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Research project

State-funded Outsourcing of English Language Education: Does New Education Privatisation Ensure “Quality Education for All” in Hong Kong Secondary Schools?

Project overview

The study aims to examine and theorize the practice of state-funded outsourcing of English language education (ELE) focusing on its quality and equity, with reference to the Hong Kong (HK) context. Many governments have turned to state-funded outsourcing of education (Ed-outsourcing) to enhance the quality and economic efficiency, and ultimately, the competitiveness of their societies (Barrera-Osorio, Guaqueta & Patrinos, 2012). The quality of state-funded Ed-outsourcing, what Burch (2009) termed new education privatisation, however, is disputed in the international literature (Ball and Youdell, 2008). It has also been documented that new privatization techniques have reproduced or even increased disparity in learning opportunities in many contexts (ibid.). Although some concerns related to quality and equity in Ed-outsourcing have been echoed in HK (e.g. the need for quality-control systems) (Chan & Ng, 2015), few, if any, attempts have been made to investigate changes and impacts at the school and government-regulation levels. Thus, this project intends to explore and theorize the emerging phenomenon of providing schools with state funds to buy and integrate third-party services into their delivery of education.

Focusing on ELE, where students’ achievements correlate with their socio-economic status (SES) (Lai, 2013), this exploratory study will pursue the following objectives: 1) to understand the current policies driving state-funded ELE outsourcing and their implementation; 2) to analyse the outsourcing in HK secondary schools with reference to schools’ SES profiles; 3) to identify any factors impacting quality and equity related to outsourcing ELE within and across four in-depth case studies; 4) to draw out implications for international scholarship and effective practice at the government and school levels.

Drawing on the applicant’s previous research (Choi, 2015) and three pilot studies, the study is designed to comprise 1) an analysis of policy documents and telephone interviews with 2-3 government officials, 2) a HK wide document-based research, analyzing grant reports of 138 schools from six districts with different SES profiles, 3) in-depth case studies in 4 schools involving; document analysis, around 30 observations of selected outsourced programmes, and about 70 interviews with staff from schools and outsourcing providers, and 4) a synthesis of findings through cross-case and cross-level (government, schools, programmes) comparative analysis. NVivo will assist data management and thematic content analysis. This research will contribute to building empirical and theoretical foundations to inform relevant practices and policy regulations to ensure that the private sector’s involvement in public schooling helps provide “a quality education system for all.”


Lead researcher

Dr Tae-Hee Choi

Associate Professor

Research interests

  • Education policy and change
  • Teacher development
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages