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date: 21 October 2017

The World Bank and Educational Assistance

Summary and Keywords

Since the 1950s, the World Bank’s involvement and influence in educational assistance has increased greatly. The World Bank has not only been a key player, but, at times, has been the dominant international organization working with low-income countries to reform their education systems. Given the contributions that education makes to country development, the World Bank works in the realm of education as part of its broad mission to reduce poverty and to increase prosperity. This work takes the form of financing, technical assistance and knowledge production (among others) and occurs at multiple levels, as the World Bank seeks to contribute to country development and to shape the global conversation around the purposes and preferred models of education reform, in addition to engaging in international processes and politics with other multi- and bilateral organizations.

The present article examines the work of the World Bank in historical perspective in addition to discussing how the role of this institution has been theorized and research by scholars. Specifically, the first section provides an overview of this institution’s history with a focus on how the leadership, preferred policies, organizational structure, lending, and larger politics to which it responds have changed over time, since the 1940s. Second, the article addresses the ways that the World Bank is conceptualized and approached by scholars of World Culture Theory, international political economy, and international relations. The third section contains a review of research on (a) how the World Bank is involved in educational policy making at the country level, (b) the ways the World Bank engages with civil society and encourages its general participation in educational assistance, (c) what is known about the World Bank in relation to policy implementation, and (d) the production of research in and on the Bank.

Keywords: World Bank, education, educational assistance, international development, international aid, foreign aid, multilateralism, international organizations, global governance

Introduction

At least since the early 1980s, scholars have been calling for research on the World Bank (also referred to as simply “the Bank”) and its engagement with education (Spaulding, 1981). Given the size of the World Bank and the influence it wields, understanding how this entity operates and with what impacts is surely important. Consider, for example, that the World Bank, has, since the early 1990s, averaged over $2 billion in new lending annually—with those loans often tied to reforms that borrowing countries must enact (Mundy & Verger, 2015). Consider also that, in the area of knowledge production, the education sector at the World Bank spent $49 million dollars on research and produced “about 280 pieces of research and other analytical work” during 2001–2010 alone (World Bank, 2011, p. 52). Indeed, the education sector at the World Bank considers that “only Harvard University comes close” to its publication record in the economics of education (World Bank, 2011, p. 53). Thus, while there is no question that the World Bank is influential, the question remains of what we know about this institution’s engagement with education globally, the mechanisms through which that engagement manifests, and with what effects.

This article provides an overview of the research that has engaged with these and other questions related to the World Bank’s role in education. In so doing, it addresses issues around which research has tended to cluster while also pointing out those blind spots that persist in our knowledge about the Bank. Specifically, the article (a) addresses the ways that the World Bank is conceptualized and approached by scholars, followed by a review of research on (b) how the Bank is involved in educational policy making at the country level, (c) the ways the Bank engages with civil society and encourages its participation in educational assistance, (d) what is known about the Bank in relation to policy implementation, and (e) the production of research in and on the Bank. First, however, the next section of this article provides an overview of this institution’s history with a focus on how the leadership, preferred policies, organizational structure, lending, and larger politics to which it responds have changed over time, since the 1940s.

The World Bank and Educational Assistance in Historical Perspective

The 2011 launch of the “World Bank Education Strategy 2020” marked a continued and strengthened commitment to educational assistance by a lending institution whose prioritization of, and approach to, education has varied greatly over the past decades.1 The Bank last published a comprehensive education strategy in 1999, with a revision in 2005, though since its conception in mid-1940s, the Bank has developed education strategy papers roughly every 10 years (see Table 1). Like the Bank’s modus operandi itself, the focus of each strategy paper has shifted in accordance with changes in leadership. Indeed, it seems each Bank president has sought to restructure the institution, as opposed to simply reforming the existing structures. Since Eugene Meyer lead the Bank in its first year (1946), the 11 succeeding presidents have in different ways and in differing degrees transformed the Bank, from a lending institution with a focus on long-term development and physical infrastructure to an institution heavily involved in areas like development research and educational assistance. In this section, we trace the Bank’s evolution over the decades, looking at the changing context of the Bank, the shifts in policy focus and lending strategies, its relationship with civil society and UN agencies, and organizational restructuring.

Table 1. World Bank Education Strategy Papers: Chronology and Focus

Year

Title

Focus

1971

Education Sector Working Paper

Non-formal education and training; increased used of radio and television in delivering education; ensure cheap supply of locally produced teacher materials and textbooks; strengthen education planning units (World Bank, 1971).

1974

Education Sector Working Paper

Emphasis on basic education for all. Notes issues with “educated unemployment.” Enhance technical assistance, using more local experts (Oxenham, 1974).

1980

Education Sector Policy

Wide range of educational assistance (from elementary to tertiary, from general to specific); basic education, and flexible delivery methods to expand access; increased funding of design and production of learning material (e.g., textbooks); improve education in rural areas, including general primary education, non-formal education, and vocational training (e.g., in agriculture); improve educational management and planning; (Haddad, 1981); increase class size in primary school as way to save funds (Carnoy, 1980).

1995

Priorities and Strategies for Education

Two main priorities of education: meeting economy’s demand for workers, and supporting expansion of knowledge/technology. Human capital focus: primary and lower secondary prioritized. Urge fees on all tertiary education, and selective charging of fees for upper-secondary education. Seeks to address four challenges: access, equity, quality, delays in reform. Pro-globalization, neoliberal basis, rate-of-return analysis, economic and social environment surrounding policy implementation, privatization and decentralization; encourage central governments to set national performance standards; increase institutional autonomy, for instance through block grants to schools without restriction on allocation of funds (World Bank, 1995).

1999

Education Sector Strategy

Education seen as crucial part of Comprehensive Development Framework. Working toward targets set out in EFA and OECD’s Development Assistance Committee Goals. Renewed focus on partnerships with government, nongovernmental organizations, and local stakeholders. Four main focus areas: basic education (especially for girls), early childhood education and school-based health programs, alternative delivery (e.g., distance education), and systems reform (e.g., decentralization). (World Bank, 1999).

2005

Education Sector Strategy Update: Achieving Education For All, Broadening our Perspective, Maximizing our Effectiveness

Take into account MDGs and EFA FTI, and the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for the Poor; stronger recognition of impact of HIV/AIDS on education. Increased focus on secondary education. Awareness of tertiary education and lifelong learning. Promotion of knowledge-driven economic growth. Holistic/systemwide approach to education reform; integrate education into countrywide perspective; more results oriented (World Bank, 2005a).

2011

Learning for all: Investing in people’s knowledge and skills to promote development

Job market relevance, use of technology in education, country-level reforms (e.g., School-Based Management, good governance); support of private/non-state provision of educational services; expansion of Education Monitoring and Information Systems (EMIS); specialized focus on fragile settings, teacher policies, multisectoral approach, strengthen strategic partnerships (e.g., with UN agencies) (World Bank, 2011).

Source: Authors. Note: EFA = Education for All; FTI = Fast Track Initiative; MDG = Millennium Development Goals; OECD = Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. For responses to and critiques of the World Bank’s Education Strategy Papers, see Bennell (1996), Carnoy (1980), Collins and Wiseman (2012), Hurst (1981), Samoff (1996b), Verger and Bonal (2012), and Williams (1976).

World Bank Origins: 1930s and 1940s—From Reconstruction to Development

Following the “financial chaos” (Jones & Coleman, 2005) of the 1930s, and significantly catalyzed by the Second World War, the creation of a World Bank became a topic of discussion among leaders in the international community. Although the U.S.-led planning began in 1941, it was not until the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 that the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) was officially launched, along with its affiliate the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As the original name indicates, the mission of the 1940s Bank was divided between reconstruction and development, initially concentrating on the former. The Latin American delegates at the Bretton Woods Conference, however, emphasized the need for development financing beyond rebuilding war-torn European states (World Bank, 2013b). As the Marshall Plan (1948–1952) increasingly took the lead on postwar rebuilding, the Bank ended up entering the development field sooner than initially intended. Although the Bank’s first four loans (to France, Netherlands, Denmark, and Luxembourg, all in 1947) were intended for reconstruction, modernization, and industrialization, the two first loans to non-European countries came as early as 1948, to support Chile’s expansion of agricultural infrastructure and irrigation systems. More development (as opposed to reconstruction) loans soon followed with the financial support for electric power infrastructure in Mexico and Brazil. Countries like Iran, Poland, and Mexico also submitted applications in these early years, though the Bank did not approve these. In response to Poland’s declined application, the Polish ambassador Winiewicz contended that the Bank had abandoned its mandate to support postwar reconstruction, and instead had “adapted its policy entirely to the needs and directions of the United States Government to the detriment of the other countries” (World Bank, 2013b, p. 16). Whether or not Winiewicz’s statement was warranted, the American hegemony at the Bank has been constant since its conception (Mundy & Verger, 2015).

