After a long-running civil society campaign, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private investment arm, announced on 9 March it was divesting from New Global Schools, previously known as Bridge International Academies (BIA). BIA, a for-profit education provider, had received $13.5 million from the IFC since 2014 to support its operations in Kenya, Liberia, Uganda, Nigeria and India.
The divestment follows a 2020 freeze in new IFC direct and indirect investments in for-profit education providers, which was a condition of US Congress’s support for a new IFC capital increase (see Observer Summer 2020, Winter 2019).
“The BIA model and its implementation undermined the right to education and the rule of law in Uganda,” said Salima Namusobya of Uganda-based civil society organisation (CSO) Initiative for Economic and Social Rights, in a 16 March press release. “The IFC divestiture comes at a time when a majority of BIA schools have closed down since their for-profit model was unsustainable, particularly in the wake of COVID-19. We hope other investors will follow suit.”
BIA’s for-profit model has attracted sustained condemnation in recent years. In 2016, IFC’s support for BIA in Liberia was criticised by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Kishore Singh, who argued, “provision of public education of good quality is a core function of the state. Abandoning this to the commercial benefit of a private company constitutes a gross violation of the right to education” (see Observer Summer 2016).
In 2018, 88 CSOs called for IFC to divest from BIA in an open letter, highlighting a series of issues with its operations, including, “higher costs than those advertised by the company, failure to register schools, use of unapproved curriculum, failure to meet teacher certification requirements, and discriminatory impacts” (see Observer Spring 2018).
A 2019 report by the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the IFC’s independent accountability mechanism, following a 2018 complaint against BIA in Kenya, highlighted concerns about BIA’s lack of “adherence to relevant health and safety requirements,” and the potential “adverse impacts to teachers, parents and students raised in the complaints” (see Observer Winter 2019).