasi-market for educational service delivery. It emphasizes the selectivity involved in policy decisions concerning ESF implementation in five central and eastern European countries, with consequences in terms of differentiated access to the education al opportunities that the ESF creates.

The reliance of the public sector on a mix of non-state and multiple layers of public actors for the provision of public services is not new, and is linked with notions such as the limited capacity of contemporary states to provide certain services, and the superiority, in terms of the efficiency and cost-effectiveness, that non-state actors are able to provide. Sometimes labelled as a retreat of the state (Bell and Hindmoor 2009, Gilardi, Jordana and Levi-Faur 2006, Halligan 2010), this is not actually so, since the policy instruments used by the state to engage these actors in public service provision seem to extend the power and authority of the state beyond its formal limits (Dudley and Bogaevskaya 2006), as it manages to export some of its modus operandi to non-state actors, especially to third-sector organizations (Pestoff and Brandsen 2010, Radu and Pop 2014). A favorite instrument in many public service domains is the creation of markets or quasi-markets for ← 1 | 2 → service delivery (Le Grand 2012, Struyven and Steuers 2014), based on the notion that competition among potential service contractors will improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness. However, such markets or quasi-markets are unavoidably regulated, since the state is not in a position to abort its role as regulator and financer of public service delivery. Moreover, within most such markets, the state also retains its service-provision role. This leads to questions regarding the ability of the state to balance its three roles in the most democratic and accountable manner.

In the sphere of educational service provision, national programmes which are part of the European Social Fund create markets for service delivery . Within these markets, states act as regulators, financers (directly and indirectly), and service providers. The role of the state as regulator is particularly important since it involves much more than accommodating EU bureaucratic procedures with national administrative traditions. Member states actively define which educational services are to be provided (doing so more or less in accordance with national educational policy) and establish corresponding quality and quantity criteria. They also get to decide who is allowed to provide certain services and, consequently, compete for funding. Last but not least, they get to decide their own share in service provision. These decisions are made during the programming and commissioning processes. These processes happen in a very complex political, policy, and institutional context, only to some extent implied in the notion of multi-level governance (Hooghe and Marks 2001).

Among ESF core objectives we find granting assistance to individuals and groups who are disadvantaged in getting a proper education or finding a job; notions such as combating social exclusion are deeply embedded in all ESF interventions.1 At first glance, a question arises concerning the compatibility between the social inclusion goals embedded in the ESF and the (quasi-)markets for social and educational service delivery created by ESF-funded national programmes. This question becomes even more prominent if placed in the context of ESF implementation in the most recent EU member states in central and eastern Europe, given the difficulties inherent in accommodating national institutions to the workings of the EU and the significant social exclusion problems in those respective societies. ← 2 | 3 → With the exceptions of Poland and Slovenia, central and eastern European states seem to be confronted with significant technical and administrative difficulties in ESF implementation . This leads to a questioning of the effects of these difficulties in terms of social inclusion. From an ESF economic (­human-resources development) effects perspective, it has been suggested that ESF implementation attends too much to an absorption logic, and too little to outcomes (Tomé 2012). In an analysis of the effects of EU-promoted local partnerships in terms of tackling social exclusion, Geddes (2000) points out that the positive effects of this instrument, deeply embedded in ESF operations, are limited because it avoids the structural social, economic and political implications of a full assault on social exclusion. This raises questions concerning the effects of ESF implementation in central and eastern European countries in terms of social exclusion. The large share of ESF funding directed towards universities in Romania, or the recent shift of emphasis toward the education of gifted children in Hungary, could be arguments invoked in this respect.

This book makes a comparative study of ESF implementation in five central and eastern European countries: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. It looks at how ESF-funded national programmes are governed from a welfare markets perspective and it tries to assess the extent to which educational service delivery markets created through ESF funding are enabling environments to increase access to quality education for vulnerable groups. In the following sections, we discuss the context for this study and approach the theoretical underpinnings of this policy issue.

The context: ESF, education and social inclusion in the five countries

European structural policy presents (despite EU-wide goals) significant differences from one country to another. These stem from varied social, economic and political conditions across the EU. Such differences can be found in the implementation of the ESF in the five countries analysed here.