With the United States channeling funds through the Marshall Plan instead of through UN agencies, many of the postwar multilateral institutions were faced with a form of identity crisis (Mundy, 1998). It was in this context that John J. McCloy, during his brief role as Bank president (1947–1949), supported the Bank’s “organizational distance and functional autonomy” from the UN (Jones & Coleman, 2005, p. 99).2 These early concerns around independence from the UN played a significant part in the trajectory of the two institutions. The relationship between the Bank and the UN were formalized in 1947, defining the Bank as a specialized agency of the UN. In later decades the Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF would go through phases of tensions and competition, principally in the field of education.

Around the time Eugene Black took over as president in 1949, the Bank—in cooperation with UN agencies—extended their development activities to include technical assistance. That same year the Bank sent out its first “study missions” to countries like Yugoslavia, Turkey, and Brazil. The purpose of these trips was to gather data on the economic system, to encourage private capital investment, and to build relationships with the national business leaders (World Bank, 2013b). In 1950, the first such mission to Africa also involved meetings with the Ethiopian government to discuss possible development projects, and Ethiopia became the first African state to receive a Bank loan. Within half a decade of its conception, therefore, the Bank had moved from a reconstruction finance institution to a development bank. Indeed, in his retirement announcement in 1949, McCloy stated that, “the reconstruction phase of the Bank’s activities is largely over. The development phase—assisting in developing the productive facilities and resources of the world wherever the opportunity present themselves—is under way” (World Bank, 2013b, p. 30).

The Bank Enters the Realm of Educational Assistance: 1950s–1960s

The 1950s and 1960s solidified the Bank’s position as a development partner. In the late 50s, a wealth of academic research linked human capital to national growth (Heyneman, 2003), and by the early 60s, the Bank had begun using human capital measurements in its analytics. A 1952 Bank report found that a lack of education was a significant obstacle to development (Jones & Coleman, 2005). While UNESCO focused on basic education, mother tongue instruction, and adult literacy, the Bank was mainly involved in vocational education.

The early 60s saw a wave of newly independent countries in the Global South, most of which were in grave need of industry and infrastructure. The World Bank established the International Development Agency (IDA) in 1960, a lending arm of the Bank aimed at serving only the poorest countries in the world (and offering loans with concessional interest rates). According to Jones and Coleman (2005), the establishment of IDA represents the Bank’s success in creating a rival to the UN who had lead in “soft sectors” like health and education since the 50s. Another important impetus for establishing IDA was that it allowed the Bank to reach new borrowers, particularly the newly independent African states. At the point of IDA establishment, many of the Bank’s clients had reached a level of economic growth and prosperity that made them ineligible for IRDB funding. Through IDA, however, the Bank had a fresh pool of clients.

The Bank’s very first education loan was granted through IDA to Tunisia in 1962, and went into the physical construction of secondary schools and a teacher college (Jones & Coleman, 2005). The nature of funding to education, therefore, continued to follow the Bank’s tradition of lending for physical construction (even if Bank analytics had already begun to focus on the role of human capital and education). A telling fact was that the vast majority of people working on education for the Bank in the 60s were architects (Jones & Coleman, 2005). In 1963, the Bank teamed up with UNESCO and the French government, to establish the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), an initiative that closely followed a string of regional education conferences in Karachi (1960), Addis Ababa (1961), and Santiago (1962) (King, 2007). According to King (2007), the 60s “saw the education priorities being embedded in a cluster of other global goals such as poverty reduction, HIV/ AIDS, malaria, child mortality and environmental sustainability” (p. 378). While UNESCO had taken the lead on basic education in the 50s, the cooperation on IIEP became an important step in the Bank’s involvement in educational assistance. In 1964, the UNESCO-World Bank cooperative agreement was signed (Jones & Coleman, 2005). According to Jones (2007), the agreement was a product of pragmatism. For the Bank, the UNESCO connection meant increased legitimacy in terms of educational assistance, while for UNESCO the agreement signified more funding. For example, the Educational Financing Division, set up at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters, was largely financed by the Bank (Jones, 1992). When George Woods took over as Bank president in 1963, he pushed for more Bank funds to be made available for education lending, and also insisted that funding should be focused on vocational training and education (Jones & Coleman, 2005). By the end of the decade, most education loans were spent on the construction of secondary schools, technical schools, and teacher colleges (Jones & Coleman, 2005). Interestingly, back in 1956, the Bank had strongly rejected UNESCO’s recommendation to use Bank funds for school and university construction (Jones & Coleman, 2005).

The Shift to Human Capital Theory: 1970s

With the shift in world order brought round by the independence wave in the Global South, as well as the growing legitimacy of human capital theory, the Bank made a remarkable shift in priorities from the 50s to the 60s, most notably in the field of education. In the late 1960s, an Education Department was even set up within the Bank, intended to carry out analytic work to help guide Bank investments (Heyneman, 2003). At the advent of the 1970s, Robert McNamara became Bank president, and the focus on education continued to strengthen. Indeed, at the end of 1970s, the Bank was the “largest single provider of finance for educational development” (Mundy, 1998, p. 466). The emphasis had shifted, however, from secondary education and technical training to elementary education and non-formal education (Jones & Coleman, 2005). McNamara’s “poverty focus” reformed the Bank in many ways, and the Bank’s 1974 Education Sector Working Paper incorporated his poverty focus in the Bank’s approach to educational assistance. The approach emphasized mass participation in education, increased efficiency of education, and improvement of education management and planning (Jones & Coleman, 2005). Heyneman (2003) also notes that the 1974 Sector Paper signifies an important milestone in the Bank’s education lending, stating that “the Bank would no longer be limited to lending for vocational and technical education or to diversify secondary education. Educational quality was a legitimate object for lending, as was education research. And all parts of the education system, from elementary to higher education were legitimate objects of Bank assistance” (p. 323).

It is also worth noting that by the 1970s, 90% of the Bank’s education projects included a technical assistance component (Jones & Coleman, 2005). The 13 years under McNamara (1968–81) placed the Bank as a key actor in the “New International Economic Order,” a term coined in the famed 1974 UN General Assembly resolution (Mundy, 1998).3 In fact, Heyneman (2003) contends that “McNamara […] was responsible for increasing lending for four or five fold during his tenure, and for pushing the Bank into population and family planning, public health and education” (p. 320). The lending areas in education oscillated throughout the 70s, however. For example, while primary education had largely been ignored in the 60s, this focus area received over 20% of education loans by the late 70s (Jones & Coleman, 2005). At the verge of the 80s, lending for primary education decreased again, this time because of the “educated unemployment” problem, particularly in Sub Saharan Africa, which shifted Bank lending to practical and job-related education (Heyneman, 2003).

With the first annual World Development Report being published in 1978, the Bank further asserted its role not only as a lending institution, but also as a development actor and research producer. To that end, according to Toye (2009), the World Development Report “has been credibly claimed as the most widely read document in development economics” (p. 304). The Bank continued to increase its research output with the establishment of two internal journals in the 80s, The World Bank Research Observer and The World Bank Economic Review (Toye, 2009).

Structural Adjustment Loans and Rigid Lending Priorities: 1980s

The 1980s were marked by an “intensification of [economic] globalization” (Mundy, 1998, p. 449). A drastic drop in raw material prices at the beginning of the decade quickly sent many third world countries into economic disarray. In 1982, the Latin American debt crisis was a fact, and the Bank decided to respond with “adjustment loans,” which would characterize Bank lending for years to come. The structural adjustment loans were granted to developing countries on the conditionality that they quickly adopted policies that the Bank deemed advantageous for economic growth and development, such as trade liberalization, tax reforms, and privatization coupled with a redirection of public expenditure toward primary education, basic health, and infrastructure (Williamson, 2000). The recommended policies were largely driven by the “Washington Consensus,” ushered in by Alden Clausen who took over as Bank president in 1981 (Jones & Coleman, 2005). In addition, the Bank’s 1980 Education Sector Policy Paper introduced the concept of “rate of return” in education financing, urging a shift in funding to areas that were more likely to yield the highest economic returns. As a result, the Bank started encouraging governments to shift their spending away from vocational and higher education toward basic education. Through their adjustment loans, the Bank also urged an increase in university fees, with the government introducing loan schemes for people wishing to pursue higher education, where it had previously been free (Heyneman, 2003). This renewed focus on primary education represented yet another significant shift in World Bank education policy.

