What do we want to know?
In this paper, we report on a systematic review of evaluations of education voucher programmes in developing countries. Education vouchers, a demand-side financing intervention involving the public subsidy of private schooling based on the number of eligible voucher students per school, generally aim to expand parental school choice, which is often promoted to increase competition in the school system. Opponents of vouchers argue that private schools do not necessarily provide a higher-quality education; affluent families with more social capital and access to voucher programme information are more likely to find the best schools; and it is very difficult to set up effective systems of accountability to guard against ‘cream skimming’ and sorting.
What did we find?
We identified two studies that met our inclusion criteria – one examining the Colombia PACES programme and the other evaluating the Quetta, Pakistan Urban Fellowship programme. We also identified four quantitative studies on the Chile voucher system that did not meet our criteria for inclusion in effect size estimates but were examined to shed light on possible theory, implementation and context issues. Given the very small number of studies that met our inclusion criteria, we provide the results in a narrative fashion, rather than through meta-analysis. Both the Colombia and Pakistan programmes increased private school enrolment amongst the countries’ poorest income groups, thus probably improving equity. The Pakistan programme resulted in girls being educated for less than it would have cost for the government to create public school spaces, while the Colombia programme cost rather more, but will most likely prove cost-effective in terms of long-term economic gains.
What are the implications?
Clearly, more rigorous research in developing country contexts is necessary to determine whether the gains from these two programmes can be replicated and enhanced and to elucidate the many issues surrounding vouchers. Pilot programmes employing random assignment or lotteries should be accompanied by rigorous impact evaluation. This approach would enable governments to design innovative initiatives and target resources most efficiently and equitably.
How did we get these results?
Through extensive searching, including electronic keyword searches of bibliographic databases, handsearches of relevant journals, examinations of online holdings of international development organisations and research firms, citation chasing, examining grey literature, and contacting experts in the field.
The EPPI-Centre reference number for this report is 2102.
This report should be cited as:
Morgan C, Petrosino A, Fronius T (2013) A systematic review of the evidence of the impact of school voucher programmes in developing countries. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.