← 3 | 4 → Bulgaria and Romania have very similar approaches to ESF implem entation , albeit with very different results. Both countries opted, during programming, to focus on components directly linked to the labor market. Thus, national programmes are focused on human-resources development and are founded upon the notion of capacity-building at the individual and community levels, with social inclusion and access to e ducation pushed to the background. The problems faced since 2007 by the two countries in ESF implementation are to some extent quite similar : poor communication between public management authorities and service contractors; delays in assessment and contracting; and a strong emphasis in national public discourse regarding the issue of absorption. These problems were dealt with in quite different ways: Romanian authorities opted for higher formalization and bureaucratization of the programme, while Bulgarian authorities opted for changes in the opposite direction. In both countries, programming seems to have been hindered significantly by a lack of data, analysis, or coherent sectoral policies. In Romania, implementation problems were significant enough to lead to a temporary suspension of the programme and, in 2012, to an automatic correction of 25 per cent applied by the European Commission to the programme funds.

Hungary , the Czech Republic , and Slovakia took a quite different approach to programming, which resulted in the development of ESF operational programmes dedicated solely to education in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and the creation of a programme focused on ‘social renewal’ in Hungary. This significant difference in terms of programming may very well be the result of longer membership in the EU, and the experiences of the previous ESF cycle. At the same time, the three countries needed to approach these problems differently because the regions covering the capital cities fall outside the convergence objectives of the EU. Hungary is a very good case in point of the effects that political changes in a national government and the subsequent changes in national policy might have upon reaching EU-wide goals.

Within the broader framework of ESF, all the countries studied here emphasize the need to reform the national education system and include different elements of the reforms envisaged in national programmes . All countries have to cope with a certain degree of segregation in the national ← 4 | 5 → education system, exacerbated in some countries by the inclusion of children from ethnic-minority backgrounds in the category of pupils with special educational needs (see Fox and Vidra 2001, O’Nions 2010). In the Czech Republic, 4.8 per cent of pupils in compulsory education are educated in special classrooms using a reduced curriculum (see the country study in this book). This disproportionately affects Roma children and, in Bulgaria, children of Turkish origin. On a more general level, all countries face a problem of educational outcomes, the main symptom of which is the variation of results in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test (see Table 1-1). National policy documents concerning ESF implementation make constant references to this.

Table 1-1. PISA test results in the five countries, 2000–2009.

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Source of data: OECD and thelearningcurve.pearson.com

Besides differences between these countries in terms of educational outcomes, there is the issue of how obvious educational inequality is distributed in the countries. Based on the 2006 PISA test results, it has been estimated that social inequality in education (measured as the dependence of pupils’ mathematical abilities on their individual social background) is lowest in Romania, among all the countries tested and all countries analysed in this book, and highest in Hungary (Schlicht et al. 2010).

Moreover, each country experiences problems of administrative and technical nature during the implementation process to different degrees, ← 5 | 6 → sometimes leading to programme suspensions for various periods of time (Romania, Czech Republic) or even automatic corrections applied by the European Commission to all the funds disbursed through these programmes (Romania). The administrative capacity of national managing authorities and other national institutions is discussed frequently in each country.

The governance of service delivery markets and the impact of EU structural funds

The social sciences literature has approached EU structural funding from several perspectives. Among the most prominent is the governance perspective. EU structural funding is thought to present a very specific structure of governance , resulting from a mixture of management by results and bureaucratic rule steering, as well as rigidity of decision-making resulting from decision-making in a multi-actor constellation (Lang 2001). In other words, we have a mix between hierarchical, market and network governance (Meuleman 2011) which is inherent to EU structural funding, since it involves: applying a significant corpus of highly formalized public sector rules; managing networks in the process of strategy development; co-ordinating policy and implementation; and steering a public services market. As opposed to the national policies of most member states, EU funding is characterized by a sophisticated and differentiated system of monitoring, evaluation, and financial control, each element with its different orientation in terms of attainment of objectives versus compliance with rules (Lang 2001: 14).

A second perspective focuses on the extent to which EU structural funding manages to achieve its goals. Most of the analyses concerning the role and impact of structural funds are focused on regi onal development funds and their role in reducing economic inequalities (a few examples are Aiello and Pupo 2012, Bateira and Ferreira 2002, Bradley 2005, Lennert and Robert 2010, Varga and in’t Veld 2011). Several of these studies point out positive outcomes and a significant impact of dealing with EU rules ← 6 | 7 → and regulations over national institutional structures and modi operandi. They also point out mixed results in terms of achieving development (cohesion) policy goals, as well as a lack of uniformity in implementation from one country to the next. Institutional factors are frequently blamed for failures in achieving goals.

The experience of Ireland and southern European countries suggests that three elements are extremely important in exploring differences between countries in terms of the impact of structural funds in general: 1) institutional and organizational aspects; 2) the procedures and instruments associated with EU funding; and 3) the interrelations of monitoring, evaluation, and management of public funds (J. Bradley 2005: 178). The institutional and organizational aspects are comprised of horizontal (the degree of social partners’ involvement) and vertical (size of country, strength of regional government, degree of centralization) elements (J. Bradley 2005: 179). Higher on the institutional ladder, a report commissioned by the DG Regio suggests that the measures adopted by the EU to improve the management of funds are partially responsible for failures, because they have tended to overrate the importance of quantity as opposed to the quality of spending (Barca 2009). It has been suggested that, beyond these aspects, a key element is the domestic policy enacted to accomplish EU policy objectives (Aiello and Pupo 2012). This would include policy directly related to the disbursement of EU funds, but also the extent to which states address structural inabilities (the quality of institutions).

A third perspective, specifically focused on the ESF, emphasizes the notion of social mechanisms which help us better understand ESF outcomes (Verschraegen, Vanhercke and Verpoorten 2011). ESF implementation is shown to have a catalytic effect in three areas: the innovation of domestic activation instruments; the governance of employment policies; and policy framing. This is achieved through three different mechanisms: leverage (strategic use of ESF by domestic political actors); aid conditionality; and policy learning (Verschraegen, Vanhercke and Verpoorten 2011). This suggests that, beyond its dependence on the characteristics of the national institutions and policies, the implementation of EU structural-funds programmes shapes those very institutions and policies.

← 7 | 8 → A fourth perspective, linked with governance, stresses the informality surrounding EU structural funds , usually embedded in the notion of partnership (Peters 2006, Piattoni 2006). Partnership is a dominant concept in service delivery, as it conjures up a relationship and a discourse one cannot dismiss: it seems to embody values; it appears pragmatic; and it sounds inclusive (Fenwick, Miller and McTavish 2012). The EU and the national governments are dependent on lower-level communities and a wide array of social actors for the implementation of their goals, which is why partnership is being used as both a governance mechanism and as a project methodology. As a governance mechanism, partnership helps public sector actors cope with the challenges of programming for social change and the implementation of EU structural policy. Partnership is formalized (usually embodied in the monitoring committee s of EU structural programmes), yet informal relations which spun around formal procedures (Piattoni 2006: 58) are equally important. Informality may be the most suitable response to the volume of the decisions that need to be made and the complexity of conflicting goals which need to be accommodated.

The emerging literature on welfare markets (see Gingrich 2011) could also provide a very useful angle on EU structural funding. Contemporary service organization is hybrid in character (Vincent-Jones 2008), with welfare provision being increasingly a matter of both state and non-state organizations (private companies, third-sector organizations). The argument against this hybrid character emphasizes that the public sector stands for more than just service provision: it stands for legality, due process, and legal security. This raises the question of whether and when this ‘publicness’ can be delegated outside the public sector (Pierre 2011). The involvement of private companies, especially, is regarded with doubt (see Schwittay 2011); while third-sector organizations are increasingly considered a solution to the contemporary problems of social and educational service provision. Welfare markets, just like any other markets, produce externalities; they may suffer from information asymmetries and imbalances between demand and supply; they may prohibit the entrance of new actors on the market; or they may lead to an increase in costs for consumers. Markets in public services vary systematically and policy-makers can manipulate this variation strategically (Gingrich 2011).

← 8 | 9 → Education markets are essentially local in nature (Waslander, Pater and Weide 2010), yet are usually shaped by national policies. Any approach of the issue of educational (quasi-)markets needs a double perspective: economical and social (Adnett and Davies 1999). Beyond concern for overall costs and cost-effectiveness, the issue remains as to the societal benefits of education and the democratic control over public services. In terms of effects, research has indicated that quasi-markets built on policy approaches using decentralization, deregulation, greater levels of autonomy, competition and choice, may encourage innovation both in how education is organized and how school content is delivered (Lubienski 2009). Other results link the introduction of educational quasi-markets in countries like the U.K. with improvements in exam performance at the end of compulsory education (S. Bradley and Taylor 2010).