In the mid-80s, Bank president Barber Conable commissioned a report in which a complete organizational restructuring was recommended. Likely driven by the increasing criticism from environmentalists, human rights activists, and civil society groups, the Bank set up an Environment Department in 1987 (Miller-Adams, 1999). Throughout the 1980s, they also opened up to cooperation with external actors, nongovernmental organizations, and civil society groups, as a result of mobilization by these actors against the Bank, mobilization that stemmed from the negative effects of the Bank’s structural adjustment loans, among other reasons (Leal, 2007). Despite these efforts to “humanize” their image, the 80s became a decade of heavy criticism of the Bank. Large parts of the developing world continued to suffer from economic decline, and by mid-80s a staggering 100 million school-aged children were out of school, 70% of which resided in the world’s poorest countries (Jones & Coleman, 2005). Unlike the UN, which reacted to the growing global inequalities with a rights-based approach, the Bank stuck to a neoliberal growth agenda (Bermingham, 2011; Mundy, 1998). It also invested heavily in research, and by the late 80s it had an annual research budget of $25 million, and employed around 800 economists (Toye, 2009).

Knowledge for Development, Education for All, and Bank Dominance in Educational Assistance: 1990s and 2000s

In the early 1990s, the fall of the Soviet Union brought about the creation of 27 new potential borrowing countries for the Bank. Emerging from their debt crisis, Latin America began democratizing, and the economies in East Asia started expanding (Heyneman, 2003). In Sub Saharan Africa, however, economic decline remained a challenge for the Bank and other development partners. After Lewis Preston’s brief presidency (1991–95), James Wolfensohn took over in 1995, and introduced the idea of the “knowledge bank” the following year (Jones & Coleman, 2005), wherein the Bank would serve as a “global catalyst for creating, sharing and applying the cutting-edge knowledge necessary for poverty reduction and economic development” (World Bank, 2001, p. 1, as cited in Klees, 2002, p. 459).4 Also integral in Wolfensohn’s new vision for the Bank were the Comprehensive Development Framework (CDFs) and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), both of which highlighted the importance of civil society participation (Jones & Coleman, 2005). More specifically, the CDF was mean to be a “holistic approach to development that balances macroeconomic with structural, human, and physical development needs” (World Bank, 2000a, p. 7), while the PRSP would be the document where the government stated its priorities and strategies for development, with civil society ideally participating in the process (World Bank, 2001). In 1999, the Bank’s move into the realm of research was further formalized with its World Development Report titled “Knowledge for Development.” In the Bank’s education sector, the 90s was a decade of restructuring. Aiming to enhance policy coherence, Wolfensohn established internal committees called Education Sector Boards (internal committees with the purpose of helping to “achieve greater policy coherence in the work of regional and operational divisions alike,” meaning that lending should reflect centrally determined priorities; Jones & Coleman, 2005, p. 130), a move that signaled a renewed prioritization of skilled education staff. Prior to the late 90s, only 20% of Bank employees who worked on education had received any academic training in education (Heyneman, 2003).

Other external events also shaped the field of education for development in the 1990s, and in ways that were relevant to the World Bank. The 1990 Jomtien Conference—supported by the World Bank—resulted in the Education For All (EFA) initiative (King, 2007). The ensuing fragmentation of cooperation between UNESCO, UNICEF, and the Bank according to institutional areas of priority can—in part—be traced back to the EFA initiative and the politics that surrounded it (King, 2007). Nevertheless, at the 1998 UNESCO world conference in higher education, the World Bank was invited to collaborate on a Joint Task Force on Higher Education and Society (TFHES) (Jones & Coleman, 2005). According to some, participation in this task force signaled the “resurrection of Bank interest in higher education” (Jones & Coleman, 2005, p. 134). The Bank continued its involvement in education development with the 1999 conference on investment in private education in Africa, co-hosted by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private investment arm of the Bank (Sosale, 2000). The conference came three years after the IFC started getting involved in lending to private education (Sosale, 2000).

Overall, in the 1990s, the Bank showed increased investment in education (see Figure 1) and became perhaps the most influential organization in the development arena, particularly in education, due to its lending capacity and the quantity and legitimacy of its research and analytic work (Mundy, 1998). Thus, at the Dakar World Forum on Education for All in 2000, the Bank was ready to take the lead in coordinating achievement of the education goals. However, after UNESCO was, in a surprising turn of events, awarded the mandate to lead the EFA initiative by the participants of the Dakar conference in 2000, Wolfensohn supported the launch, in 2002, of the EFA First Track Initiative (FTI)—later known as the Global Partnership for Education. This initiative resulted from collaboration among the major donors and agencies involved in the education sector to help poor countries meet the EFA goals through financing and technical assistance (Bermingham, 2011). In a report commissioned by ActionAid, Rose (2003) contends that, “donor and [non-governmental organization] disillusionment at the lack of momentum generated around EFA by UNESCO, post-Dakar, led to a recognition that the World Bank needed to take on a stronger role in uniting major players around a common vision of the global initiative. The World Bank willingly undertook this role” (p. 7). According to Edwards, Okitsu, da Costa, and Kitamura (2015), “the creation of the FTI […] by the World Bank stole UNESCO’s thunder with regard to EFA leadership,” and with a UNESCO that already struggled with its organizational legitimacy, the FTI was certainly viewed as a threat (Bermingham, 2011).

Perhaps not surprisingly, UNESCO’s 2010 EFA Global Monitoring Report heavily criticized the FTI for—among other things—using inappropriate methods of assessing financial needs, failing to accommodate conflict-affected countries, and for being dominated by its donors (Bermingham, 2011). Despite criticism, the FTI soon became a key initiative for the Bank. While FTI’s first years were marked by “intense negotiation between the World Bank and some of the leading players” (Bermingham, 2011, p. 560), in 2007 it was finally decided that the FTI should be funded via recipient countries’ national budget systems, and not via standard Bank project funding (Bermingham, 2011). By this time, Paul Wolfowitz had taken over as Bank president (2005). However, the increased reliance on national systems went nicely with Wolfensohn’s statement that, “country ownership and leadership is […] the key to moving forward” (King, 2007, p. 186). The 2000s brought in concepts of local ownership in the Bank’s ways of operating, and also a strengthened commitment to civil society inclusion. At the same time, the FTI adopted a collaborative structure and so-called soft accountability—accountability without the threat of sanctions—which stood in stark contrast to the Bank’s traditionally hierarchical structure, competitive culture, and “hard accountability” (Bermingham, 2011). In 2011, the FTI was rebranded under the name Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The Bank continues to serve as a host for the GPE Secretariat, and also supervises the majority of GPE grants (World Bank, 2014).

Turbulence and Uncertainty: 2010s

After a brief two-year stint as president, Wolfowitz was replaced by Robert Zoellick in 2007, who after three years in the presidential seat was replaced by Jim Yong Kim in 2012. Referring to this rapid progression of Bank presidents, Mundy and Verger (2015) contend that “organizationally the Bank is in a state of flux” (p. 15). Perhaps in an effort to reaffirm their role in international education, the Bank launched a new education strategy in 2011, “Learning for All,” which is supposed to guide the Bank’s activity in the education sector through the year 2020. The strategy focuses on whole system reform, standardization, setting of national learning assessment, decentralization, school-based management, and accountability, with many of these issues having been promoted by the World Bank since the 1990s (Mundy & Verger, 2015). In the document, the Bank also encourages privatization in education, a focus that has emerged since the late 2000s and which has grown out previous trends, including school fees (1980s), community-based management (1990s), and public-private partnerships (2000s).

In terms of financial outlays, according to Mundy and Verger (2015), the Bank’s involvement with the FTI, “resulted in the growth of education sector lending both as a share of total World Bank spending [and] in real terms, especially in basic education” (p. 13). However, the percentage of the Bank’s total lending to education steadily decreased starting in 2004, only a few years after the initiation of FTI in 2002 (see Figure 1). When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, the Bank did respond by doubling its spending on education between 2008 and 2009 (from around US$24.7 to around 58.7 billion; Mundy & Verger, 2015). However, the overall decline in education lending continued, in part due to the arrival of other major development funders, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Northam, 2014). In their work on the World Bank and global education agenda, Mundy and Verger (2015) conclude by stating that, “until quite recently one could confidently identify the Bank as the pre-eminent global governor of educational policies […] Today, the Bank’s influence in education is less certain” (p. 17), particularly amid new competition—especially in the area of research and policy recommendations—from such entities as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The World Bank and Educational AssistanceClick to view larger

Figure 1. Education as percent of World Bank total lending over time (1963–2012)

Source: Mundy and Verger (2015, p. 11).

