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

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Principal Investigator
Dr. Choi Taehee
Research Fellow of APCLC,
The Education University of Hong Kong
Professor Allan Walker
Dr. Ko Yue On James
Dr. Tang Yee Fan Sylvia
Funding Source
Early Career Scheme 2015/16


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 context. Many governments have turned to state-funded outsourcing of education (Ed-outsourcing) to enhance the quality and economic efficiency of Education, 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 suggested that new privatization techniques have reproduced or even increased disparities in learning opportunities in many contexts (ibid.). While some concerns about quality and equity of Ed-outsourcing have emerged in the Hong Kong context (e.g. the need for quality-control systems) (Chan & Ng, 2015), little research have investigated changes and impacts at the school and government-regulation levels. Therefore, this project intends to explore and theorize the emerging phenomenon of providing schools with state funding to purchase and integrate third-party services into their education delivery, focus on quality and equity.

Focusing on ELE, where students’ achievements correlate with their socio-economic status (SES) (Lai, 2013), this exploratory study will pursue the following objectives:

to understand the current policies driving state-funded English education related outsourcing and their implementation;
to analyse the outsourcing in Hong Kong secondary schools with reference to schools’ Socio-economic status profiles;
to identify any factors impacting quality and equity related to outsourcing English Education within and across four in-depth case studies; and
to draw out implications for international scholarship and effective practice at the government and school levels.

Drawing on the principal investigator's previous research (Choi, 2015) and three pilot studies, the study is designed to comprise:

an analysis of policy documents and telephone interviews with 2-3 government officials;
a HK wide document-based research, analyzing grant reports of 138 schools from six districts with different SES profiles;
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
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.”


Refereed Conference Papers

  1. Choi, T.-H. (2016, August 22-23). Practice and Issues of Outsourcing of Education: Cases from South Korea and Hong Kong. At the European Educational Research Association Conference 2016, Dublin, UK.