The specific goals of ESF open the doors for the involvement of a wide array of actors in the provision of social and educational services throughout the EU . The logic behind ESF is pretty much the same logic that led to decentralization, deregulation and outsourcing reforms of public services in western European states. It places states in the triple role of regulator, financer, and provider of services. ESF implementation involves the creation and management of a welfare market via the mechanisms of programming and commissioning. Beyond the set of general rules imposed by the European Commission, these are governed by domestic policy. Domestic policy choices are instrumental in translating ESF overarching goals and rules into operational national policy objectives and implementation rules. Usually perceived as rather technical in nature, these domestic policy choices actually shape a market for social and educational service delivery, since they determine what services are to be provided (operational policy objectives), by whom (what actors are allowed on the market), and in what conditions. The very same decisions are supposed to take into account issues such as competition within the market, information asymmetries, imbalances between demand and supply, and the consequences for the consumers/beneficiaries. In the following section, we build on the literature of emerging welfare markets and previous empirical research centred on EU structural funding. This is done in the form of an analytical framework which enables us to assess the effects ← 9 | 10 → of these domestic policy choices on educational service provision in the five countries under study.

Analytical framework

ESF implementation involves quite a complex institutional structure, one which is supposed to ensure proper commissioning , monitoring, evaluation, and financial control, and is ostensibly predetermined by the EC. This structure involves a separation of implementation, payment, and control (auditing of expenses and evaluation) activities. A key institutional structure is the managing authority designated/created for each of the ESF national programmes, structured to exercise broad prerogatives in terms of implementation – ranging from programme structure and objectives to technical and administrative rules concerning implementation. This managing authority (an independent entity or a separate unit within a national institution) has, on paper, broad prerogatives in terms of programming and commissioning .

Managing authorities are, despite the obvious role of politics in programming and commissioning , the key actors in shaping the quasi-markets for social and educational service delivery associated with the ESF. This analysis focuses on these authorities along two dimensions: the institutional dimension (the different set-up of ESF funded programmes in the five countries at the macro-level) and the bureaucratic discretion in implementation dimension (how national management authorities enact their role). The first dimension covers some of the aspects of the programming process, while the second is focused on national commissioning processes . We will detail each of these dimensions in the following paragraphs.

The institutional dimension covers the design of the ESF implementation framework created via domestic policy decisions, as well as the manner in which some of the national structural inabilities (quality of institutions/administrative capacity ) are approached. There are both formal and informal aspects to this dimension. Formal aspects refer to the different organization of the management of ESF funding in these countries (types ← 10 | 11 → of programmes and their foci, relationships between national managing authorities and the so-called intermediate bodies , and the place of managing authorities within the broader national institutional framework). Also, they refer to the organization of drafting of calls, which has a deep influence on the content of these calls and consequently shapes the market for educational service delivery.

Informal aspects refer especially to institutional role orientations developed by the managing authorities, the governance of partnership (implementation of the EU partnership principle), and the accommodation of complex public sector goals.

In terms of institutional role orientations, it is important to know what types of rules the managing authorities shape for themselves, be they formal and informal, and how these rules translate into action. How does the managing authority describe itself and its place among national institutions? Does it describe itself as an implementation agency merely complying with EU and national rules, or as a policy-maker (compliance versus goal orientation, or an emphasis on results)? All this becomes a question of how national authorities use a mixture of formal rules and informal policy instruments to steer such programmes (and the society as such) in a certain direction. As far as EU structural instruments are concerned, this mixture is mostly visible in bureaucratic decision-making.

In terms of the governance of partnerships , one important aspect is how the principle of partnership laid by the EU at the foundations of ESF is translated into national formal rules and informal patterns of interaction between the central government and managing authorities on one side, and relevant societal actors on the other side. What was the significance of partnership during programming? What societal actors were in a position to significantly influence the content of programming? What is the significance of partnership in the monitoring and evaluation of ESF-funded programmes?