Organizational Changes

A final aspect of the Bank’s evolution over the decades is its organizational structure. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the staff working in Bank headquarters in the area of policy had veto power over the loans proposed by regional staff working at the country level; at the same time, no policy priority could be called official without agreement from regional staff (Heyneman, 2003). However, this changed in 1987, when the Bank was reorganized, after years of structural adjustment lending, following on the heels of “relentless criticism from environmentalists, human rights activists, and spokerspersons for indigenous peoples, women, and the poor” (Heyneman, 2003, p. 323). Whereas education lending had previously been constrained by priorities at the country level (with these priorities reflecting, at least to some extent, both the interests of the government and country-level directors of the World Bank), as the 1990s began, lending became more policy based, a result of the 1987 reorganization that gave the upper hand to the policy side of Bank operations. This meant that the policies researched and promoted by the centrally located Education Department of the Bank during the 1980s related to primary education, school fees, private financing of higher education, etc. (based in large part on rate of return methods) became policy orthodoxy, with loans often being rejected or tied up if they didn’t reflect these priorities (Heyneman, 2003).5 This state of affairs stands in contrast to the purpose of the 1987 reorganization. In addition to helping the Bank to act more quickly, it was suggested that the reorganization would ensure that “project work was conceived and organized more firmly on a country-programming basis” (Jones, 1992, p. 223), since lending “required comment from [the Bank’s] regional authorities” (Heyneman, 2003, p. 324).

In 1997, the “matrix reform” restructured the Bank around its six geographic regions and four networks of policy-focused staff.6 This restructuring sought to increase aid efficiency by improving coordination among donors (World Bank, 2012). It was also a response to the policy-driven context of the 1990s, and, as such, it sought to improve client responsiveness by stressing decentralization (wherein the country directors would have more leverage in setting lending priorities) and increased exchange of knowledge and expertise between the Bank’s centrally located staff and its regional sector groups (World Bank, 2012). Country staff would lead the lending process, with policy staff (including education specialists) providing input, and without the ability to impose policy ideology. This increased focus on context and country-specific lending, however, jeopardized the Bank’s position as a global institution, placing it “at risk of evolving into six regional banks” (World Bank, 2012, p. xxvi).

The most recent reform, implemented under President Kim in 2014, aimed to re-centralize the Bank. Abandoning the region-based structure, the 2014 Global Practices reform instead organized Bank operations according to sectors, such as education, agriculture, and health (Tyson, 2015). Under the new organization, the Bank’s country and region executives were asked to hand over power and money to 14 thematic sectors, a drastic initiative that also involved the layoff of 500 staff members over the course of three years (The Economist, 2015). Critics of this most recent reorganization share concerns regarding increased bureaucracy, as well as a neglect of country-specific knowledge in policy implementation (Tyson, 2015). Supporters of President Kim’s drastic restructuring, however, point to the potential for increased global knowledge exchange or best practices, both for clients and for Bank staff (Tyson, 2015).

In the area of education, the Bank continues its work around best practices through its Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) platform. This initiative is “helping the World Bank and its development partners to collect and analyze information on policies and identify actionable priorities for strengthening education systems” (World Bank, 2013a, p. 4), with the goal being to “make it possible for stakeholders to obtain simple, objective, up-to-date snapshots of how their system is functioning, how well it is performing, and what concretely the system can do to achieve measurably better results” (World Bank, 2011, p. 61). By collecting information on numerous aspects of education systems around the world, the World Bank seeks to create a “global knowledge base on education policies and institutions” in order to provide evidence-based guidance to countries on education reform (World Bank, 2013a, p. 4).

Summary

Since its first loan to education in 1962, the World Bank has become a key player in education internationally. In the last couple of decades, support has grown for quasi-market reforms generally and for private educational providers specifically, with the latter being encouraged more recently through the World Bank Group’s IFC. Indeed, education is now one of IFC’s five strategic pillars (World Bank, 2011). While the overall commitment to and investment in education has grown over the decades, the Bank’s priorities and strategies have varied (see Table 2 for an overview of World Bank educational assistance over time). The focus on vocational training and post-primary education throughout the 1960s and 1970s rapidly shifted with the introduction of rate-of-return analysis in education lending. The 1980 Education Strategy explicitly called for a rate-of-return methodology in the Bank’s analytics, translating into a focus on primary education. In addition to significant shifts in global education policy, the Bank found itself in the midst of global geopolitical changes at the end of the 1980s, starting with the end of the Cold War (Jones, 2004). While these changes contributed to the Bank’s dominance in the 1990s and 2000s, it has, more recently, had to adapt to a new landscape characterized by competition in the area of lending as well as analysis and research.

Table 2. World Bank’s Educational Assistance Over Time, in Context

Leadership

Context

General Bank focus

Educational assistance focus

Eugene Meyer (1946)

Post-WWII

Long-term development and reconstruction (physical infrastructure) in war-torn Europe.

John J. McCloy (1947–49)

1948–52: Marshall Plan in operation.

Lending to infrastructure.

Eugene R. Black, Sr. (1949–63)

1952: IBRD report states lack of education as obstacle to development

Late 50s: Academic research on links between human capital and national growth.

1960: IDA established

Lending to infrastructure.

50s + early 60s: WB focused on vocational education.

1962: first education loan, via IDA to Tunisia.

George Woods (1963–69)

Early 60s: independence wave.

1963: International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) founded, by the Bank, UNESCO, and France).

1964: UNESCO-World Bank cooperative agreement signed.

Infrastructure (physical construction) for newly independent countries .

Woods pushes to make IRDB funds available for education.

Robert McNamara (1968–81)

By end of 1970: The Bank is the largest single provider of finance for educational development.

Focus on poverty reduction.

1968: McNamara started pushing for expansion of educational lending.

Majority of education loans spent on secondary school construction, technical school, teacher colleges.

1970: 90% of education projects include technical assistance component.

Alden W. Clausen (1981–86)

Early 80s: Latin America debt crisis, which leads Bank to introduce “adjustment loans” for rapid policy change.

Washington Consensus ushered in by Clausen.

The Bank began to work with external actors, including nongovernmental organizations.

Neoclassical resurgence; Use of structural adjustment lending to push through “Washington Consensus” policies. Less focus on poverty under Clausen (Mundy & Verger, 2015).

1980 Education Sector Policy Paper: encouraged use of rate of return methodology. Focus on primary education, school fees, student loans for higher education (focus on these areas continues into 90s).

Barber Conable (1986–91)

Widening economic gap between low-income countries and the rest.

By 1985: 100 million school-aged children out of school: 70% from the poorest countries

1990: Jomtien EFA Conference: UNESCO given mandate to lead EFA initiative.

1987: Reorganization of the Bank, moving project organization to country level. Increased focus on good governance.

Conable announces significant increase in Bank lending to primary education (Jones, 1992). Education downgraded in institutional prominence under the ’87 reconstruction (Jones, 1992).

Lewis T. Preston (1991–95)

1990s: Latin America democratizing; East Asian economies expanding; 27 new borrowers from former Soviet Union + Eastern/Central Europe.

Increased focus on climate change and global warming. 1991: Establishment of Global Environment Facility (GEF), partnership between with World Bank UNDP, and UN Environment Program.

Neoliberal growth agenda (in contrast with UN agencies rights-based approach). Preston renews pledge to focus on sustainable poverty reduction.

Publication: 1995 Priorities and Strategies for Education, “celebration of Washington Consensus thinking” (Jones & Coleman, 2005). Primary education prioritized. Community-based management of education widely promoted into the 2000s.

James Wolfensohn (1995–2005)

1999: Global Campaign for Education founded, had strong coalition with WB.

2000: Dakar World Education Forum leads to EFA-FTI, launched by Wolfensohn in 2002.

AIDS epidemic rapidly intensifying.

2000: Wolfensohn announces “War on AIDS.”

Transformation to “knowledge bank” by 2000; Comprehensive Development Framework; Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers; civil society inclusion; country ownership and leadership in development plans.

1997: Reorganization of the Bank with “matrix reform”; increasing aid efficiency and client responsiveness.

Primary education; IFC begins involvement in lending to private education (1996).

Paul Wolfowitz (2005–07)

Focus on helping Africa become “continent of hope” (Wolfowitz). Good governance central in policy recommendations.

Continued focus on EFA. Financing of textbooks (esp. in Iraq). Increased support of vocational training.

Robert Zoellick (2007–12)

2007–2008: Global Financial Crisis

2010: Arab uprisings

2011: Syrian civil war, and ensuing refugee flows.

Continued focus on poverty reduction, especially in Africa. Focus on fragile states, and development in Arab world. Lending volume increased following global financial crisis.

