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Studying the feasibility of public-private partnerships in increasing preschool enrolment

Our study on public-private partnership models for preschools in Serbia provides an analysis of the feasibility, strengths, and weaknesses of various models.

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David Jeffery

Overview


Despite achieving near-universal enrolment in compulsory preschool programmes for children 5.5 - 6.5 years old, early childhood education (ECE) coverage for children 3 - 5.5 years old in Serbia remains low at 50%. However, the current public preschool system is nearly at full capacity, with an occupancy rate of 97%. This study was commissioned by UNICEF in order to better understand models of public-private partnerships (PPP) and whether such models are a feasible means of increasing preschool enrolment.


The Challenge


While there have been significant gains and innovations in expanding access to preschool in Serbia, there are nonetheless substantial challenges to equitable enrolment. In particular, enrolment remains low for children between the ages of 3- and 5.5-years old, especially from low-income and Roma families. At the same time, there is limited capacity within the current public preschool system to accept new enrolments. PPPs present an opportunity for government and local authorities to work with the private sector to expand coverage of preschool education, but also raise important considerations about ensuring quality and equity.

Our Approach


We undertook a comprehensive review of the literature on PPP modalities, which includes five case studies of PPP in preschool in five European countries. Focusing on Serbia in particular, we analysed the current legislative environment for PPPs, analysed the available census data on access to preschool, and developed three case studies of current preschool PPP initiatives in Belgrade, Niš, and Kragujevac. On the basis of this data, we developed nine prospective models of PPP, and analysed each in terms of equity, risk-sharing, and implications for regulatory reform. We collected qualitative feedback on these models of private preschool providers and representatives of local self-government, and compared each in terms of likely cost to the government at full enrolment.


Outcomes and wider impacts


This study has provided the Ministry of Education in Serbia an analysis of the feasibility, strengths, and weaknesses of various models of PPP for preschool in Serbia. This study also formed the basis of a seminar with UNICEF's regional offices.