Thirdly, there is the matter of accommodating complex goals . The public sector needs to steer society, while balancing a series of policy goals with different degrees of importance. Peters (2011: 7–8) classifies public goals as follows: 1) sweeping goals such as democracy and efficiency; 2) cross-cutting goals such as environmental protection and gender equality; 3) ← 11 | 12 → goals directed at a strategic level for social and economic services which affect all or most members of society (such as attaining a certain health status in society); 4) goals of individual organizations and programmes, whose pursuit is tentatively autonomous and consequently may produce co-ordination problems; and 5) goals selected indirectly through the choice of policy tools. ESF itself is a complex policy issue, given the complexity of social problems to be approached, the programmes designed to address them, and the instruments used for implementation. In the case of managing authorities for ESF-funded programmes, the balancing of sweeping, cross-cutting ad strategic goals with the specific goals of the organization/programme is of paramount importance.

The bureaucratic discretion dimension reflects the regulatory decisions made by the managing authorities during the commissioning process, with a special emphasis on the educational selectivity consequences of these decisions. Bureaucratic discretion is manifest in the implementation decisions, instructions and recommendations that govern the relationship between the managing authority and contractors during the application, contracting and implementation of project stages. Most of these decisions are reflected in the calls for applications which the managing authorities issue when exercising their role.

Two types of decisions and their relative weight in day-to-day operations of the managing authorities are of particular interest. First, we have decisions concerning technical-administrative aspects, such as those concerning reporting and accounting procedures, the fiscal-financial eligibility criteria of potential contractors, or the administrative exclusion of applicants during the commissioning process. Second, we have regulatory decisions concerning the substance of the programme, such as: the types of activities and contractors which are eligible under certain calls; restricting certain activities to certain types of potential contractors; or restricting/expanding the group of potential beneficiaries. These could be labelled as programme-targeting decisions. Given the complexity of ESF-related technical and administrative procedures and the relative inexperience of national managing authorities with these procedures, we can reasonably expect that managing authorities pay a disproportionate amount of attention to the first category of decisions.

← 12 | 13 → The programme-targeting decisions focus on the design of the educational and social services required and the shaping of the supply structure. In terms of services design, the emphasis falls upon the choice of services which are subject to competition on the market, the specification of quality outcomes for these services, and, in the special case of educational service delivery, the extent to which there is co-ordination between national education policy and the ESF-funded programme. In terms of shaping the supply structure, or market articulation and segmentation, the focus falls on several aspects of the decisions made by managing authorities during the commissioning process. Who are the actors (users, specific categories of providers, state bureaucracies) being empowered, and what are the specific incentives (eligibility and selection criteria, required partnership structures) used to empower them in educational services delivery under ESF funding? What are the effects in terms of access to e ducational opportunities for the most disadvantaged groups in society?

Methods and data

We approach this topic doing a case-oriented comparative study (Ragin 1987), which involves actively looking for similarities between the cases studied, linking the similarities to the phenomenon of interest, and using them to formulate a general proposition. Several methodological and evaluation choices and assumptions are embedded in this design. First, and most importantly, we focus our analysis on the impact of variables which are explicitly under the control of domestic policy-makers and the management authorities, in the direction suggested by Stake (2002). While it would be easy to focus our explanations on, for example, cultural differences, it is most important that we provide results that can be translated into policy as early as the next budgetary cycle of the European Union. Second, and equally important, our preoccupation with the notion of educational quasi-markets does not involve a bias for or against either market or state. A third important aspect stems from evaluation studies ← 13 | 14 → emphasizing that EU structural funds have a too complex set of objectives, which results from the preferences, interests and interpretations of the actors involved, to actually be able to effectively approach them all (see Lang 2001: 11–12).

The first component of the research design is the qualitative analysis of the by-laws of the management authorities and of the executive decisions of the management authorities. We focus on one ESF-funded programme in each country: the Human Resources Development Sectoral Operational Programme in Bulgaria (BG-OPHRD ); the Operational Programme Education for Competitiveness in the Czech Republic (CZ-ECOP ); the Operational Programme for Social Renewal in Hungary (HU-SROP ); the Sectoral Operational Programme Human Resources Development in Romania (RO-SOPHRD ); and the Operational Programme Education in Slovakia (SK-OPE ). Among the documents analysed, we have national strategic reference frameworks, descriptions of the national programmes under ESF, by-laws of the management authorities, ex-ante and interim evaluation reports, annual implementation and reports, information on the websites of managing authorities (MAs), and other relevant documents.