2011: “Education Strategy 2020.”

Public-private partnerships widely promoted.

Jim Yong Kim (2012–present)

Increased focus on climate change, forced migration, Middle East security.

Post-2015 Development Agenda: Sustainable Development Goals.

Increased focus on corruption.

2014: Bank reorganization from regions to sectors; recentralization.

Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) provides analyses and recommendations for education, including primary, secondary, and tertiary education; workforce development; and early childhood development.

Private schools for the poor promoted.

Source: Authors.

Approaches to Conceptualizing the World Bank

Previous publications have discussed the World Bank as one actor among many international institutions involved in education (Beech, 2009; Berman, 1992; Mundy & Ghali, 2009). These publications are valuable in that they provide generalist overviews of the World Bank in terms of its ideology, lending, and knowledge production. However, given their purpose, they restricted their focus to broad description of World Bank activity without attempting to theorize the Bank as an actor in international affairs. This task has been taken up by other scholars. Three approaches are discussed in what follows. Though there are certainly overlaps among some of these approaches, they are distinguished here as ideal types.

World Culture Theory

One group of scholars writing within the World Culture Theory tradition sees international actors such as the World Bank as carriers of ideas that are freely taken up by nations around the world (Chabbott, 1998; McNeely, 1995; McNeely & Cha, 1994; Meyer, Boli, Thomas, & Ramirez, 1997; Ramirez, Meyer, & Lerch, 2016). That is, from the perspective of World Culture Theory, through such avenues as international conferences and engagement with international organizations and their publications, policy makers at the national level are exposed to—and then adopt, often out of a desire to be seen as legitimate—prevailing ideas around what education systems should look like (Ramirez & Boli, 1987). This happens in the context of a “world society” composed of nation-states that have, especially in the post-WWII period, become increasingly dependent on seemingly rational, bureaucratic institutions, with the implication being that education is one among many sectors affected by this trend, a trend that, at foundation, is geared toward achieving “progress” and “modernization” through the spread and inculcation of liberal legal and cultural norms (e.g., primacy of the individual, consumption, faith in science, obedience, etc.) (Boli, Ramirez, & Meyer, 1985). When it comes to the influence of international institutions, such as the World Bank, World Culture scholars have tended to look for evidence of influence in the extent to which educational policies, curricula, and textbooks reflect the ideas embedded in the discourse that is circulated in, through and by those international institutions (Chabbott, 1998; Kamens & McNeely, 2010). Differences between international ideas and globally circulated models and the forms they take at the national level are attributed to institutional isomorphism and louse coupling (Meyer et al., 1997).7

International Political Economy

Another group of scholars approaches the World Bank through perspectives grounded in international political economy, with its focus on structure, power, and the nation-state as a site of negotiation among competing political and (capitalist) economic interests. Roger Dale (2000), for example, in writing about what he labels the “globally structured approach to education” (GSAE), sees the role of the Bank, through its loans and the attached conditions, as central to the settlement of national-level decisions related to education policy. When it comes to education, the important thing to note from the framework of GSAE, is that it (i.e., education) is at the heart of the process by which the government legitimates and generates consent to capitalist modes of production. The role of the World Bank (and other institutions with similar ideology) is thus to promote (and to lobby for the acceptance of) policies that hold out the promise of improved education and certain outcomes (like enhanced productivity, increased employment, national competitiveness, etc.) without challenging the capitalist system of which the education sector is a part (Bonal, 2002).

Scholars grounded in the general paradigm of international political economy tend to examine the power-dynamics, processes, and structures that characterize the interaction of the World Bank and its government counterparts, as well as the pathways through which the World Bank is able to exert its influence (see, e.g., Moutios, 2009, 2010). To facilitate an examination of these various dimensions, one author has drawn on multiple authors to outline five aspects of an approach labeled “critical international political economy” (Edwards, forthcoming). The five aspects to which attention is drawn are (a) the historical and structural conditions of the context, including long-standing political and economic relations within and among a given country as well as short-term conjunctural constellations of actors, events, and forces that enable certain possibilities while constraining others; (b) the multiple levels (or scales) across which relevant actors engage (e.g., the local, national, and international levels); (c) the appearance of rationality, impartiality, and authority enjoyed by large international organizations (such as the World Bank), and the legitimacy that this generates; (d) the structurally oriented strategic calculations that actors make (with the focus here being on players from government and development organizations); and (e) the ideational dimension of reform contexts, meaning the multiple layers (and circulation) of ideas and frames that popularize and position certain ideologies and reform models over others within development assistance contexts (Edwards, forthcoming). As can be seen, this approach takes into account structures without assuming that the underlying economic system is necessarily capitalist in nature.

It should be noted that much, though certainly not all, of the scholarship within the international political economy perspective tends to be theoretical, interpretive, eclectic and/or speculative in nature, in that (a) it often does not clarify the methods on which assertions are based and, where it does, (b) it draws on a variety of primarily qualitative and critical methods (Dale & Robertson, 2012; Robertson & Dale, 2009). As discussed later in this article, there is a separate group of studies that looks specifically at World Bank involvement in processes of policy making and policy transfer but which does not place itself in relation to larger political-economic structures generally nor in relation to the role of education in reproducing the capitalist system specifically.

International Relations and Global Governance

A third group of scholars approaches the World Bank through the lens of international relations and global governance (Barnett & Finnemore, 2005; Jakobi, 2009; Jones, 2007; Jones & Coleman, 2005; Mundy 1998, 2007). While there are multiple camps within international relations theory, the most basic two are idealist and realist in nature, with the former focusing on (or assuming) the inclination of nation-states to work together through organs of global governance (e.g., the United Nations) to make progress on liberal priorities (e.g., democracy, safety, health, universal education, etc.), while the latter has presumed independence and inherent conflict among states and, within the realm of global relations, “the pursuit of national interests in contexts of very uneven distributions,” including through multilateral organizations such as the World Bank (Jones & Coleman, 2005, p. 9). A third international relations perspective is neo-Marxist in nature and draws on world systems theory (Wallerstein, 1984). These scholars depart from a preoccupation with the capitalist world system and the way that nation-states occupy either core or peripheral positions within that system. From their privileged positions in this system, core nations use international organizations to their benefit and to extend the capitalist economic system (Mundy, 2007).

However, since the 1990s, following the end of the Cold War, there has been a shift in the discussion by international relations scholars toward global governance (Mundy, 2007). The point is that, independent of nation-states, there is a “global polity” that is “an evolving set of process and interactions … that by definition involves heterogeneous private and public actors at multiple levels or scales of action: local, national, international, and transnational” (Mundy, 2007, p. 343). Within this space—which has been conceived and labeled by Jakobi (2009) as a “global education policy field”—“multilateral organizations are seen as world actors in their own right, behaving as distinct components of global power relations and not merely as functional extensions of the systems that gave rise to them” (Jones & Coleman, 2005, p. 4; see also Barnett & Finnemore, 2005). Though scant research has been produced from this perspective that looks at the World Bank and its involvement in education, what literature does exist has focused on how “forms of international authority [grounded in norms and rational, bureaucratic organization] are socially constructed and historically contingent, rather than materially or historically fixed” (Mundy, 2007, p. 351). For examples of how this approach has been applied to the World Bank in order to explain its inner workings over time as well as changes to its position vis-à-vis other multilateral organizations, see Jones (1992, 2007), Mundy (1998, 2002), and Mundy and Verger (2015).

More recent scholarship has sought to extend and to nuance how global governance scholars understand the role of the World Bank. By drawing on critical constructivism (with its assumption that portrayals of reality reinforce actual power structures) and Cultural Political Economy (which is interested in how economic and political imaginaries are translated and institutionalized in structures), Verger (2014) emphasizes that such actors as the World Bank are key in global governance because of their ability to project visions of the world, to define problems that need to be solved, and then to mobilize ideas around which models are appropriate for solving those problems. This approach has been utilized to explain how the World Bank has framed and sold the idea of public-private partnerships in education (Verger, 2012; see also Samoff, 2012).

Themes Addressed in Research on the World Bank

Policy Making, Policy Transfer, and Development Assistance

Perhaps the most common type of literature on the World Bank focuses on how this institution engages at the national level (Bujazan, Hare, La Belle, & Stafford, 1987; Phillips, 1981; Samoff, 2007). Like the international political economy literature, this literature focuses on the processes, events, and other pathways through which the World Bank impacts policy making, policy transfer, and education-related development assistance. However, unlike the IPE literature, these studies truncate their focus in that they are typically not preoccupied with larger political-economic structures. That is, they are frequently focused on the politics and the processes that characterize the engagement of the Bank at the country level (i.e., with governments and other development institutions), often as part of studies that examine reform processes more generally (i.e., including but going beyond the Bank’s impact).