The second component of the research design is a content analysis of the applicants’ guides issued by the managing authorities under all calls ­concerning education and social inclusion , focusing on mapping the structure of incentives the management authorities use to shape the quasi-market of educational services. This stage covers the five countries under all calls relevant from an educational vulnerability point of view. Due to the rather indeterminate nature of the phenomena that we intend to investigate, we used ethnographic content analysis (Altheide 1996) to develop the coding. The patterns, emphases, and themes identified were then used to analyse the calls for applications launched in the five countries on topics related to educational service delivery for disadvantaged groups.

Data were collected between October 2012 and January 2013. The qualitative analysis component of the research design involved drafting a report for each of the five countries in accordance with a set of guidelines. These reports were used along primary data sources in the analysis of the institutional settings. The content analysis component involved ← 14 | 15 → the selection of a total of eighty-five calls, concerning ISCED 0–3 education provision for disadvantaged groups. Given the small number of cases and the fact that half were from one country (Hungary) the analysis of the data is limited to descriptions of quantitative variables and focuses on string variables.

In two of the countries analysed in this book, Hungary and Slovakia, the main components of the research design were complemented with in-depth interviews with experts. Interviews were structured alongside the main points of the comparative analytical framework detailed above.

The structure of the book

This chapter is followed by five country case studies, structured alongside the common framework for analysis, and one comparative concluding chapter. Each country chapter approaches key aspects on the institutional and bureaucratic dimensions of ESF implementation, while also pointing out national specificities.

The chapter on Bulgaria showcases the importance of how national institutions and national policy processes play out in practice in explaining how the implementation of structural funds programmes actually works. Thus, the author points out that the challenges identified in the Bulgarian case are not specific to ESF implementation; they are underlying factors of how the public sector works in a new democracy in conditions of austerity.

The discussion on the lessons learnt in Bulgaria is followed by the case of the Czech Republic . The author problematizes the ways in which ESF implementation in the Czech Republic is largely determined by the particular interpretations the Czech state has adopted when defining the notions of vulnerable groups, special educational needs , and educational inclusion. The chapter is unavoidably built around the most important aspect distinguishing the Czech Republic from the other countries, the fact that social disadvantages are part of the definition of special educational ← 15 | 16 → needs and many Roma children in the Czech education system are directed towards special educational programmes for children with mild mental disabilities, a questionable construct of special educational needs in and of itself. Studies of education equity and special education have found that cultural or racialized understandings of ability and disability have perpetuated segregated education or the use of special education for racial/ethnic resegregation in some countries (Ferry and Connor 2005; Artilles et al. 2011). This, in turn leads to beneficiary miscategorization and programme targeting challenges.

The chapter on Hungary showcases how ESF implementation plays out in practice when significant political and policy U-turns happen in a country. The author places special emphasis on how the education of vulnerable groups is approached by the Social Renewal Operational Programme (HU-SROP ). The analysis points out a series of structural problems, culminating with the failure to implement a mutual inter-linking mechanism supposed to ensure consistency between system-level and grassroots-level interventions funded by the HU-SROP. Among other aspects, the report shows that the management of the commissioning cycle has seriously disadvantaged third-sector organizations, especially those with expertise on Roma issues, while leaving room for disguised interventions of for-profits. Moreover, the calls for applications for projects dealing with education for vulnerable groups have faced targeting issues, only partially due to the sensitivity of ethnic identification in Hungary. The author concludes that there are significant questions concerning the educational selectivity of ESF funding in Hungary.

The chapter on Romania focuses on how domestic policy choices concerning ESF implementation in Romania have helped shape a mixed quasi-market for educational service delivery. It particularly points out the effects of increased rule-rigidity as a result of public and political pressure exerted over the managing authority of the Sectoral Operational Programme Human Resources Development (RO-SPOHRD). The chapter argues that the institutional framework and the modus operandi of the central government agency in charge of programme implementation have had a significant impact on the providers of educational service delivery, and may have contributed to increased social division in access to e ducational services.

← 16 | 17 → The chapter on Slovakia argues that the institutional framework for the implementation of structural funds in the country can be generally characterized as extremely complicated and unstable, with serious consequences (especially financial) for the contractors. Among the main features of the use of the EU Structural Funds in Slovakia the author points out extreme formalism, rigidity of rules and the lack of a result-oriented logic. More specifically, the chapter emphasizes that the reform policies aimed at the inclusion of Roma and other disadvantaged groups are implemented through centrally planned and commissioned national projects, which tend to substitute national funding for school operation and modernization, rather than innovative demand-driven projects bringing an added value to the mainstream educational system.

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