Various insights have been documented through this literature, with authors regularly focusing on the experience of one or a few countries (one exception is Bujazan et al., 1987, who discuss the political aspect of World Bank engagement in Latin America and Caribbean as a region). For example, the publications that make up this literature have discussed the following:

  • o The way that the World Bank has advocated and pushed for policies that align with its preferences (e.g., community-based management of schools), in addition to working through local nongovernmental organizations to produce analysis (that supports its preferred policies) (Carney & Bista, 2009; Edwards, 2015; Rappleye, 2011).

  • o The way that the World Bank’s financing for a specific education project can be used as leverage for broader education reforms (Jones, 2004) and, conversely, the way that countries subject to structural adjustment loans tend to adopt more World Bank education reforms (Takala, 1998).8

  • o The importance of timing; that is, the way the World Bank can introduce a reform idea (Luschei, 2004) or development finance (Steiner-Khamsi, 2006) at a time that aligns with a window of opportunity at the country level.

  • o The relevance of national-level politics and how they mediate both the relevance of the World Bank’s involvement and the adoption of its discourse in policy documents (Colclough & De, 2010; Ginsburg & Megahed, 2011; Ginsburg, Megahed, Elmeski, & Tanaka, 2010; Tabulawa, 2011; Takala, 1998; Vavrus, 2004).

  • o The way that the World Bank, through its education-sector work at the country level, ingrains its worldview and emphasizes its preferred reforms, while at the same time marginalizing the interests of the national government and local elite to varying degrees (Samoff, 1999, 2004; Tabulawa, 2011).

  • o The role of the World Bank in higher education reform as “director and guide” (Yang, 2010), though at other times the World Bank has imposed reforms in this area (Holland, 2010), including requiring a shift in finance to the primary education level (Nagel & Snyder, 1989), a common World Bank policy particularly during the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in those countries subject to structural adjustment loans (Hunter & Brown, 2000).

  • o At times, the inconsistency of World Bank projects, even within the same country, including those that are designed and approved consecutively, and the instability it produces in the education system (Nagel & Snyder, 1989).

  • o Similarly, the development of a project by the World Bank that duplicates an ongoing project that is being carried out by another development agency (Tadevosyan, 2008).

While this list is not exhaustive, it is indicative of the range of ways that the World Bank engages at the country level and with what kinds of effects. Helpfully, Samoff (2009) has drawn on decades of experience to identify and define a list of specific pathways through which the World Bank exercises its influence. Table 3 summarizes these pathways.

Table 3. Pathways of World Bank Influence in Educational Assistance

  1. 1. Advice and recommendations (technical assistance): World Bank representatives instruct borrowers on what they should do, when, and how. This advice carries weight, particularly when associated with World Bank loans.

  2. 2. Loan-related reports and studies: Loans are enmeshed in a web of documents that include, for example, early studies, pre-appraisals, sector analyses, public expenditure review, implementation and management reports, and evaluations, etc. These reports specify what has been done, what has yet to be done, and what should be done. Ignoring the content of these reports can compromise loan eligibility.

  3. 3. Research: The numerous studies conducted by the World Bank are influential when it comes to establishing reform priorities around the world. There is also commissioned research, which can be for studies required for project approval or for sector-wide support, for example. The technical, rational, and objective appearance of the research lends credibility to the findings. Commissioned studies can guide education policy in part by providing findings that justify certain policies.

  4. 4. General publications: The Bank’s publications include from small reports on individual projects, major studies of sectors and countries, analyses of aid and its consequences, and periodic reports on the state of the world. One of the most influential is the annual World Development Report, not to mention the journals produced by the Bank (World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Economic Review), which are claimed to “enjoy the largest circulation of any economic title” (World Bank, 2016). As a result of its knowledge production activities, the Bank’s publications have become a global reference point for information and analyses.

  5. 5. Certifying role: The approval of the World Bank indicates to other development partners that a country government is taking appropriate steps toward reform in a satisfactory fashion, and that it is therefore trustworthy. This is how aid providers often determine whether or not a country is, for example, making progress along an agreed-upon trajectory, implementing the activities for which it received foreign support, fulfilling its commitments to modify spending patterns, or decentralize authority or democratize political competition.

  6. 6. Conditionalities: The World Bank often attaches conditions to the approval or disbursement of loans. Loans unrelated to education may include requirements for education-sector reform; conversely, education sector loans may require actions beyond this sector.

  7. 7. Management of the aid relationship: The World Bank may manage the administrative processes required as part of the aid relationship, which can be cumbersome and can drain ministerial capacity. Over the years, administrative requirements have related to discrete projects, sector-wide support, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, and the Comprehensive Development Framework.

  8. 8. Coordination of foreign aid: The World Bank possess more professional capacity than many other development institutions; it may also wield more macroeconomic leverage, even when not the largest lender. As such, the World Bank often oversees the provision and use of other agencies’ funds—and as such it becomes the primary point of reference for how to organize and manage development assistance. In policy coordination bodies, their voice has often carried the most weight.

  9. 9. Structuration of national education policy processes: As a frequent insider when it comes to discussions of national education policy, the World Bank formally defers decision-making to national governmental actors. However, the Bank can, at times, influence who participates and with what impact in national education policy processes by facilitating and structuring the events and administrative tasks that make up such processes. Additionally, the Bank may ally itself with the finance ministry (or the ministry of planning), which controls the national budget (therefore deciding what policies get funded). Shared epistemic perspectives facilitate this, and make it likely that the concerns, orientations, and priorities of the Bank are internalized by these national actors.

  10. 10. International events: The World Bank has often used its resources to highlight, communicate, sell, and ingrain a particular message about education through events such as international conferences/summits, seminars, workshops, colloquia, and study tours.

  11. 11. National actor recruitment and socialization: The World Bank selectively recruits professionals from developed and borrower countries who can help the agency advance its agenda. Not surprisingly, those professionals often carry with them particular assumptions, frameworks, and expectations that align with those of the Bank. At the same time, the Bank can be a powerful socializing institution that is more resilient, more persistent, and more penetrating than its individual employees. Employees tend to share certain analytic orientations and core ideas, not only about education, but also about how it should be studied and assessed.

Source: Adapted from Samoff (2009).

However, given the tendency of scholars to focus on (or at least to publish about) those cases where the World Bank does have an impact at the country level, the question emerges of how frequently the Bank may not be able to impose its preferences or to otherwise control, guide, or manipulate education reforms at the country level. It is suggested that documenting these cases and explaining the absence of World Bank impact is just as useful. Doing so can be an avenue for future research. An additional avenue for future scholarship is to identify those conditions in which the World Bank and its various forms of engagement are more or less impactful. This could be done through meta analyses of case studies of World Bank involvement at the country level. (Edwards & DeMatthews, 2014, have attempted this in relation to community-based management of education.) That said, this task would be difficult due to (a) the tendency of individual studies to restrict their findings only to descriptions of World Bank activity; (b) the fact that studies often do not identify or speak to the conditions that constrain and enable World Bank influence; and (c) a lack of clarity regarding research methods or the usage of methods (let alone theory) that do not lend themselves to the generation of analytic generalizations, hypotheses, or at least a clear sense of how the authors arrived at the findings. On this last point, it bears mentioning that researchers tend to rely on interviews, documents, archives (those not subject to the 20-year embargo enforced by the World Bank), and personal experience when generating findings related to World Bank engagement at the country level. The problem is not the types of sources but rather that details regarding methods are often left out of published studies.

Civil Society, Nongovernmental Organizations, and Participation

The engagement of civil society in development and education governance has evolved in significant ways in recent decades.9 During the 1970s and 1980s, civil society not only began to pressure such international institutions as the World Bank to change their practices following negative effects from social, environmental, and economic programs (Leal, 2007; Miller-Adams, 1999), but also began to demand participation in the design and implementation of development projects (Long, 2001; Nelson, 2000; World Bank, 1998). As the 1990s progressed and as the dominant approach to development increasingly focused on “good governance”—meaning the provision of international aid and public services in a way that ensured accountability, effectiveness, transparency, and participation through arrangements derived from new public management (Edwards, 2012; Santiso, 2001)—the World Bank embraced “partnership” with civil society in its required procedures (Brautigam & Segarra, 2007). For example, starting in the late 1990s, it was required that civil society participate in the elaboration of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), with the World Bank taking a backseat (World Bank, 2000b). PRSPs would guide overall development strategy at the country level and had to be produced jointly with all relevant stakeholders before lending could begin (see Edwards & Klees, 2015, for more literature on PRSPs).

As relates to education, Caillods and Hallak (2004) report that representatives from the ministry of education participate, along with education-related civil society organizations, in the relevant consultations, conferences, and forums organized by the lead PRSP team. However, despite this broad and multilevel participation, the final education content of PRSPs tends to be guided not by local-level input but, rather, by preexisting governmental education-sector strategies and by the international agenda for education (e.g., EFA and the Millennium Development Goals). As Vavrus and Seghers (2010) write in their research on PRSPs in Tanzania, “the voices of the poor may be heard by other partners but are not transformed into policy when they are inconsistent with existent reform plans,” not least because of the power imbalance between communities and the government (p. 97). Not surprisingly, they conclude as well that the level of participation also depends on the strength of civil society across countries.

The above research notwithstanding, there is scant literature on the engagement of the World Bank with nongovernmental organizations from the education sector. Edwards (2015) and Rappleye (2011) have focused, in part, on how the World Bank has worked in and through nongovernmental organizations at the country level in El Salvador and Nepal, respectively, in order to advance the Bank’s agenda from multiple angles. Elsewhere, Verger, Edwards, and Kosar-Altinyelken (2014) have examined the participatory global process through which the World Bank created its Education 2020 strategy paper, noting that participants in the consultations sought more direction from the World Bank, as opposed to viewing the consultations as an opportunity to influence the Bank’s strategy. Separately, Edwards (2012) traced the evolution of the idea of participation in World Bank documents during 1980–2010, showing how this idea was first discussed in relation to improved governance generally (because it can increase accountability) and then later featured in relation to the provision of education services, specifically through community-based management of education (though critical reviews of the effects of these reforms have revealed a lack of credible positive evidence; see also Edwards & Loucel, forthcoming). Generally, however, more research is needed on how the World Bank engages with civil society and tries to enact its discourse around participation.

Policy Implementation

A few studies have followed processes of implementation for policies or programs that have been funded or supported by the World Bank. For example, in looking at the history of educational decentralization in Mongolia, Steiner-Khamsi and Stolpe (2004) found that national governments can include the necessary language in loan documents in order to secure funding, only to then drag their feet when it comes to implementing the underlying reform, out of a desire to retain control at the central level (Steiner-Khamsi & Stolpe, 2004). Ginsburg and colleagues (2010) echo this finding in the context of Egypt. In contrast, however, Edwards, Victoria, and Martin (2015) find that, in El Salvador, a reform focused on community-based management was thoroughly scaled up and ingrained in the country’s education system because it aligned with the political motivations and constraints of national level actors. Elsewhere, authors have looked at the ways that World Bank recommendations (Mukhopadhyay & Sriprakash, 2011) and discourse (Rhoten, 2000) have been translated into practice. In these cases, as well, the authors find—by looking at the extent of policy translation and enactment within the context of global-local conditions—that political and cultural realities at the subnational level can empower bureaucrats to ignore World Bank recommendations (particularly where those recommendations are not backed up by funding) or can lead to a variety of responses by subnational governments, ranging from resistance to compliance, depending on their identity and political-economic position within the larger country context. As with policy making in general, these findings suggest the need, in future research, to consider the conditions in which various types of World Bank engagement are more or less likely to be associated with policy implementation in practice.

Notwithstanding the studies discussed above, there isn’t much literature—either within or outside the Bank—that examines this institution in relation to project or policy implementation, as noted years ago by Thomas and Carnoy (1992).10 One reason for this is that the World Bank is not an implementation agency; rather, it is an institution that primarily offers financing, research, advice, and technical assistance. While research on policy effects is increasingly required as part of standard Bank lending practices, these studies are slow to be completed and to become publicly available; in addition, they tend to focus on the outcomes of policies rather than the process of implementation itself. Put differently, literature on policy effects (as opposed to policy implementation processes) is much more common.

Policy Research and Policy Promotion

Starting in the late 1970s, there were efforts within the Bank to improve its research on education (which to that point had been “excessively preoccupied with physical completion and end-use of capital construction components,” Jones, 1992, p. 156). Over the course of the1980s, the World Bank bolstered its research staff within the centrally located Education Department, with this staff focusing primarily on educational efficiency, finance, and cost recovery. Importantly, the research produced during this time—guided as it was by human capital theory—justified and guided the Bank’s lending priorities for education, which focused on shifting financing to primary education and instituting school fees, for example (Jones, 1992). This dual role of World Bank research—wherein it produces new findings while legitimating preexisting policy preferences—has led to literature on the tension between supposedly neutral knowledge production and the role of that knowledge in World Bank advice (Klees, 2012; Samoff, 1996a). Some have also pointed out the self-referential character of World Bank research (Steiner-Khamsi, 2012), the limitations of the purportedly objective (and overwhelmingly quantitative and quasi-experimental) methods employed in its research, as well as the inherently ideological character of the World Bank and the need to interpret its findings within the political economy of global education reform (Edwards, 2016; Edwards & Loucel, forthcoming; Klees & Edwards, 2014; Samoff, 1993, 1996a; see also Broad, 2006). Despite these criticisms, and although there have been reorganizations of the research staff of the World Bank since the 1980s (Dethier, 2007; Heyneman, 2003), there is evidence that the education research produced by the World Bank remains incredibly influential (Edwards & Loucel, forthcoming; Verger, Edwards, & Kosar-Altinyelken, 2014), as well as an area of its continuing comparative advantage in the changing context of international development (Mundy & Verger, 2015).

When it comes to individual research studies and research-based publications, there is an immense literature. The World Bank not only produces its own working paper series but also produces publications that synthesize the results of studies on particular themes, such as incentives to improve teaching (Vegas, 2005), school-based management (Barrera-Osorio, Fasih, Patrinos, & Santibánez,2009), public-private partnerships (Patrinos, Barrera-Osorio, & Guáqueta, 2009), and accountability (Bruns, Filmer, & Patrinos, 2011), to name but a few. These publications can then be used to support lending activity, in addition to be widely disseminated globally in order to reinforce the credibility and relevance of the Bank (Edwards & Loucel, forthcoming; Verger, 2012). Separately, Bank research staff regularly publish their findings in academic journals, and are encouraged to do so (Broad, 2006).

Of course, there is also a large literature produced by scholars outside the Bank, with this literature focusing on a range of policies that have been supported by the Bank over the years in order to understand their effects and to critique these policies in theory. Unlike Bank research, which tends to be produced by economists (St. Clair, 2006), the scholars that produce this literature represent a diversity of fields, including anthropology, education policy, political science, and sociology, among others. Some of the Bank’s hallmark policies that have been researched include structural adjustment policies and their impact on education (Bonal, 2002; Carnoy, 1995; Hunter & Brown, 2000; Reimers, 1991; Stromquist, 1999; Vavrus, 2005), school fees (Klees, 1984), school-based management (Edwards & Loucel, forthcoming; Reimers & Cardenas, 2007), conditional cash transfers (Tarabini, 2008), and textbooks (Klees & Edwards, 2014).11 It is also important to note that the underlying methods, assumptions, and theories—including, for example, the connections between education and employment, education and economic growth, education and national competitiveness—on which the Bank relies for its analysis, interpretations, and findings have also been critiqued (Bennell, 1996; Bonal, 2016; Klees, 1986, 1991, 2008b, 2016; Klees & Edwards, 2014; Stromquist, 2016).

While the studies cited previously represent a very small sample of the overall literature on Bank policies, it is suggested here that much more research from outside the Bank is needed on how its policies work in practice and with what outcomes, both intended and otherwise. This is because much literature on the effects of Bank policy—from both within and outside this institution—relies on secondary data, on methods that do not unpack the “black box” of how policies operate in implementation, or on an approach that is primarily theoretical or conceptual in nature. Studies that are independent of the financial-intellectual-political context of the Bank and which employ methods based in sociology, anthropology, political science, realist evaluation, case study, etc., would go far in enhancing the literature that is currently available, particularly if these methods are combined with critical lenses that focus on the ways that these policies do and do not benefit marginalized populations, that is, those populations in whose interest development assistance to education should work.

On a related note, it would be beneficial for future research to investigate not only the effects of policies, but also their origins. That is, in addition to asking about impact and implementation, we have yet to understand the origins and trajectory of those policies that come to be held up by the World Bank as exemplars. Though a few studies have begun to emerge in this area—related, for example, to community-based management (Edwards, 2015) and the idea of education as a key component of poverty reduction (Tarabini, 2010)—the conditions remain largely unknown that produced the majority of the policies that the World Bank has promoted in recent decades.

Conclusions

By way of conclusion, we emphasize an additional tension that research has highlighted. That is, when it comes to understanding and studying the World Bank, one needs to be aware of the tensions inherent within the Bank and the fact that the Bank is not a monolithic entity. Indeed, as scholars have noted, historically, there have been different incentives in place for regional staff, on one hand, who are concerned primarily with generating lending and centrally located staff, on the other hand, who are focused on research and publishing (Jones, 1992); additionally, there have been, at times, tensions between the senior management of the Bank and the chiefs of the Bank’s various divisions when it comes to ideology (Castro, 2002; Heyneman, 2003). Moreover, since borrowing governments are not always interested—or cannot always be convinced—to pursue the reforms that the Bank promotes in rhetoric, there has been variation in the types of projects that are funded in practice (Lincove, 2009), to such an extent that some observers use the term organizational hypocrisy to characterize the Bank (Mundy & Menashy, 2014). As one example, Fontdevila and Verger (2016) have shown how the World Bank criticizes teachers in their publications for absenteeism and laziness while simultaneously representing teachers as part of the solution in lending documents. The point is that, in addition to considering the other aspects of the Bank discussed above, it is necessary to see the Bank as a globally networked institution whose work related to educational assistance responds to multiple pressures at once, from inside the institution, from the country level, from critics, and from peer institutions, all within a shifting international political-economic context.

Further Reading

Bonal, X. (2002). Plus ca change … the World Bank global education policy and the post-Washington consensus. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 12(1), 3–22.Find this resource:

Bonal, X. (2016). Education, poverty, and the “missing link”: The limits of Human Capital Theory as a paradigm for poverty reduction. In K. Mundy, A. Green, B. Lingard, & A. Verger (Eds.), The handbook of global education policy (pp. 97–110). Oxford: Wiley.Find this resource:

Broad, R. (2006). Research, knowledge, and the art of paradigm maintenance: The World Bank’s development economics vice-presidency (DEC). Review of International Political Economy, 13(3), 387–419.Find this resource:

Dethier, J. (2007). Producing knowledge for development: Research at the World Bank. Global Governance, 13, 469–478.Find this resource:

Edwards, D. B., Jr. (2012). The approach of the World Bank to participation in development and education governance: Trajectories, frameworks, results. In C. Collins & A. Wiseman (Eds.), Education strategy in the developing world: Understanding the World Bank’s education policy revision (pp. 249–273). Bingley, U.K.: Emerald.Find this resource:

Edwards, D. B., Jr. (2015). Rising from the ashes: How the global education policy of community-based management was born from El Salvador’s civil war. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 13(3), 411–432.Find this resource:

Edwards, D. B., Jr., & Loucel, C. (forthcoming). The EDUCO Program, impact evaluations, and the political economy of global education reform. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24(49), 1–50.Find this resource:

Fontdevila, C., & Verger, A. (2016). The World Bank’s doublespeak on teachers: An analysis of ten years of lending and advice. Brussels: Education International.Find this resource:

Heyneman, S. P. (2003). The history and problems in the making of education policy at the World Bank 1960–2000. International Journal of Educational Development, 23, 315–337.Find this resource:

Jones, P. W. (2006). World Bank financing of education: Lending, learning, and development (2d ed.). New York: RoutledgeFind this resource:

Jones, P. W., & Coleman, D. (2005). The United Nations and education: Multilateralism, development and globalisation. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.Find this resource:

King, K. (2002). Banking on knowledge: The new knowledge projects of the World Bank. Compare, 32(3), 311–326.Find this resource:

King, K. (2007). Multilateral agencies in the construction of the global agenda on education. Comparative Education, 43(3), 377–391.Find this resource:

Klees, S. (2002). World Bank education policy: New rhetoric, old ideology. International Journal of Educational Development, 22, 451–474.Find this resource:

Klees, S. (2008). A quarter century of neoliberal thinking in education: Misleading analyses and failed policies. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 6(4), 311–348.Find this resource:

Klees, S., & Edwards, D. B., Jr. (2014). Knowledge production and technologies of governance. In T. Fenwick, E. Mangez, & J. Ozga (Eds.), World yearbook of education 2014: Governing knowledge: Comparison, knowledge-based technologies and expertise in the regulation of education (pp. 31–43). New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Klees S., Samoff J., & Stromquist N. (Eds.). (2012). The World Bank and education: Critiques and alternatives. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.Find this resource:

Mundy, K. (1998). Educational multilateralism and world (dis)order. Comparative Education Review, 42(4), 448–478.Find this resource:

Mundy, K. (2002). Retrospect and prospect: Education in a reforming World Bank. International Journal of Educational Development, 22, 483–508.Find this resource:

Mundy, K., & Verger, A. (2015). The World Bank and the global governance of education in a changing world order. International Journal of Educational Development, 40, 9–18.Find this resource:

Rappleye, J. & Un, L. (forthcoming). What drives failed policy at the World Bank? An inside account of new aid modalities to higher education research, context, blame, and infallibility. Comparative Education.Find this resource:

Samoff, J. (1999). Education sector analysis in Africa: Limited national control and even less national ownership. International Journal of Educational Development, 19, 249–272.Find this resource:

Samoff, J. (2009). Foreign aid to education: Managing global transfers and exchanges. In L. Chishom & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.), South-south cooperation in education and Development (pp. 123–156). New York: Teachers College Press.Find this resource:

Samoff, J., & Stromquist, N. (2001). Managing knowledge and storing wisdom? New Forms of Foreign Aid? Development and Change, 32, 631–656.Find this resource:

Verger, A. (2012). Framing and selling global education policy: The promotion of public private partnerships for education in low-income contexts. Journal of Education Policy, 27(1), 109–130.Find this resource:

Verger, A., & Bonal, X. (2012). “All things being equal?”: policy options, shortfalls, and absences in the World Bank Education Strategy 2020. In S. Klees, J. Sarnoff, & N. Stromquist (Eds.), The World Bank and education: Critiques and alternatives (pp. 125–142). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.Find this resource:

Verger, A., Edwards, D. B., Jr., & Kosar-Altinyelken, H. (2014). Learning from all? The World Bank, aid agencies and the construction of hegemony in education for development. Comparative Education, 50(4), 1–19.Find this resource:

Woods, N. (2003). The United States and international financial institutions: Power and influence within the World Bank and the IMF. In R. Foot, S. N. Macfarlane, & M. Mastanduno (Eds.), U.S. hegemony and international organizations: the United States and multilateral institutions (pp. 92–114). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

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Notes:

(1.) For additional perspective on the history and evolution of the World Bank in relation to educational assistance, see Heyneman (2003), Jones (1992), Jones and Coleman (2005), Mundy (1998, 2002), Mundy and Verger (2015), and Phillips (1981).

(2.) Note that all World Bank presidents are chosen by the United States (Woods, 2003).

(3.) The New International Economic Order was intended to restructure the global economic system, replacing that of Bretton Woods, and moving from free market to more central planning. It focused on the increased participation and autonomy of developing nations.

(4.) For more on the efforts of the World Bank to act as a “knowledge bank,” see King (2002), McGrath and King (2004), and Morduch (2008). For literature on the dangers of this initiative, see Samoff and Stromquist (2001) and Stone (2003).

(5.) Ironically, then, the research done and the priorities established during the 1980s gained institutional prominence even as the Education Department’s Research Division was eliminated as part of the 1987 reorganization (Jones, 1992). More generally, according to Jones (1992), that reorganization “saw the institutional downgrading and fragmentation of the education sector as a whole,” with the Education and Training Department being “abolished” and replaced by a smaller education research and analysis division (the Education and Employment Division) within the Population and Human Resources Department (p. 230).

(6.) These networks were the following: Financial and Private Sector Development Network, Human Development Network, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network, and Sustainable Development Network (World Bank, 2012).

(7.) For a critique of the theoretical and methodological foundations of World Culture Theory, see Carney, Rappleye, and Silova (2012) and Dale (2000).

(8.) For more on the conditionalities attached to World Bank loans, see Santiso (2001), Toye (2009), and World Bank (2005b).

(9.) Verger and Novelli (2012) note that “‘civil society’ is a very broad and contested category” that includes a variety of “organizations such as international and local [non-governmental organizations], trade unions, community-based organizations, grassroots movements, independent research institutes, etc.” (p. 3).

(10.) Note, though, that the World Bank does produce its own—internal—project completion reports, which often include insights on policy implementation.

(11.) For a broad reviews and critiques of Bank-supported policies in education, see Bonal (2004), Colclough (1996), Collins and Wiseman (2012), Klees (2002, 2008a), and Klees, Samoff, and Stromquist (2012).